Pioneering a New Sector at the Intersection of Athletics and Motion Capture; An Analysis of the Integration of Wearable Data and the Transfer of Power in Athletics from Individuals to Organizations

Kodama, William, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Ferguson, Sean, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

In recent years, the concept of the “digital athlete” has grown rapidly through the invention and adoption of wearable technologies in sports. The use of statistics, data, and computational analysis have made it easier to quantify metrics of success for high-end athletes that can determine their future growth and present value. New innovations for gathering and analyzing an athlete’s data provide a competitive edge to teams who adopt them first and their competitors quickly follow suit in fear of missing out. However, with rapid innovation, there also comes imbalances and uprooting in the sociotechnical system in sports.

In the technical portion of this paper, the group designed and developed a motion capture wearable that helps athletes win by increasing performance and reducing avoidable injuries. The scope of the technical work included a wireless motion capture module that can be placed across a person’s body to collect, visualize, and analyze form while completing an activity. By tracking their motion over time, feedback can be provided in real time and machine learning can be used to predict their best possible form and help train them to get there. A mobile app and web portal were also developed so that wherever the athlete is working out, their data can be shared with their coaches keeping them in the loop.

In the STS portion of this paper, the effects of wearables, including motion capture, and its subsequent analysis on the power dynamics between sports organizations versus individual athletes will be researched to discuss the positive and negative outcomes in society. The rise of big data, especially with wearables, in athletics leads to the power being further shifted away from individual athletes to the larger and more powerful organizations to decide. The research in this paper delves into the literature related to how big data is used, secured, and shared across athletics. Large organizations can take advantage of a person’s motion data or any related performance/health data to have greater control over an individual’s value, development, and future. However, these systems can be built better to provide more transparency and equity to provide individuals with equal opportunities to benefit from collecting and understanding their own motion data.

The technical research stems from the work done by the cofounders of Brave Virtual Worlds, a startup that was founded by William Kodama, Dhyey Parikh, and Evan Magnusson who will be continuing this work after graduation. The STS research helped the group understand their possible impact and future direction as the startup gains more traction in sports and possible expansions to other verticals such as physical therapy, personal fitness, or military. I would like to thank Professor Ferguson for his guidance and for his insight during the STS portion of my thesis. In addition, I would like to acknowledge Professor Powell, who advised us through the capstone project.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Startup, Sports, Wearables
Sponsoring Agency:
Brave Virtual Worlds

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS advisor: Sean Fergusson

Technical Team Members: William Kodama, Evan Magnusson, Hart Lukens, Christopher Hassert

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