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About this Article
Written by: Olivia Panchal
Written on: October 25th, 2015
Tags: sports & recreation, lifestyle, health & medicine, computer science, history & society, physics
Thumbnail by: Catapult Sports/Toronto Stars
About the Author
Olivia Panchal is a junior at the University of Southern California studying Human Biology with an emphasis on human performance. After graduation, she plans on attending medical school and hopes to pursue a career in orthopedic sports medicine working with professional athletes.
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Volume XVII Issue III > Engineering NBA Players' Health
Modern wearable sensors utilize global positioning system (GPS) technology to track basic movement data that has both statistical and medical implications in the sports world. This article highlights the ingenuity of such sensors, which weigh only one ounce yet contain an accelerometer (measures starts and stops), gyroscope (measures bending and twisting of the body), magnetometer (measures direction), and a microprocessor that collects and parses more than 1,000 data points per second in real time. The potential impact of these sensors on the NBA, as well as some of the sensors’ shortcomings such as player concerns, is also addressed. However, the main purpose of this article is to emphasize the importance of such data in reducing the risk of injury to professional athletes and preserving the longevity of their careers.

The Move Towards Science in the NBA

Recently, the National Basketball Association (NBA) decided to invest in a Mayo Clinic study on the effectiveness of wearable sensors developed by Catapult and STATSports, two leaders in the wearable tech industry (See Fig. 1) . While many studies exist regarding the effectiveness of wearable sports technology, having its own study would allow the NBA to dictate the potential topics [1]. Many of the minor, development league teams and even a few NBA teams are using wearable sensors during practice, but the NBA has yet to showcase them during a regular season game. The sensors utilize global positioning system (GPS) technology to track basic movement data such as speed and distance traveled, but also more advanced vector quantities including force, acceleration, and deceleration, which are all critical in basketball-related actions such as being first to the ball, beating an opponent to a zone, and blocking scoring opportunities [2]. According to an article by Zach Lowe from ESPN’s Grantland, the sensors can not only track how fast players move, but also how well players move [3]. Along with statistical information, the sensors could help coaches and trainers acquire valuable health and fatigue-related information.
Playing professional sports at the elite level can be extremely tough on the human body. The muscle action associated with accelerating and decelerating is especially demanding both energetically and physically and rapid changes in acceleration (i.e. cutting, sudden stops, and stand to sprint motion) can lead to muscle damage that inhibits an athlete’s play [4]. Access to acceleration data would not only allow team experts to quantitatively measure how fast a player moves, but also look for deviations from a player’s average speed—a possible indication of fatigue. Keke Lyles, director of athletic performance for the Golden State Warriors, uses Catapult’s sensors to gauge player’s fatigue, which is the source of many non-contact injuries [5]. Lyles said about the sensors, “If we see big drops consistently over the last few games, and we know in practice they've dropped and they're telling us they're tired and sore and beat up, then we start painting a big picture: ‘Yeah, these guys are probably fatigued.' When they're fatigued, they're at a higher risk” [5]. The sensors are also able to measure the impact of force when players jump or land. Force data allows experts to determine whether a player is favoring one leg over the other, a possible indication of a masked injury [1].
Catapult Sports/Toronto Stars
Figure 1: The Toronto Raptors wearing Catapult sensors during practice. [14].