Kristy Cheung is a fencer from Hong Kong. She competes out of the I-Fencing Alliance Club. During training, Kristy wears a special fencing suit that is equipped with lightweight sensors recording her movements. All the data is aggregated and analyzed to generate insights on her strength, flexibility, stamina, and balance. Kristy believes that using IoT in sports opens new opportunities for improvement. Here is what she says: “It’s interesting to quickly see where I am going right or wrong. I can immediately address weaknesses I didn’t even know that I had. I’m feeling more confident about performing my best.” Having this type of knowledge is rather helpful for every athlete, competing and recovering. Consequently, the sports sector leverages IoT development services to give athletes innovative ways to analyze and enhance their performance. But this is not the only contribution of IoT in fitness. Keep reading this article if you want to discover other applications of IoT in sports and fitness and prepare for implementing your own project.

What can the Internet of Things do for sports?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everyone was forced to stay inside and couldn’t visit the gym anymore. At-home workouts gained popularity as people still wanted to stay in shape. But this new gym culture wasn’t limited to simply exercising at home. Professional athletes, as well as fitness lovers, turned to science and technology to gather data on their performance, analyze it, and receive improvement suggestions, as they would during individual face-to-face coaching sessions. As a result, the global sports analytics market started growing and is expected to surpass 10 billion by 2028, up from 2.2 billion back in 2020. And the global sports tech industry is forecast to reach $17.9 billion by 2026. Also, the number of wearable IoT devices worldwide is growing rapidly, as more people come to appreciate the technology’s benefits, safety, and convenience. According to Statista, this number is expected to reach 1,105 million units by the end of 2022.
So, how do people use the Internet of Things in health and fitness? In more basic cases, users wear IoT fitness trackers that capture different parameters, such as the user’s pulse, to estimate the number of calories burned and monitor the intensity of their training. Professional athletes opt for more complicated measurements like motion tracking, when someone wears numerous sensors that capture and transmit data about the user’s body position to build their skeleton model. This helps understand the person’s body positioning and make improvements in sports, such as javelin throwing and fencing. In addition to body positioning and motion, sensors can measure intensity. For example, sensors mounted on training equipment can measure how much weight an athlete can lift. Professionals can also benefit from analyzing their vital signs, which will indicate how fast they recover and how to achieve their peak performance. But wearables are not the only way people can benefit from IoT in fitness. Sensors can also be positioned inside gyms and sports stadiums or attached to exercise equipment to improve customer experience. The Internet of Things brings other benefits to sports as well:
  • Allows people to detect minor health deteriorations as they monitor vital signs in real time
  • Enables workout customization for better training and faster rehabilitation
  • Facilitates preventive maintenance as gym owners can track equipment usage
  • Empowers sports organizations to improve fan engagement

IoT in sports applications and trends

Exercising in groups

Deploying IoT technology in sports enables people to participate in group workouts without leaving their house. Gyms use such solutions to facilitate remote group training and retain customers who can’t physically attend. Several participants exercise at home simultaneously and use wireless sensors to measure and share their data with the trainer, who monitors individuals’ progress to better serve the needs of each member and the group as a whole. One example of such virtual group sessions comes from Peloton, an American company that manufactures gym equipment. They built smart stationary bikes and treadmills that allow users to take part in virtual training sessions with other cyclers and runners from the same city, while physically remaining at home.

Immersive training

Connected IoT fitness devices, together with virtual reality (VR) technology, help users immerse themselves in a simulated environment while remaining at home. For example, VR headsets, such as Oculus Rift, allow users to run in virtual marathons from their treadmills and ride in famous cycling competitions from their stationary bikes. With the help of connected sensors, people can monitor their heart rate and compare it to others involved in the same activity. They also enable the environment to appropriately respond to users’ movements and stimulate them.

