From wearables to exoskeletons and virtual reality, discover how emerging tech is reshaping how amateur and elite athletes train and perform.
Citius, Altius, Fortius—faster, higher, stronger. The Olympic motto eloquently captures the spirit of the relentless drive to push the boundaries of human potential in sports. Throughout history, athletes have sought ways to improve their skills and maximize their performance. From rudimentary training methods to state-of-the-art materials and devices, technology has emerged as a game-changer, reshaping the sports landscape.
The history of technologies in sports can be traced back to the 1960s when heart rate monitors and pedometers provided athletes with the first glimpses of data-driven insights. As computing power continued to grow in the following decades, simulation software and biomechanical analysis emerged, allowing athletes to fine-tune their techniques and training regimens.
At the turn of the century, we witnessed the rise of wearable technology, such as watches and clips with GPS and calorie burn trackers, providing real-time data on a person's physiological responses and movements during training and competition.
Today, athletes of all levels–from weekend athletes to elite professionals–harness the power of cutting-edge technologies like wearable sensors, virtual reality training, and biometric tracking to improve their overall well-being or unleash their full potential.
As the convergence of sports and technology continues to accelerate, sportsmen and women are reaching new heights in their pursuit of excellence. Here are some technologies currently being used to enhance athletic performance:
Wearable Technology: This data-centric approach empowers athletes to make informed decisions on optimizing their training regimens and enhancing recovery processes. Fitness trackers and smartwatches are now commonplace among both amateur and professional competitors, providing real-time data on stamina, breathing rate, pulse oximetry, caloric expenditure, among others. According to a Grand View Research report, the market for wearable technology is expected to reach $186 billion by 2030.
One example of a revolutionary wearable is Oura Ring, developed by 2Future portfolio company, Oura. Listed as one of the 100 best inventions of 2020 by Time Magazine, this health device can be found on the fingers of NBA players, Olympic swimmers, elite soccer players, and many other athletes. It measures numerous health metrics, like heart rate, temperature, blood oxygen levels, and sleep quality, to support one’s personal health journey.
Wearables are also being developed to prevent injuries. The rising concern over brain injuries in sports led to the creation of a collar that helps protect the brain from repeated head impacts. This device gained international attention during the 2023 Women's World Cup but is also used by athletes competing in American football, ice hockey, and martial arts.
Biomechanical Analysis: Biomechanics, the field that studies human movement dynamics, is now leveraging advanced motion capture systems and 3D analysis tools to help athletes better understand their body mechanics. This analysis identifies an athlete’s strengths, areas needing improvement, optimal performance, and injury risk mitigation. Biomechanical analysis is applied in various sports scenarios, from swimming stroke analysis to golf swing evaluation and running form improvement.
A notable innovation in this field is the use of exoskeletons, wearable robotic devices designed to augment and reinforce natural movements. The suits can enhance strength, speed, agility, balance, and coordination. Studies have shown that by providing additional support and stability, robotic exoskeletons can aid athletes by increasing the intensity of their workouts and lowering the risk of injury.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): By processing vast datasets, these technologies can predict potential injuries and suggest training programs tailored to a person's physiology and needs. Data analytics has also transformed the way coaches strategize their games. Powerful algorithms provide insights into an athlete's strengths and weaknesses, opponent behavior, and overall team dynamics. For instance, in basketball, teams use data analytics to identify individual players’ most effective shooting positions, optimizing offensive tactics and increasing scoring efficiency. According to a marketing report, the global sports analytics market is projected to reach $22.1 billion by 2030.
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR & AR): VR and AR are breaking barriers in sports training, offering immersive experiences that replicate real-game scenarios to improve mental focus and enhance decision-making skills. Athletes engage in mentally demanding training sessions without physical strain, improving their reaction time and spatial awareness. NFL players use VR simulations to practice plays and improve their decision-making under high-pressure situations, leading to better on-field performance.
As technology continues to evolve, we expect to witness even more innovations redefining how athletes perform and compete.
An innovation that has been capturing the attention of researchers and engineers alike is the development of electronic skin. Also known as e-skin, this flexible and wearable electronic material mimics the characteristics of human skin. Equipped with embedded sensors, e-skin can monitor key metrics such as body temperature, sweat levels, and muscle activity and even detect potential signs of fatigue or strain during intense workouts.
Brain-Computer interfaces, which provide direct communication between the brain and external devices, could also revolutionize sports performance. They would allow athletes to control equipment or analyze opponents' movements through neural interfaces. Furthermore, advancements in nanotechnology may lead to the development of ultra-lightweight, high-strength materials that enhance equipment and apparel, improving performance and comfort.
Amidst technology’s incredible benefits to sports performance, ethical concerns warrant careful consideration. The first one revolves around privacy and data usage. As people embrace smart devices to monitor their performance, personal data such as heart rate, location, and training habits become accessible. The potential misuse or unauthorized sharing of this data raises questions about the responsibility of technology providers to safeguard sensitive information. Moreover, there is a risk of overreliance on technology, leading to the potential loss of the human element in sports.
Additionally, emerging technologies could blur the line between natural ability and enhancement. Brain-computer interfaces and performance-enhancing gear might raise concerns about fairness, inclusivity, and the definition of a level playing field.
As the sports world continues to embrace technology, it is crucial to address these ethical challenges proactively, striking a balance between innovation, preservation of the spirit of fair competition, and the integrity of the game.
Technology has become an indispensable part of the sports world, elevating performance across all levels of athleticism. As technology continues to progress, the future of sports promises an even more extraordinary fusion of human ability and innovation, creating a new era of sporting excellence.