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The Internet of Things (IoT) can’t help finding new ways to impress us. One of its more recent triumphs has been in the competitive world of high-level sport. We are seeing the IoT create potential benefits in almost every area of the sports world, and perhaps more interesting for those of us in the smart building sector, the use of these technologies in sports are enhancing and inspiring new ways that we can use the IoT in buildings and cities.

The term ‘performance level’ holds relevance for everyone but has particular resonance for athletes. The difference between first and second place, in fact even the difference between first and last place for some competitions, can be as little as a second, a centimeter or a kilogram. For athletes competing at the highest levels the slightest changes to clothing, training methods and technique can literally be the difference between winning and losing.

The IoT has become a game-changer for sports in a wide variety and an increasing number of ways. We’re not just talking about Fitbits encouraging us to walk more or run faster; sensors are now being used to measure the minute details of every aspect of performance to help athletes be better.

Take, for example, a new sensor rich baseball designed by MIT’s Media Lab. The ball can recognize the pitcher’s grip and figure out the difference between a fastball and a sinker, data analysis and visualization can then help the pitcher improve. The same technology can be applied to baseball bats, golf clubs, tennis rackets, (American) footballs, and many other things to change those tiny details which give top athletes the edge.

While we may not “need” the same level of excellence in other sectors, the lessons learnt pushing IoT technology to the maximum can feed back into the IoT for non-athletes. The most simple comparison might be the use of grips in another setting; might a sensor rich scalpel help surgeons improve their performance in a hospital setting, or a smart brush help artists better understand their brush strokes?

Sports also take movement tracking to unprecedented levels of detail too. There was once a time when tracking the number of kilometers a player had run during a match was the height of sports tracking technology. Now, using IoT technology in football (soccer), coaches are able to gauge speed and acceleration, in relation to other players, when with or without the ball, and how effectively they are using their energy throughout a match.

This level of detail could enhance the tracking of people around smart buildings and cities too. Retailers, for example, could gain significant value from knowing not just where shoppers are moving but also how quickly they are moving past different elements in stores and malls.

In doing so they could extract actionable intelligence on the success of marketing and merchandising efforts, the functionality of signage or assess shopper distraction, in order to better plan their spaces for sales excellence. Security managers in retail or airports may also be interested in this detailed movement tracking to highlight the nuances of suspicious behavior.

Sports clothing design, such as breathable or quick-dry fabric, has been influencing mainstream clothing for a some time. Now smart wearable clothing companies like Athos are embedding IoT sensors in sportswear to detect heart rate, breathing patterns and muscle activity in great detail.

Dangerous work sites, such as those with heavy machinery, could monitor employee stress or concentration levels through similar technology to improve safety. This may also prove useful in medical or caregiving scenarios. While smart offices and other workplaces may also want to monitor employees in a similar fashion, they may stuggle to overcome with privacy concerns.

Speaking of privacy concerns, investigators for Major League Baseball have determined that the Boston Red Sox used technology to illicitly steal hand signals from their opponents, the New York Yankees, earlier this month.

Right or wrong, gaining the competitive advantage may be interesting in many smart building settings, consider the advantages of IoT sensors tracking stress levels of executives engaged in negotiations, for example, not to mention in casinos and poker tournaments.

Sports venues themselves are becoming smart buildings through advanced turnstiles, purchasing and seat guidance systems. These spaces handle some of the biggest gatherings of people in our society today, and encounter unique challenges like tens of thousands of people wanting to use restrooms at the same time. Lessons learnt from crowd behavior and managing the flow of such large numbers have ramifications for other potentially smart buildings like airports, schools and prisons, not to mention for busy streets in smart cities.

Time and time again, in almost every aspect of life, the IoT is showing its potential to gather and analyze date to bring about improvements in performance of spaces, things and people. Driven by the competitive nature of sports, the IoT has the potential to fine tune its abilities to take the performance of smart buildings and cities to the next level.

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