The future of Internet of Things (IoT) sports wearables is hard to predict, but the lead character of a1970’s TV show, The Six Million Dollars Man, provided a glimpse into today’s wearable sports technology, streaming Internet IoT data, and enhanced athletic performance.
At the beginning of the “Bionic Man” TV show, a voice famously intoned, “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.…Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology…. Better than he was before. Better …stronger …faster.”
Today, players and coaches are seeking to maximize “better, stronger, faster,” training and event performance using biometric data from wearable sensors.
During training, the data is often used to determine if a player is training “in the zone” versus not hard enough or too hard. Following great plays by teams and individuals, coaches review data seeking ways to repeat ideal performances and sporting moments.
The application data is also used as a “personal coach” providing feedback and advice to individual athletes. In many cases “we (do) have the technology,” to create data enhanced sports wearables and fan experiences.
Limits and challenges
However, even the Bionic Man had limits (his bionic right arm wouldn’t work in extreme cold) and current Bluetooth IoT wearables also have limits. For example, limits in real-time connectivity, device range, the ability to scale the number of simultaneous device connections, and the capacity to aggregate IoT data simultaneously.
Challenge: Today, moving data from a device to an application, where a coach or athlete can view it, uses limited internal data storage on the wearable end device itself. Then, once the athlete is within range of a traditional gateway (most often a Bluetooth-enabled phone or tablet with limited range), the data is uploaded.
These limits are especially true for team sports occurring on larger playing fields (soccer, football, baseball etc.…) as well as for a multitude of team and individual-oriented sports where any significant distance is involved. Sporting categories where distance is an issue for wearables, include: track and field, climbing, sky-diving, sailing, motocross, triathlons, cycling, running, orienteering, skiing etc.
Wearable Obstacles: Multiple light-weight, real-time sensor connections at a distance
The process of gathering, analyzing, and using the data in real-time is constrained by several factors. Firstly, the power demands of connected end devices (such as biosensors) make the widely known standard, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the most common sensor protocol.
However, the BLEs shorter range, and limited one-to-one (or a few) connectivity hampered and complicated data streaming efforts, as well as the aggregation of team sport data in real-time.
Other protocols, such as wi-fi enabled end devices are unwieldy, needing larger batteries and constant recharging and replacement of those batteries. Moreover, other light-weight IoT protocols are comparatively much less mature than the well-known and inexpensive Bluetooth standard. Zigbee, for example has very limited sport wearable applications to choose from and networks to work with, and many similar newer protocols lack the data through-put capacity rate needed for robust biometric sensor data collection and streaming in real-time.
Athletes wearing biometric devices prefer BLEs due to their small size. The super light-weight batteries don’t need constant replacement and don’t add bulk to the athlete. However, until recently BLE range and connectivity issues also presented a challenge to developing new wearable applications for sports where many players were involved and where athletes competed in distances beyond 30 meters.
Seamless BLE coverage of sports at a distance and over large sporting fields is now a reality. Just as the fictional Office of Scientific Intelligence increased the Bionic Man’s top running speed from 60 mph to 90 mph, the range and multiple connectivity of BLE’s has significantly increased. Cassia Networks Bluetooth router’s enhanced antenna array extends BLE connectivity to up to 1,000 feet to 22 devices in connection mode (bi-directional communication) and to 100’s of devices in “listening-only” mode. That’s a game changer for BLE-enabled sports wearables.
Use existing Bluetooth sensors
Importantly, for sports-focused Bluetooth applications and wearable manufacturers, no change needs to occur in the Bluetooth sensors. The existing BLE ecosystem is usable with the Cassia router capability. Cassia provides a simple, small software development kit (SDK), for connecting BLE devices with custom profiles to Cassia’s Bluetooth IoT solution.
Coaches and players seeking “IoT Athlete” environments, where biometric data (location, speed, heart rate etc.…) is available at a distance for many athletes at one time now have a solution.
IoT Athletes: Expanded use cases for sports BLE first-movers
Major vendors, like UnderArmour, and scrappy wearables start-ups looking for an edge by creatively developing new use cases, now have the capability to massively expand their vision of wearables. The singular “Bionic Man” has given way to individual athletes and team in a “IoT Human Athlete” vision of possibilities. The impacts to fan experience, athlete performance, and coaching expertise are vast. Cassia Networks is excited to leverage its expertise in this area with IoT Human athlete organizations shaping the future of IoT and IoT sports.