Hong Kong has a vibrant fencing scene and the territory has high hopes of winning medals at the 2020 Olympics. To help enhance fencers’ performance, the Hong Kong fencing community is getting a boost from artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) thanks to a local start-up.
The Hong Kong tech company involved in this endeavour has developed a line of “smart garments” with sensors that provide sophisticated data on how the wearer is moving, with feedback and analysis.
This is how the tech works: an athlete dons the suit, which is equipped with lightweight nine-axis sensors. Each sensor weighs about 15 grams and has a wireless charging battery inside.
These are connected via a patented Bluetooth network. The sensors feed data to a mobile app developed by the firm. The data is then analysed by the company’s Fitness Ability Measurement System (FAMS) in the cloud.
Using AI in the Azure environment (developed by a major American multinational tech company), the FAMS algorithm delivers a wealth of information on the person’s strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, and balance.
In addition, the company has worked with sports scientists to recognize specific movements that are unique to fencing. This provides coaches with a holistic view of how an athlete is performing and what needs to be improved, like having a better knee angle when lunging.
Once a problem is identified, a coach can develop a training regimen to address it, and even monitor an athlete’s progress remotely.
One fencer stated that she the suit, along with the help of her coach, to find and rectify problems with exercise and practice.
She noted that it allows her to rapidly assess where she is going right or wrong, and she can then immediately address weaknesses she wouldn’t have known she had. Thus, she feels more confident and is able to perform better.
The firm’s solution has also been extended to other sports like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) training, cycling and tennis. The company is looking to soon expand the usability of its app to team sports, like football.
The technology is not just for coaches and high-end competitors. Anyone can use the suit in their regular lives. It comes with an exercise app with customizable routines. The app lets you know immediately if any of your movements need improvement, like if your hip position is too high while planking. It can keep track of your progress over time and prescribe new exercises to help you reach your fitness goals.
Additional sports, like cycling and running, are supported by downloadable modules. And more sports and exercises are being added to the list.
The company is looking to use the tech to aid physical therapists. Wearing a simpler version of the sensor contained in a single band, patients can perform exercises as instructed by the therapists. The device will help the physical therapist determine if they do it correctly. This will save a lot of time and it can be done with multiple patients at the same time.
A similar use is applicable to older people, especially those who live alone. According to the Hong Kong government, around 20% of adults over 65 have a fall at least once a year.
Most of those, report some kind of injury and nearly 10% break a bone. Since the firm’s sensors give a complete picture of human movement, the system would know, for example, if a person has fallen down and needs assistance.
Revolutionising the garment industry
The company’s journey to understanding human movement began with a much more pedestrian goal. According to the developing team just wanted to make a smart garment to revitalize the traditional apparel industry.
After three years of R&D, they decided to change direction and were inspired by the kind of motion-capture suits you see used in a Hollywood special effects production.
By being nimble, changing direction, and embracing new technologies, the firm has created new business models that have transformed the company.