Inside Track

How Wearables Have Yet to Reach the Peak of Sports Technology

The future of sports tech looks bright.

Here at SportsTech, we like to imagine this world as innovation takes flight, and here’s what we see:

It’s time to train for the Olympics and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is dropping in via drone to the top of Copper Mountain. They glance at their watches, tracking all the critical information that’s important—heart rate, blood oxygen, and hydration. When they’re flying down the mountain, key performance data will be logged by tiny sensors tucked into the lining of the jacket—speed, elevation, heart rate. One last gesture to display critical route information on a display overlaid on the goggles. The best lines are found based on an array of factors ranging from the weight of the athlete to the time of day.

It’s gold medals via innovation.

We’d like to point out that this is not a tech-forward world of make-believe. It’s coming. In fact, parts of this scenario are already happening as we speak. And they’re going to be game-changers.

Here is how wearables like the Apple Watch and Whoop are changing the way we train, play, and watch sports.

A Thirst for Knowing How to Make Sports Better

It’s common to rely and pair devices together when we run, train, and play.

Production delays aside, Apple has redesigned the Apple Watch for this year, and it includes expansive updates to the way consumers monitor and track health.

Aside from the Series 7, Apple also plans on releasing a newer, lower-end model of the Apple Watch SE, which will be a model geared towards rugged and extreme sports athletes.

Most exciting for us and those involved in the bleeding-edge of sports tech is the rumors we’re hearing from Bloomberg is that Apple will be adding a body-temperature sensor and according to Apple Insider, the company has been in the throes of researching ways for the watch band to track hydration levels of the person wearing it.

Further supporting this is that a supplier to Apple unveiled a glucose monitoring system that seemed to be fit perfectly for the Apple Watch.

Eagle eyes over at Patently Apple first found notice of this in patent filings and investigated the filing, which seeks to innovate existing hydration techniques that are “generally invasive, expensive, or unreliable.”

According to the patent, the tracker would be placed against the layer of skin:

The electrical properties, such as electrical conductance, can represent a concentration of electrolytes in the perspiration, which in turn represents a hydration level of the user.
[…]
For example, a high level of electrical conductance of the perspiration can indicate a high concentration of electrolytes and a low level of hydration. By further example, a low level of electrical conductance of the perspiration can indicate a low concentration of electrolytes and a high level of hydration.

This data could be measured during key athletic moments of the user, including high-output activities like working out, running and help the user make better-informed decisions about when and how much water to take into their body.

Apple views this as a very valuable and crucial health metric to benchmark:

A user’s hydration level has significant impacts on the health of a user. Dehydration can impair performance and is associated with several deleterious health consequences, including heat strokes. Overdrinking can result in hyponatremia, fatigue, confusion, coma, and even death.

Apple announcements have always been extremely popular events in the world of technology, but now they’re becoming more important in the world of sports. They account for millions of fans and prognosticators who hang on every word by the millions through media coverage and live viewers on social media and video platforms.

Many of the exciting developments for Apple seem to be encroaching into the world of medicine and health and rightfully so—Tim Cook wants Apple’s legacy to be in both health and wellness and is actively working on features or products that monitor things like blood pressure, fertility tracking, and even detection of sleep apnea and diabetes.

“Think about the amount of sensors in your car, and arguably, your body is much more important than your car.” —Tim Cook

There are many implications here that will trickle into sports with relation to tracking athlete performance, health, and recovery. Hydration is a path to the world of sports and the startups that are building hooks into the Apple ecosystem and the evolving sports tech landscape.

Once hydration becomes available in 2022, there are a handful of health and sports startups that could be well-positioned: intriguing targets like Nix, hDrop, Aura Devices, and Intake Health.

If it sounds like everyone is jockeying for a spot in the medical world, you wouldn’t be far off. Aside from Apple, Amazon just released their fitness app Halo and Google finalized their acquisition of FitBit for $2.1 billion in January.

Whoop, There it Is

There’s another company that is certifiably on fire lately as it relates to wearables and sports performance.

That would be Whoop. As of now, they have more than 500 employees and raised over $200M at a $3.6 billion valuation—that’s up $1.2 billion in just a year!

What is Whoop, you ask? It’s a type of screen-free wearable in the form of a band that can collect and monitor health metrics encompassing thousands and thousands of data points. Whoop tracks things like heart rate, resting heart rate, and other performance metrics and then presents them to you in an easy-to-interpret dashboard.

There’s a reason athletes and average weekend warriors like us are super compelled to use and track these metrics. First, it’s really simple to use. The interface leaves no complexity and presents previously hard-to-surface data right to you that can help inform your next athletic decision.

And second, if you’ve ever been completely wrecked after going too hard in a workout, Whoop can help get around that by helping you decide if you should take some time off or how to recover. Whoop can even decipher your sleeping habits by monitoring how much and the quality of the sleep you’re getting.

For professional athletes, sleep has become an important way to supplement training. One of the products (Strap 3.0) was developed by Whoop CEO and founder, Will Ahmed at Harvard, where he was an athlete. Today, it counts pros like Steph Curry, Patrick Mahomes and Navy SEALs as users because the sleep measurements include biometrics such as sleep data, respiratory rate, and heart rate variability that pump out strain and recovery data that are important benchmarks for any athlete and their performance.

Whoop has seen significant investment interest from athletes including Kevin Durant, the aforementioned Mahomes, Michael Phelps, Larry Fitzgerald, Russel Okung, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Thomas.

A few weeks ago, Whoop appeared in an NASCAR race. Two drivers wore the Whoop 3.0 band during a race and their heart rates were integrated into the live race and announcer dialog complemented with on-screen graphics.

The PGA Tour has shown golfer’s heart rate data during broadcasts as part of its five-year deal with Whoop announced in January. On-screen usage of live heart rate data from Whoop will be expanding in time for this month’s Ryder Cup on NBC, according to Golf.com.

The Wearables Market Continues to Expand

Now, back to our opening athlete story. Once they’ve piloted themselves safely to the bottom of the run, it’s time for the mountain of data to start doing its job. The coaches can crunch some of the data that’s been made available to help the skier rest and recover and prepare for the next practice and ultimately, the next race.

Even more, personalized recommendations can help tell how long they should sleep, what to eat the next morning, and even provide gut biome performance levels and blood glucose levels. This type of personalized medicine is rapidly approaching and coaches and athletes will be figuring out as many ways to leverage it as is humanly possible.

The market for wearables and sports-enhancing devices will continue to grow. Because the marketplace is a mixture of both hardware, software, and a plethora of products ranging from pedometers, heart rate monitors, smart cameras, shot trackers, and fitness trackers.

By the year 2026, the market for wearables is expected to be valued at $102.2 billion.

Imagine for a moment that the world is less about the mobile devices we hold in our hand, and are more dependent on tracking smaller data points—sensors, if you will, that are tracked and monitored on entirely new layers that are all around us, the living room table, a pair of glasses or goggles, or even on a wall.

We’re not that far off from this being realized. In some respects, our mobile devices are a transitional layer between something much smaller and less hand-held. We’re speeding to a world where so much of our life and work can be monitored in the background, ready when we need to access it, no matter where we are.

These are the sorts of things that are on the docket for everyday athletes and even some of our partner-athletes in skiing, cycling, race car driving, and swimming—the things we wear on our arms or the glasses we wear on our face, will ultimately be a critical infrastructure for communicating the information we need to win.

Stay tuned as we take a deep-dive into how sports tech is shaping and changing the fan experience at stadiums as live sports make their return to crowded venues.

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