Technology for the Athlete’s Toolbox: Motion Tracking for Improved Performance

Fourteen years ago, Professor Noel Perkins had no idea that his love of fly fishing would result in a transformative technology for sports training. At the time, he had just one goal: improve his fly casting. Frustrated with books and videos, he attached an angular-rate gyroscope to the grip of his fishing rod to measure and assess his movements.

Within months, Perkins began collaborating with engineer and fly casting expert Bruce Richards of Scientific Anglers to refine and commercialize his inertial motion capture technology. In 2006, the two launched a startup called CastAnalysis. It was clear the technology could benefit many other sports, from baseball and basketball to bowling, golf, tennis, hockey and football.

diamondkineticsappWith research funding from manufacturers such as PING Golf, iTrainer Golf, Rawlings/Worth and Louisville Slugger, Perkins and his colleagues in U-M’s Micro-Dynamics Lab began developing sensors and algorithms capable of directly measuring the motion of sports equipment and delivering real-time data for assessing and training athletes. at same technology could also be used to customize sporting equipment and evaluate athletes for recruitment.

“Our technology can record as many as 6,000 pieces of data per second,” says Perkins. “ is offers a rich understanding of performance that has never been achieved before for important metrics such as acceleration, swing plane, spin axis and spin rate.”

Pittsburgh-based Diamond Kinetics, a U-M startup, was among the first to license the technology, acquiring exclusive rights in baseball and softball. The most recent, and largest, licensee is The Wilson Sporting Goods Company, which acquired exclusive rights in tennis and American football, and non-exclusive rights in all inflatable ball sports. With the U-M license, Wilson is rapidly moving forward to bring products to market, the first of which is a Smart Tennis Sensor co-developed with Sony. Wilson president Mike Dowse cites the technology as part of a “digital onslaught that we believe will revolutionize training and the athlete’s toolbox.”

Meanwhile, the innovation continues. Perkins and his team are now moving beyond sports to explore applications in other areas such as healthcare and soldier training.

Diamond Kinetics’ SwingTracker® software for baseball hitters [see above] is based on technology developed by Noel Perkins and the U-M Micro-Dynamics Lab. The system records a player’s swing trajectory in real time, generates
an image, displays easy-to- understand data for improving technique and even maps the batter’s progress over time.

[source: U-M Tech Transfer 2014 Impact Report]