By Hugo Beniada, Fueled
Technology has comprehensively reshaped the landscape of professional sports. Past are the days of greats like Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe, and Jackie Robinson; a generation of sports heroes whose capacities for excellence peaked before the invention of instant replay, automated referees, and performance sportswear.
These stars, while legendary in their achievements, have been replaced by a new generation of athletes whose natural talents have been carefully cultivated with the help of fitness wearables equipped with technology that tracks, refines, and enhances athletic performance.
Advanced wearables, historically expensive and hard to obtain, have largely remained exclusive to professional athletes with the capital and connections to secure them. However, as technology becomes further integrated into the world of athletics, companies are increasingly seeing the potential to commercialize wearable technologies by making them available to a larger market of fitness enthusiasts and amateur sports players.
With wearable technology progressively being marketed and sold outside the professional sphere, these companies are inviting anyone and everyone to the big leagues.
The most popular of these technologies comes in the form of performance tracking bracelets. Nike’s Nike+ Fuelband, a sleek black bracelet with a variety of colorful LED accents, has been a consumer favorite.
According to the Nike website, Nike+ Fuelband is a wearable fitness device that when worn throughout the day, calibrates the user’s NikeFuel, “a universal way to measure movement for all kinds of activities.” Equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 technology, Fuelband syncs data to the user’s phone and computer when connected to the Nike+ Fuelband application.
Priced between$99 to $149, the device rivals the comparable products of Fixbit Flex, by Fitbit Inc., and Up, both San Francisco-based companies, and competitors in the fitness bracelet market.
However, the Nike+ Fuelband, Fixbit Flex, and Up bracelets all fall noticeably short in terms of their performance-enhancing capabilities, if you ask us at Fueled. In reality, these bracelets simply act as accessorized step counters. While their sleek companion apps may keep users on track to reaching fitness goals, these devices work mostly as fitness motivators, as they fail to produce any significant data.
A better, and mildly more expensive option, is the Basis B1, costing upwards of $199. The device works similarly to Fuelband, Fixbit Flex, and Up, counting steps and monitoring sleep patterns.
Unlike its competitors, however, the Basis B1 comes equipped with sensors that track heart rate, perspiration, and skin temperature. These additions make the Basis B1 advantageous for users looking to get a better idea of their fitness levels during workouts and daily activities.
Another option for sports enthusiasts looking to enhance their game is sport-specific fitness wearables. Unlike bracelets that give the user general daily health statistics, these devices monitor and quantify data relevant to the technique of a certain sport.
A notable sport-specific device is Smash, the tennis wearable yet to hit the market pending an ongoing Kickstarter campaign by Australia-based founder Row Crowder. According to the Kickstarter page, Smash is “the world’s first responsive coaching wearable for tennis.”
The bracelet contains sensors that allow the device to measure “the number and type of shots taken, racket head speed; racket head momentum; spin; wrist rotation; stroke trajectory; impact point consistency; and overall technique consistency.”
This data, like other fitness bracelets, is then relayed to an application that acts as a coach, suggesting specific techniques to improve the user’s form.
A similar device, Vibrado, provides the relatively the same service, but for basketball players. An arm sleeve, rather than a bracelet, Vibrado uses sensors located on the bicep, forearm, and hand, to measure the arc of the user’s shot. It then compares this shot to the ideal arm movement, and provides instant feedback through lights and sound. With consistent use, the sleeve helps the user adjust their technique to better accuracy and consistency.
Products such as Smash and Vibrado are allowing players of all levels to improve their game through the use of wearable technology. While sports achievements still rely on natural athletic ability and constant training, it’s safe to say that these technologies are challenging the boundaries of athletic skill, and changing the face of modern sports.