Smart sports venues

Smart stadiums connect different IoT fitness devices, such as cameras, sensors, and digital signage, to create a remarkable fan experience. They can direct users to their seats, offer information on parking spots, bathroom availability, and promotions, offering a personalized experience. The technology also allows stadium staff to respond quickly to any incidents. One example of IoT sports technology comes from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. This venue includes over 2,000 battery-powered beacons that help fans find seats and facilitate placing food orders. In 2021, Tour de France, one of the largest cycling events that lasts three weeks, teamed up with a tech partner to create a digital twin of the entire race with the help of real-time data. This gave organizers constant visibility over riders and key locations, making the competition easier to manage. Digitizing such an enormous event was a challenge that paid off, according to Peter Gray, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology Group, Sport at NTT. Here is what he said, “It’s a highly dynamic and changing environment that requires immediate access to information to ensure continuous and smooth operations, resulting in more informed and engaged fans.”

Equipment maintenance and facility management

Sometimes it is hard to tell which fitness machines are more used than others just by looking at the inventory. The IoT in sports sensors allow gym owners to collect and analyze real-time data on their equipment to understand which machines are at risk of breaking down during a workout session. Also, sensors help detect which machines are in high demand and causing the most waiting time for customers. When strategically placed, such devices can also detect infrastructural damage, such as pipe leakage and system failure. Fitness IoT devices planted at different locations at the gym will help the owner manage the whole facility. For example, sensors can notify gym staff when a trash bin is full and when paper towels are finished, and sanitizers are empty. IoT sports technology can also monitor the environment at the gym like temperature, humidity, and lighting, and adjust these parameters accordingly. This will help reduce expenses by optimizing energy usage and prevent revenue losses, as customers might switch to another gym if they are unhappy with the current situation. One study estimates that a gym with poor ventilation can lose up to $38,500 of its annual revenue due to people not being able to handle foul sweat smells. Another IoT project in sports comes from Finland. The city of Helsinki used Kaltiot’s IoT technology to track the usage of its 160 outdoor gyms. These are very expensive to maintain traditionally using scheduled maintenance checks. Kaltiot developed tracking solutions that can work in Finland’s harsh climate and gather data on equipment utilization. Harri Uusimäki, Helsinki’s lead maintenance manager for outdoor recreation areas described the benefits of the gathered data as follows: “The data obtained with Kaltiot’s tracking solution is an untouched area in fitness research. We are getting a huge amount of data which enables us to install the right number of the right kinds of outdoor fitness devices in the right places. With this data, we can purchase the devices that best serves and most interests users.”

Shareable health data generation and performance tracking

The Internet of Things fitness tracking sensors collect various user parameters, у. This information can be used to create a custom exercise routine tailored to the needs and health condition of this particular person. And for professional athletes, their coaches can collect and analyze performance data that will enable them to make adjustments in dieting and exercising. For example, HUMANoX, a sports tech company, introduced sports IoT HX50 shin pads that are made of lightweight carbon fiber. Football players can wear those pads during training or in official matches. Enhanced with sensors, this product gathers player data and shares it with their coach, who can analyze the performance and come up with improvement ideas.

When AI meets the Internet of Things in sports: a use case from ITRex

One way to enhance the performance of IoT-based fitness solutions is to enhance them with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. In our portfolio, we have an exciting example of how AI and IoT in sports can work together to empower people to train at home with the efficiency of the gym. ITRex was hired by a North American tech startup to build a fitness mirror with a personal AI-powered coach.

Project description

Our team built a full-length wall mirror with a custom operating system, hardware drivers, cameras, a trained custom machine learning (ML) model for user performance analysis and personalized recommendations, computer vision for pose estimation and body tracking, and numerous sensors. We also supplied an automation testing framework that verifies every aspect of the system, including the ML performance. When users exercise in front of the mirror, sensors gather different types of data, such as weight load, body positioning, etc. All this information is either passed to the mirror and processed locally or transferred to the cloud for further analysis and storage. Based on the received information, the mirror’s virtual coach counts the number of correct reps and gives users advice on how to improve their results. For example, it can point out that the angle of weight holding is wrong or that the user squats too low. The more sensors are used, the more comprehensive the advice. After processing user data, this IoT sports solution creates dashboards to visualize the results. Users can share their information with their real-life coaches and peers.

