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Wearable Computing in Baseball December 17, 2012

Posted by downeyjm in Mobility.
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Introduction
Wearable computing in sports holds the potential to change sports and the way we think about them in a positive way. Embedding sensors into the athletes uniforms, cleats, and pads could be a game changer with regards to medical advancement in terms of treating and preventing injuries, game analysis in terms of providing coaches, statisticians, referees/umpires, and fans with more complete information about each game, and can even provide valuable feedback to the athletes themselves to aid them in improving their skills.
Specifically, this can be applied to baseball. In fact there are already baseball specific, wearable computing, applications out there. For example, a group of students from Northeastern University have already developed a compression shirt equipped with motion sensors and conductive threads to enable the shirt to detect the movement and acceleration of the pitching arm. This shirt is linked to software that records the information giving coaches real-time information on a pitchers mechanics without needing to be in a lab [1].
This design attempts to monitor baseball player’s movements as well as the wear and tear their bodies sustain during the course of a game and/or season.

Application
Baseball consists of hitting, fielding, pitching, and base running. So the application needs to focus on providing good sensing data for each of those actions. To do this, there are three important aspects of the player that the application needs to sense. They are the player’s location, motion, and the forces/pressure there body takes.
This data can then be used in a variety of ways. The location data can give a more accurate reading of a players true defensive value by showing what a players range (how much area can they cover) when used in conjunction with traditional stats such as errors. Injuries can be prevented or treated more effectively with the use of motion sensors that monitor a pitchers mechanics and can provide feedback based on their mechanics.
The general idea of the application is for the player to have certain sensors embedded into their uniform which wirelessly communicate, over an 802.11n network, with software that performs any necessary pre-processing prior to putting the data into a database to be analyzed as needed. A summary of the various sensors and their implementation is below.

Location Sensors
To measure a player’s location a Bluetooth local positioning system is used. Bluetooth is chosen over other technologies such as wireless and RFID due to its combination of security, accuracy, and coverage area [3]. To implement this, a set of beacons are placed around the stadium at fixed locations (these act like the satellites in GPS) and the player has a transponder that wirelessly communicates with those beacons. The system uses triangulation to determine the location of the player. This location sensor is located on a player’s hat (or helmet) as it is easy to implement, unobtrusive to the player, provides the clearest path to the beacons (highest point on the player), and adds to the sensors durability since hats generally don’t take a beating from diving or getting hit by balls.

Motion Sensors
To measure a player’s mechanics a set of motion sensors could be embedded in a player’s undershirt as was developed by Northeastern University [1]. The possibility for also creating a pants version of the shirt exists to help aid in running form, but it is not likely that every player will want to where them during the games and there already exists many applications (as well as knowledgeable trainers) to aid in proper running form so that will not be a part of the application.

Force Sensors
Lastly, it will be important to know what kinds of stresses are being put on a player’s body in terms of force. These would be especially important for catchers and pitchers. This is because the acceleration of a pitchers arm could be indicative of future arm injuries and a catcher takes a beating catching and blocking all the 90mph pitches as well as the stresses put on their knees from all the squatting. Sensing how much pressure the catcher’s knees are taking could help advise coaches on when to give them days off helping keep their legs fresher for later in the season and preventing career threatening injuries.
To measure the force (or wear and tear) a player sustains pressure sensors can be used. This is most beneficial from a catching standpoint as they are the ones on the field that take the biggest beating. These sensors could be placed in a players cleats to determine where their weight is on their feet, which has a couple of uses. The feet sensors could be used to determine the pressure put on the catchers knees when squatting by showing how a player’s weight is distributed on their feet (along known variables such as a player’s height and weight). Other force sensors could be placed on a catcher’s helmet to help determine the impact a foul tip has when it hits them in the head to help prevent and detect concussions.

Potential Issues
As with all applications there are some potential issues involved with this one.
Cost: The first is that it must be low enough cost to make this a viable option for players. This does not seem like an issue for professional players as I am sure they would gladly pay a couple hundred or even thousand dollars on this application if it can save them from overpaying a player by millions (through improved analysis) or to prevent a player from getting injured. This may be a bit on the pricey side, however, for most non-professional players which limits its market.
Size/Weight/Unobtrusiveness: The weight and size of this application shouldn’t be much of an issue given today’s technology and the fact that the additional weight it would add seems to be a very miniscule part of the total weight of a uniform leading to an overall unobtrusive product.
Power: Providing power to these devices seems to be a fairly decent obstacle but one already overcome (at least to a degree) by the Northeastern University development team [1].
Durability: Durability has the potential to be an issue due to the sensors potential for sustaining forceful impacts but that is hopefully minimized due to the location of the sensors. The other issue with durability is the weather, which means the sensors and power source need to be somewhat weather resistant (i.e. waterproof).
Wireless Infrastructure: The last major issue is the wireless infrastructure that handles all the transaction of the data needs to be reliable and secure.

References
1. “Wearable Computers for Pitchers Could Come To Major League Baseball.” Popsci. 2012.
2. “Wearable Computing: Sports.” ETH. 2012.
3. “Real Time Location Systems.” Clarinox Technology Pty Ltd. Nov 2009.

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