Running, jumping, swimming, vaulting. The sports that will be on display should be impervious to the hi-tech revolution, right? Wrong.
This year, eight start-ups will compete in Rio de Janeiro during the upcoming summer Olympics in a competition sponsored by the Hype Foundation, which is based in Israel and the UK, as well as a variety of partners for various events such as Google, Microsoft and Saucony.
“The market for innovation in sports is currently estimated at $450 billion, and compared to other markets is still in its infancy. The goal is to provide the first ever international exposure for innovations that will revolutionize the world of sports as we know it,” said Hype Foundation CEO Amir Raveh.
Since May, Hype has held start-up competitions all over the world, from Tel Aviv to San Francisco, Italy and Kenya, London, Denver and Greece. The last regional competition, Sao Paolo, is scheduled for August.
In each, one start-up emerged victorious with a technology judged to be innovative in the field of sports. The winners of the regional competitions will present in front of a panel of judges at the finals in Rio, and the winner among them will receive a €100,000 grant, courtesy of Disruptive Technologies Fund owner Tal Barnoach.
The innovations take many forms.
In Israel, for example, an augmented reality start-up called RideOn, which makes special ski goggles that overlay useful maps and information into the field of vision of the skier, like a Google Glass for the slopes, won the honor of going to Rio.
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The second place contender, SPOTON, specializes in creating quick, easy videos of extreme sports, making it easier to film events such as white-water rafting, snowboarding or cycling.
In the US, the top spot went to Halo Neuroscience, a company founded by a team of doctors and neuro-scientists to actually prime the brain for workouts. It uses electric pulses to excite the part of the brain that is responsible for motor skills.
Whether such technologies will ever be allowed to be used in the Olympics is unclear, as they could be considered akin to doping, which has left the Russian team in hot water this year. Still, it is an exciting development in the field of sports technology.
Another company, BodiTrak Sports, produces mats that can sense force, similar to a Nintendo Wii fitness platform. By carefully monitoring an athlete’s stance, it can, for example, help a golfer improve his or her swing.
According to Raveh, technology in sports is coming around after a time of relative quiet in the field.
“While other areas around the world are at the forefront of technological progress, the world of sports has suffered from relative conservatism for decades,” he said.
“Our goal is to change this perception. We’ve realized that this field creates a strong bond with the community, especially the younger generation and, therefore, should draw tens of thousands of people around the world to take part in this unique project,” he added.
Gili Lustig, chairman of the Olympic Committee of Israel, said the start-up nation is an obvious place for the technological push in sports to flourish.
“[We are] proud to take part in this pioneering activity in Israel and around the world, promoting groundbreaking entrepreneurs in the field of innovation in sports, which will lead to international achievements. I hope the winning company representing Israel will return from Rio with a medal,” he said.
In addition to the start-up competition, HYPE is working with sports brands on another platform called Top 50, which will see technologies from 50 companies compete in front of big sports brands in Rio, and offer support from companies such as Google and Microsoft.
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