With developments in areas ranging from improved helmet designs to the analysis of sports data, science and technology are opening up a host of new opportunities to transform sports and exercise. In coordination with industry partners, University of Michigan researchers seek not only to explore the science underlying new advances, but also to translate new ideas and insights into practice on our campus and beyond.
Below is a selection of ongoing exercise and sport science research at U-M.
Connected sports equipment
Noel Perkins, professor of mechanical engineering, has worked with Wilson Sporting Goods and Sony to enhance popular sports equipment. Using Perkins’ wireless motion sensor technology, Wilson launched its Wilson X Connected Basketball, a basketball/mobile app combination that allows users to track their field goal accuracy, range and train them to shoot at game speed. Sony unveiled a smart tennis sensor based on the same underlying technology that, when affixed to the handle of a racket, allows the user to record data on every shot, sending information in real time to any linked smartphone via Bluetooth. Through the app screen, users can check the swing type, ball speed, swing speed, ball spin, ball impact spot and other data for every shot.
Ellen Arruda, professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and macromolecular science, is developing a prototype football helmet that she believes can better protect today’s athletes from concussion. MITIGATIUM was designed using a composite structure that consists of lightweight elastic and viscoelastic components. The combination of a hard polymer shell and flexible plastic reduce most of the initial force and dissipate energy. This spring, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will run a series of tests on the MITIGATIUM design to determine if it performs better than current headgear. MITIGATIUM is one of five innovations being tested by NIST, and the winner will receive a $500,000 prize.
Professors James Eckner and James Ashton-Miller developed a manual neurological testing device to measure an athlete’s reaction time when assessing them for concussion. A tester vertically holds the standardized device, and when it is dropped, the athlete catches it as quickly as possible. The distance it fell is then converted into a reaction time using the formula for a body falling under the influence of gravity. Researchers found the average reaction time measured over eight drops with this simple test could identify athletes with concussion just as well as other longer, more expensive computerized concussion tests.
Jenna Wiens, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, works with professional basketball teams, using analytics to help athletes and coaches gain a competitive advantage on the court. As part of her work, Wiens identified more than 340,000 screens from five NBA seasons, and then tabulated how each screen was defended, as well as the outcome. She also analyzed 6,500 missed jump shots from one NBA season to determine whether players should position themselves for an offensive rebound or simply get back on defense. Wiens someday hopes to tap big data to help predict and prevent sports injuries.
The Michigan Performance Research Lab, housed in the School of Kinesiology, is dedicated to helping athletes of all ages and abilities achieve their personal best. Lab technicians investigate the biomechanics of human movement to optimize function, enhance injury resiliency and ensure lifelong health. They work with clinical, research and industry partners to develop cross-disciplinary approaches to challenges in athletic performance, health and wellness, and sports technology. There, researchers incorporate wearable sensors and in-field assessments to gain more realistic understanding of individual and generic biomechanics. And they also offer running assessments to provide the highest level of personalized fact-based evaluation for the running community.