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Measurement Matters: New Approaches to Sports-Tech Data Measurement From MIT Students

"Go Forth and Measure." Words to live by in sports-tech.

The powerful convergence of sports and technology was on full display today at MIT. The Sports Innovation Lab team took a quick trip across the Charles River Tuesday afternoon to see results from the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s “Go Forth and Measure” projects. In this course, students form a hypothesis like “How low should you squat?” and “Do faster movements equal higher muscle activity?” then used advanced measurement techniques to find the answer. Many of the projects had a sport focus and demonstrate how the next frontier of human performance and engineering are being explored hand-in-hand.

Our first stop was with Andrew DeShields, who investigated “What Caused Deflategate”. As any faithful Patriot fan or foe knows, Deflategate questioned whether the ball organically changed inflation levels, or whether human intervention occurred. Andrew measured how the pressure of a football changed in relation to the temperature of the ball itself. By controlling for the temperature changes of the ball, and testing the pressure, he found a linear relationship between ball temperature and the change in pressure. In other words, weather impacts ball inflation. Interestingly, Andrew found that atmospheric pressure had an impact on ball inflation a whopping 85% of the time. The New England Patriots,who lost two draft picks and were fined $1 million dollars, might enjoy a chat with Andrew.

Eduardo Garcia-Montes ek Hey wide-receivers, want to improve your chances of catching a football? According to Eduardo Garcia-Montes’ measurement project, wearing gloves might be the answer. He tested the friction coefficient necessary to catch a football using bare hands, gloves, and Stickum in dry, wet, and soaked conditions. His results show that regardless of the conditions, wearing gloves is the best way to improve the likelihood of a catch. Complementing his research, Travis Leathrum found the converse to be true for Soccer. Travis found that Soccer players actually benefit from wet conditions. The variance between the two results is due to the gloves themselves, football gloves are designed to promote catching and grip, soccer are designed for impact and deflection.

Christine Noh EK

Anyone up for tie-dye lacrosse balls? According to Christin Noh, color doesn’t make a difference in the ball. She found no statistically significant differences between a men’s ball and women’s lacrosse ball. She found that both the men’s and women’s balls respond to temperature changes by becoming more or less elastic. She tested the temperatures in extreme conditions that were atypical of lacrosse games, but found that at higher temperatures, the ball becomes more elastic, and vice versa. Understanding how the ball responds to temperature could have implications both for coaches choosing what systems to run in different climates and for players in terms of safety. It also introduces a spectrum of rainbow-hued opportunity for broadcasters who are constantly looking to make the ball more visible to viewers. Jordan Malone EK Proving that athletes truly know no bounds, two-time Olympic speed skating medalist Jordan Malone is single-handedly bringing sport and technology closer together. Jordan chose to measure the efficiency of the gauge that measures the sharpness of a speed skater’s blade. As Jordan explained to us, the gauge has two pins that measure the compound radius of the blade, and in recent years, the pins on the gauge have been getting closer together in an attempt to increase the efficiency of the measurements taken. Rather than increasing the efficiency, Jordan found that moving the pins closer together actually decreased the efficiency of the gauge. Sharpening speed skates is a time consuming and human-intensive process, and Jordan’s experiment could be the first step in applying technology to disrupt an old, labor-intensive process and replacing it with a more efficient and more accurate substitute.

At the Sports Innovation Lab, we know that collaboration is a key ingredient to innovation. When people come together to understand complex problems and design creative solutions great things happen. Bringing together members of the sport, technology and academic community is part of our mission. It's part of why we exist, and it's why we love to see sports technology incubating in our community in Boston.

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