The Internet of Sports Things

No comments

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that has become more exciting over the last few years, with the prevalence of Internet-ready and connectivity-enabled embedded devices. Traditionally, embedded devices were closed systems, with a dedicated or purpose-built functionality in mind, and not necessarily intended for inclusion as a part of a larger system with more open functionality. The ability to network physical devices in your daily life—your car, your electricity meter, your thermostat, your fitness device, your watch, your shoes, your jacket, your coffee-maker, and yes, even your home itself—makes the possibility of providing richer and smarter experiences very real today.

Essentially, the IoT is the network of physical “things” containing embedded technology that can sense, act, process, and communicate within the network and with the external environment. The term IoT is used to encompass the hardware platforms, the communication protocols, the software architecture/layers, the infrastructure services, and the application services all together.

The Gartner report, Forecast: The Internet of Things, Worldwide, 2013,” predicted that the Internet of Things (IoT), which excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones, would grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020, compared to only 7.3 billion units for smartphones, tablets and PCs. It is becoming common to refer to IoT as the Internet of Everything, and the Business Intelligence report on “The Internet of Everything: 2015” shows how the number of devices is increasing in various domains.


IoT is not specific to any domain or vertical. We’re seeing its impact in producing transformations and new experiences in different domains, including retail, sports, healthcare, home, transportation and cities. Every single physical object around us potentially has a part to play in this new ecosystem, and we are only limited by our imaginations in what these objects can do for us, when we put them together and enable them to interact with each other in new and interesting ways.

As a professor, I’ve been teaching embedded systems in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of Carnegie Mellon University in 2001. I’ve taught our junior and senior (capstone) courses, and have enjoyed the process of watching our students create beautiful things out of their imagination and their efforts. Being a huge sports fan, I’ve sought ways of infusing sports into my courses, and also sought ways of teaching through sports. Each of us has a favorite sport that we are passionate about watching and/or playing, and I’ve found that the problems that we perceive in sports—whether it’s improved concussion testing, better referee calls, improved parking at stadiums—are all problems that cry out for engineering solutions.

That’s what my new Internet of Sports Things course is about. The Internet of Things (IoT) is about uniquely identifying/addressing various (and often dissimilar) physical objects, and finding new ways to network them together, in pursuit of a loftier objective. In most cases, these objects were not born to communicate with each other, and they were not designed/intended to work together. The beauty lies in how we put them together and induce them to serve a different, and compelling, objective. It’s about how the whole (IoT) is greater than the sum of its parts (the devices). Think of all the objects on the field of play at a football stadium, from the seats, the spectators, the players, the ball, the pylons, the turf itself, and more. What if we could “embed” sensors into all of them, and what if all of these so-very-different objects were uniquely addressable and could actually communicate with each other? What game-changing (pun intended) possibilities would emerge out of this Internet of (Sports) Things? How can we use the fabric of this infrastructure (the devices, the data, the network, the humans) to improve the fan experience, to improve player safety, to enhance player recovery, to improve player performance on game-day, to improve the coaching on the sidelines, to improve the management of the stadium facilities, to improve spectator safety, and much, much more?

It’s more timely than ever, given that sports teams and organizations are exploring wearable and networked devices, both on the field and off the field, in various ways, such as:

It’s time to bring all of the recent hardware, sensor, cloud, infrastructure, and network developments together. It’s time to see what happens when you start out with dedicated, purpose-built smart objects and get them to network together, to see what sorts of applications may emerge. The device/system innovations that we produce should keep in mind a number of factors: battery power, the infrastructure required for operation, the cost of the infrastructure, the types of data to be collected, the comfort of the wearer, the ruggedness of the device, the non-invasiveness of the data-collection process, the utility of the data to the athlete/coach/fan, security, privacy, reliability, and much more.

I’ve been wanting to teach a course like this forever. I’m bringing to this course what I’ve learnt during my recent 5 adrenalin-filled years as CEO and Founder of YinzCam, and during my 14 amazing years as an Electrical and Computer Engineering Department professor at Carnegie Mellon. This course is not about the technology alone; it’s about the practical applications and innovations that the technology can enable in the sports industry, and the business avenues and markets that can result. We’re going to cover technologies such as Wi-Fi, GSM, CDMA, RFID, NFC, Bluetooth-LE, SPI, cloud computing, and we’re going to study current technologies being used for officiating, player performance, player safety, training, fan experience, and more. Most of all, as engineers, we believe in learning by doing. To that end, we’re going to have students propose, build, and demonstrate a working, useful IoT system for a sports application of their choice.

I’m like a kid in a candy store. I can’t wait to see what we create this semester.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s