Sensors in Sports Gear: How the IoT Can Maximize Soccer Performance

Wearable devices for exercise, fitness, and sports are a hot segment within the Internet of Things (IoT). Many of us wear a FitBit, or similar device, or use apps like MapMyRun to let us know how many steps we take and calories we burn. But, in the world of sports, the stakes are higher. Professional teams are experimenting with ways to access data on each player and their interactions, and how to analyze this data for better performance. Kiron wants to take sports performance analytics and make it more widely available.

I recently spoke to Cristobal Piñera Morel, Juan Pablo Garcia, and Tamer Deif, all studying at MIT, about the company they launched through the MIT delta v student accelerator program. Kiron aims to make wearable performance analytics gear available and affordable in non-professional sports, starting with soccer.

In this Q&A, they discuss how they’re planning to harness the IoT for soccer performance analytics.

What brought you together and gave you the idea for Kiron?

We met in an MBA class here at MIT called “New Ventures,” and our passion for sports and for analytics and technology brings us together. We all play soccer at MIT. Tamer is a former professional basketball player, and Juan Pablo is a great amateur soccer player. Our mutual passions gave us the idea for Kiron.

How are analytics being used in sports today?

There are so many amazing things happening right now in the world of professional sports. Professional soccer teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as American football teams, are gaining so much value by analyzing locational and biometric data.

But then we took a look at the amateur world, and we started realizing that no one was using any wearable solution. And the reason wasn't because there wasn't a desire to use these solutions. We talked to hundreds of coaches, and we saw that they were willing to try new solutions, but the problem was that the cost of the current solution and the functionalities were designed for professionals.

What is your opportunity?

We saw a huge opportunity because for every professional team out there, there are 10,000 amateur teams. And because we are all football (soccer) players, and we have a team right now, we decided to run with this opportunity. We designed a smart vest that allows us to read a player’s heart rate and record GPS information via sensors, and transmit that data to be analyzed.

How is your solution different from what currently exists?

When we started looking at what technologies were available today in the market, we really quickly realized that these technologies were not created specifically for team sports. For example, most of the solutions were using chest bands for heart rate. And when you are playing a sport like soccer or basketball, the chest bands are not only uncomfortable, but they are also actually unsafe for the player who may get hit in the chest with a ball.

So, we started talking to the players and coaches and worked on technology solutions. We came up with a vest that the player can wear under their shirt that positions all the sensors in a way that there is no hardware in the front part of the chest. All the hardware components will be located in a safe spot on the back of the player.

We tested this with hundreds of players in order to assure that it was comfortable and safe for them. And the results were amazing.

How is the world of sports changing to accommodate analytics?

There are few things happening here. There is a change in the norms of the FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association). As recently as 2015, these kinds of technologies were not allowed in the field, so, professional teams were using this mostly for practice.

But this year the rules have changed. Now, teams like Real Madrid (a Spanish soccer team) or Arsenal (an English soccer team) are using this technology in the field, not only for practice, but also for the matches.

How does Kiron’s technology work?

Our smart garment is a compression T-shirt that has the electrodes embedded in the front of the shirt. Those electrodes read the heartbeat signals. And that information is transmitted through the fabric to these devices we designed, our hardware, which is located on the back of the T-shirt.

Once that information is logged in our device, we also complement that data with GPS. So, in the end, what we have is the complete profile during the whole training session of the match for a player at five times per second. We can read how good or bad the player was performing in terms of workload. We can read the player’s location and understand position, speed, and acceleration five times per second as well.

We log and save all the data in our device and transmit that to an iPad via Bluetooth or cable. We then present it in a really simple interface for the coach, where they can see all the information for the whole team and understand how the team is performing as a whole, but also going into more detail by understanding what each player is doing and how they are performing individually.

Some of the feedback that we’ve received is the idea of having objective performance metrics that coaches can share with their players. So, for example, they can notice if a player is over performing – and maybe risking burnout or even an injury – or if a player is underperforming. That's really important for the coaches, and something we’re integrating into the product.

Is the vest currently in trials, and who is your target market?

Our first pilot was an MIT team. Soon, we will be working with Boston College and the other MIT team, and also the Harvard women's team. We also have a commitment from 10 other college teams to start using Kiron once it is commercially available.

Our initial target market will be varsity college soccer teams, but we hope to expand to other college sports, and then high school and all amateur sports.

What is the cost of the Kiron performance analytics vest?

The estimated cost to the team is less than $100 per player, which is about one-quarter the price of the cheapest system out there. We are planning to offer this on a subscription basis.

We are very excited to partner with senSoria, one of the best smart garments producers in the world. This is a huge step for us and our overall goals.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

We see soccer as opening the door for us to enter to the whole amateur market in the United States of team sports.

We see ourselves as trying to do something similar to what the GoPro did for video editing by bringing the capability to a wider audience. With Kiron, sports analytics metrics will expand beyond something that only professionals can do.

Coaches know that wearable technology is changing the way any game is played, shifting sports more than anything has ever done before, and they want to make sure they are using this new technology to their advantage.

See Kiron’s presentation at MIT delta v’s Demo Day here: