The U.S. Olympic team’s 3 guidelines for making a product that changes the world

Three years after the term was first introduced, wearable technology is already changing the face of sports, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s senior technologist – but if the developers behind this still-nascent field wish to remain on top, they cannot forget the human element, he said.

Mounir Zok shared his insights during a presentation about the impact wearable technology is having on competitive sports by measuring athletic performance in skiing, biking, running, boxing, and even gymnastics, at the 2016 Canadian Printable, Flexible, Wearable Electronics Symposium (CPES2016) on April 20.

“Only 10 years ago, to evaluate the performance of athletes we had to bring them into standardized environments like biomechanics labs or physiology labs,” Zok said. “We were measuring performance, yes, but it was performance that was the product of simulated movement rather than what the sport really looked like.”

However, it wasn’t merely wearables’ ability to collect higher-quality data, which athletes and their coaches can then apply to their training sessions, that endeared the new technology to the U.S. Olympic team – it was the way its developers met three guidelines that Zok said future creators should keep in mind if they want to revolutionize an industry.

Technology must be humanized

Whether developers are building a device that will increase user safety or help them order pizza, they need to keep in mind that prospective customers will only embrace their creation if it clearly and effortlessly solves a problem they’re having, and proceeds to deliver exactly what they expect.

“Technology needs to have a human element, because in the end it is people who are making the decisions and people who are using the technology,” Zok said. “If we lose track of that notion… then we’ll be developing technology for technology’s sake, and it will be very hard to use and it will not give the person what they need.”

Technology must interact with the user, not the other way around

“This is a crucial, crucial element,” Zok said.

In the case of wearables, for example, the athlete does not interact with the technology; the technology interacts with the athlete. It adapts to the user’s life, rather than the other way around.

“Let’s say I’m a volleyball player,” he said. “I have practice and then I go to the weight room… I do not want to use one specific technology for each and every aspect of my life. I want to either have a series of technologies in my environment that I can use seamlessly, or one on my body that interacts with me and delivers the data points I need.”

Technology must provide immediate rewards

So crucial is time to athletic performance that during his CPES presentation, Zok showed the audience a screen capture from one of the women’s running events during the 2012 London Olympics and challenged them to identify who had placed first. It was difficult – the length of time separating the gold, silver and bronze winners was literally less than the blink of an eye.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that athletes only give the developers behind wearable technology 15 seconds to provide the information they’re seeking before trying something else, Zok said.

“Whenever high-achieving athletes are using technology, they expect that technology… to help them improve their decision-making process,” he said. “If that technology’s not capable of delivering the feedback they want when they want it, in the form they envision, that technology will not be successful.” is a media sponsor of CPES, which was held this year on April 19 and 20 at the Oakville, Ontario campus of Sheridan College.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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