IoT components

Fitness mirror operates with three types of sensors:
  • Removable internet of things fitness sensors attached to equipment, such weights, to track total load, explosive strength, and time under tension
  • Three camera sensors on the mirror itself. They measure different dimensions, such as the user’s proximity from the mirror, and create a 3D model of the person exercising to determine whether the movements are done correctly with the right form
  • Users can optionally connect their wearable devices, and the data they gather will be processed by the system as well

Implementation considerations

During the product development process, our team performed intensive research and discovery to identify and resolve potential issues. We also conducted a proof of concept (PoC) to test our assumptions. It is beneficial for IoT projects to go through the initial research and discovery phase to foresee potential issues and plan for success. Here are some of the prominent concerns that our team identified and successfully resolved for this use case:
  • How to make sure that AI can keep its focus on the exercising person when other people enter the room
  • How to adapt AI to work with people at different levels of fitness, so that it can recognize a correct form not only in professional athletes, but also in beginners who are out of shape
  • How to make the system adjust to room dimensions after installation
  • How to enable support for all the commonly-used wearable devices that users might want to connect
  • How to ensure the required accuracy of measured signals and values of different workouts
  • How to properly balance devices costs, reliability, and performance
  • How to implement a user-friendly UI/UX so that every user can find what they are looking for
  • How to make this device attractive, so that users would want to spend more time with the mirror

IoT in sports and fitness: implementation tips

If your startup is planning to build an IoT fitness solution, we have some practical tips for you! Our R&D engineer and IoT expert, Yahor Paloika, recommends going through the following steps when implementing IoT in sports.
  • Determine which type of data you want to gather and analyze to generate value. For some sports, viewing heart rate and electrocardiography (ECG)/photoplethysmography (PPG) is important. In other sports, athlete body positioning is essential. Some parameters are rather easy to deal with. For example, there is available technology that can capture human pulse rather accurately. On the other hand, measuring blood pressure is still a challenge.
  • Decide how you will capture your data. Think of the sensors and other hardware devices you will need to build or purchase. If you want to measure body mass index, you will most likely need a device that a person will step on, while if you want to create a 3D skeleton model, motion trackers or a powerful cameras system will be incorporated in a suit garment. Also, think about how to aggregate data, where to store and process it. If the fitness Internet of Things device is powerful enough, it can process the data locally. Otherwise, you will need to ensure its safe and timely transition to the cloud or local storage units.
  • Prepare for data analysis. Raw data is not valuable on its own. You need to come up with a way to derive useful insights that people can leverage to enhance their performance. So, any IoT fitness solution needs to rely on scientifically sound mathematical models, which can analyze data and give athletes ideas on how to improve or even just help them understand their current condition and performance trends. For example, someone can use sensors to measure their pulse during an exercising session. This information by itself might not be that valuable, but applying a mathematical model to determine how many calories the person burned is already more interesting.
  • Think about security. IoT sports devices are prone to security threats. Kaspersky reports that over 1.5 billion of IoT devices were breached during the first half of 2021, while there were only 639 million of similar incidents throughout 2020. Keep in mind that not only connected devices themselves are vulnerable, but also IoT gateways, embedded systems, and data storage centers can be targeted. And of course, don’t forget about users’ physical safety. Wearable sensors are not supposed to cause harm or discomfort.

Relevant resources on our blog

As IoT goes hand in hand with data analytics, you might already want to think about your data management strategy. Also, to generate useful insights, you might consider incorporating artificial intelligence and its subtypes into your IoT fitness solution. Depending on the product you are building, you might look into the Internet of Bodies (to monitor the human body biometrics) or into human pose estimation (to understand body positioning). Finally, this article will help you estimate the total budget required for your IoT in sports solution.
Are you considering deploying IoT in sports? If so, drop us a line! Our team will work with you to build suitable hardware devices and software applications. If needed, our AI experts will develop and train ML models to support your solution’s business logic.