Playing with Big Data.

Smart fitness.

The Smart Tennis Sensor from Sony is hidden away in the shaft of the racket like a little red fruit drop. It weighs hardly anything. It doesn’t get in the way. You play with your racket as usual. Only now, it records every time it comes into contact with the ball. All you have to do is set up a Bluetooth connection between the racket and a smartphone to find out what part of the racket head hits the ball and the speed of the return – all live, during the game and in real-time on the phone’s display.

The individual data recorded can be compared in a graphic display: Where the ball made contact with the head, how often the ball was hit, the average speed of the return, etc. This equivalent of a digital driver’s logbook lets us take a look at what makes the athlete tick. This is Big Data in a small way – what’s known as Smart Data. As might be expected, these results can be compared and shared with friends and members of your team.

A flood of gadgets.

These days, hardly a day goes by without the launch of yet another piece of digitalised sports equipment. What’s new in the shaft of a tennis racket can find a new home in almost any kind of bat, club, racket – or almost anything else you care to think of: golf clubs, baseball bats, badminton rackets, and even skipping ropes. The sensors can even be placed in all kinds of balls, for instance basketballs, rugby balls or footballs. The examples we mentioned all have one thing in common: Equipping them with sensors doesn’t alter their traditional properties. Imagine cramming sensor technology into a ping-pong ball – you can almost hear the thud when it plops over the net. No problem. Just use the ping-pong table for recording and analysing data instead of the ball. This smart ping-pong table, made in Germany, employs augmented reality to turn you into a Forrest Gump among ping-pong players.

If free-climbing is your thing, you can quit scrambling up the side of your wardrobe. How about an animated climbing wall for the bedroom. If you prefer to clamber against friends, you could also try a climbing wall with your route projected on it. Anyone who prefers perfectly normal aerobics simply has to visit New York’s Asphalt Green Fitness Center at least once in their lifetime. Here, you can work up a sweat against hundreds of LEDs that motivate you to push yourself to the limit. Well, after all, that’s what competitive sport is all about. Who’s the first to cross the finishing line – BTW: photo finish technology goes back more than a century. Goal-line technology, however, is relatively new. At least since the 2016 European Cup, referees and linesmen can rely on the decision of on or over the line delivered by Hawk-Eye GLT. Radio or video monitoring detects whether the round thing ended up in the square thing or not.

Mini-companions – always unbiased and merciless.

Thanks to the Internet, algorithms, microchips and microsensors, there’s hardly a place in the world of sport that couldn’t be put under some kind of digital surveillance. Smart sports equipment is used for training, optimising athletic performance, monitoring health, improving the safety of sportsmen and sportswomen or assisting with navigation. Their sensors record patterns: motion studies or pulse-rate, they map geographic locations and times. Some of these mini-devices also have special functions, like the pressure sensor of a dive computer.

Mini-computers are our constant companions. They are hidden in shoes, and, most recently, as if they had always been there, in sportswear, the handlebars of bikes or in bathroom scales. They accompany wherever we are and wherever we go. Some of them measure the distances we run, walk or ride, some our metabolic processes like how many calories we burn, and others compute personal performance profiles of how high we jump or how far we hit a ball. They are there to coach us. They don’t cheat, they are always unbiased – and they are merciless. Perfect for those of us looking for ultimate physical optimisation. People who are a part of the Quantified Self movement.

For the rest of us, they prevent us overstretching ourselves and protect us against the dangers of sport – for example, when the dive computer warns us to resurface slowly, or when our location is sent to the mountain rescue team by our GPS transmitter when we get lost or injured when trekking. The whole thing becomes truly wonderful when these safety features are cast in the beautiful body of something like Samsung’s smart surfboard. Simply exquisite.

1:0 for the smartphone.

For manufacturers of sports equipment, smartphones and the digitalisation of their products open up entirely new opportunities. They market their products through dealer networks and, until now, never knew anything about the later life of a tennis racket in the hands of its new owner. Thanks to the sensors now integrated in this equipment, manufacturers are much closer to discovering various aspects of these formerly secret lives. This indirect feedback finds its way back to the manufacturer and, in the best-case scenario, leads to the continuous improvement of the product in question – without delays and without the distorted views imparted by multi-level distribution and retail systems.