1999-present: A history of elite wearable technology in team sport

24th January 2019

In 1999, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) approached the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) – a scientific research organisation – to engineer microtechnology that could quantify athlete movement.

The AIS had been measuring performance for years already, but all testing was done in controlled laboratory conditions where performance is inherently different to that in competition. In order to take this analysis out of the lab and onto the field, wearable technology for elite team athletes would have to be deployed for the first time.

Catapult’s eventual co-founders, Shaun Holthouse and Igor van de Griendt, led a team that combined the sports science knowledge of the AIS and the engineering prowess of the CRC. This partnership eventually resulted in technology that was used exclusively by the Australian Olympic team between 1999 and 2006, a period that spanned the country’s two most successful Olympic Games in 2000 and 2004.

The original device wasn’t worn by the athlete at all, but was instead used on rowing boats to measure the roll (rotation around the front-to-back axis), pitch (rotation around the side-to-side axis), and yaw (rotation around the vertical axis). As the technology advanced and the size of the device shrunk, it was soon placed on the thoracic region of the spine in order to capture the best GPS signal while maintaining athlete safety.

After obtaining all the patents for the technology, Catapult commercialised the product in late 2006 and released the minimaXx device to local Australian football teams that were already manually tracing player distances during matches.

From the original device, which was purely a GPS tracker, the technology decreased in size, added inertial sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers) and heart rate connectivity, and rapidly gained microprocessor power to calculate sophisticated sport-specific algorithms.

As GPS athlete tracking technology grew in popularity and methods of analysis advanced, demand from indoor sports like basketball and ice hockey led to the adoption of local positioning systems (LPS). LPS technology negated the need for a clear view of satellites in the sky, creating a proxy satellite network indoors to allow for the precise tracking of athletes in enclosed stadia.

As the technology continues its rapid development, the next step is for GPS and LPS technologies to converge in a single device, allowing for consistent performance monitoring in every training and match environment.

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