New York, New York, USA
Tuesday 11th November 2014

Following a recommendation (thanks Andrew Small), a few weeks ago, I registered for the CES Unveiled New York, which is hosted in the Big Apple a couple of months before the International CES event takes place in Las Vegas.

For the uninitiated, the International CES is described as “the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies”.  The smaller event in New York, acts as somewhat of an hors d’oeuvre to promote the main event but it still aims to introduce some exciting next-generation innovations to those in attendance.

I arrived at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan this evening, not really knowing what to expect & although the venue was relatively small (although, I am, probably unfairly, comparing the size to that of other trade show-style events I have been to in the US, such as that at the NATA Conference), I quickly realised it was going to be a worthwhile trip.

My aim was to spot a couple of innovations that could be useful in the elite sports performance setting or make some acquaintances with those showcasing products that had potential to enhance work in the performance sports sector with some collaboration.

In fact there was an interesting mix of companies there.  From recognised sports giants such as Adidas & Polar, to established smaller enterprises & to those still in the development stage that were reaching out to potential investors, there were fascinating stories to be heard.

It was almost immediately apparent that the en vogue projects that investors are backing are: wearables/hearables/playables that either track movement or biometric data (or both); sleep monitoring devices; & safety/security hardware linked to environmental monitoring/control apps.

I spent about three hours walking the exhibition, chatting to reps, inventors & entrepreneurs, quizzing them on their gadgets & my expectations were easily exceeded.

So what impressed me?  Well, let me discuss each of the categories I mentioned above & choose my favourite from each.

Wearables - there was plenty of choice here, with lots of fitness bands on display, all seemingly keen to address the issues of poor data validity & reliability at higher exercise intensities of those models currently on the market.  Two particular products caught my eye here, though.  

The first, a motion sensitive LED jacket, appealed to my own training tendencies.  Designed for those cyclists or runners that have occasion to train in low light conditions on the road or pavement, the jacket has 23 coloured LEDs sewn into the jacket at strategic points.  

Shrug your left shoulder & the orange LEDs on the left sleeve illuminate to indicate that you are turning left, which means you can signal whilst keeping both hands on the handle bars.  Front-located LEDs are white, whilst those on the back of the jacket are red, to enhance your bike’s own illuminations.

Picturing the training rides & runs that some of the athletes I have worked with undertake on a daily basis through winter, I thought this would really enhance safety.

The second line of products were garments (under shirt & cycling shorts) with intelligent sensors sewn into the clothing, in such a manner it was hard to discern where they were.  The biometric data collection was supplemented by movement data that recorded such parameters as cadence & distance.  

Obviously useful for monitoring cycling or running performance, I also thought that it would be worth testing the reliability of the data to compare limb range, identify trunk movement & assess segmental relationship at various stages of fatigue.

Given the potential for identifying risk factors of injury & suboptimal performance, my vote goes with the intelligent garments but I’d still be tempted to buy one of the jackets.

Hearables - this was a no-contest in my eyes.  

I probably spent about 45 minutes quizzing the poor chap showcasing the battery-powered ear pieces that collect both biometric data & motion through space data.  Is that all they do?  Well, they also allow you to either play music, receive training prompts related to the biometric data or block-out/enhance environmental noise or all of the above in a stipulated balance ratio.  

It stores your music so you don’t need to train with a digital music player if that is your habit; allows you to communicate with a coach using a microphone that turns the device into a handsfree walkie-talkie & can even link with Google Maps to give you real-time directions.  If you get in trouble, you can even use it to call the emergency services.

My first concern regarding fit (I can never find in-ear phones that fit my ear), proved unfounded; my second concern about operating the device (motion sensors mean you just make hand signals to operate the device) were thrown out & my question regarding training in inclement weather was met with a nonchalant chuckle (of course it is waterproof up to 1m).

The potential for using this device in so many elite training scenarios is immense.

Playables - I’m not sure whether this is an officially recognised descriptive term or not, however, I am using it to describe pieces of equipment you use to train or play with that have put put through a steroid-enhanced development process.

My verdict was split. On the one hand there was the intelligent football (soccer ball) that gives you feedback on the spin, velocity & trajectory of your shot/pass & guides you on how to improve your skills.  On the other is the intelligent basketball that does pretty much the same, in addition to logging where on the court you executed from.  

Not surprisingly, the outright winner would really depend on which sport I was working in at the time.

Sleep Monitoring - given that collecting sleep data has been limited more due to comfort & the practicalities of what players will tolerate, as opposed to the technology available to measure the various useful parameters, I was pleased to see the variety of products out there that are addressing this fact.

Most of the products are moving away from using movement sensors in isolation/at all, which until now has been the most practically accepted form of monitoring (the method is called “actigraphy”), & toward heart rate data collection.

To this end, there were two products that caught my eye.  One was an unobtrusive strip that slides under your top sheet, collecting heart rate, respiratory rate & sleep cycle data.  The other was a small rubber electrode strip (that looks like the Oakley “O” logo) that can be stuck to the chest wall, soon to be forgotten about, as it collects your heart rate data throughout the day/night.

If sleep monitoring is your sole concern, the former wins out, whilst if you are wanting to monitor your heart rate for establishing exertion & recovery capabilities too, then the latter is a great advance on what is out there.

Safety & Security - many of the technologies on display in this category weren’t particularly geared towards enhancing elite sports performance, although there were several products that could be quickly adapted to add to the operations side of running a team.

Therefore, I am jumping back to my “Wearables” nominations & awarding the intelligent visibility jacket my Safety & Security gold medal.

Overall, it was a really valuable event, demonstrating that there are some exciting & innovative technologies out there that are soon going to become common place in enhancing our work as sports scientists & medical services professionals.  

I encourage you to go out there & find them!

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