Smart Vest Could Be Key to Improving Athlete Health, Performance

Hexoskin, Analog Devices and Microsoft are teaming up to bring elite performance tracking to athletic coaches.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
May 18, 2016

Think of a full-contact version of baseball—except that everyone has a bat—and combine it with hockey and football, and you've got a good idea of how the Irish sport of hurling is played. The sport places enormous physical demands on elite players, and an undisclosed team in Ireland's Gaelic Athletic Association is currently testing a sensor-equipped vest made by Canadian company Hexoskin, with sensors provided by Analog Devices, to evaluate whether the vests—in combination with data analysis provided by Microsoft—can help coaching staff to personalize training for each player, based on that individual's performance metrics.

Microsoft is using its Azure IoT cloud-based analytics engine to collect and analyze data from the vests. This provides coaching personnel with insights into player performance, while also flagging patterns of anomalies in the data that could indicate specific players experiencing the onset of performance problems or likely to suffer injuries.

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The vest contains an ECG heart-rate monitor, as well as an Analog Devices accelerometer that is used to track a player's movements and respiration rate by tracking the number of times that his chest cavity expands and deflates per minute. Once the vest is within range, a Bluetooth radio, also integrated into the vest, transmits the data, stored in the sensors, to a paired Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, tablet or computer. The sensors can run for roughly 14 hours before needing to be recharged, which can be accomplished via a USB cable.

Hexoskin and partnering companies believe that the vest can provide a new level of visibility to professional team managers, says Jason Lynch, Analog Devices' director of IoT strategy. Early feedback from players, he adds, indicates that the vest is more comfortable than other sensors they have worn, such as heart-rate monitors attached to a strap around the chest.

Learning as early as possible that a player is not performing at 100 percent, due either to an early-stage injury or another health-related issue, could be a boon for coaching personnel, Lynch says, because it could inform their decision-making regarding whether to pull players from training or play. This, he says, can help to reduce the chances of a significant injury.

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