This week is the week of Roland Garros, one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world, so we thought we would go over the emerging technologies in the world of pro tennis.
In the past few years, the world of tennis has evolved quite dramatically through the emergence of advanced technologies (Injury prevention software, wearables, AI, AR/VR/holograms, radars..) that have helped improve the fans experience as well as the performance of tennis players or even prevent major injuries.
Injury prevention tools and advanced wearables measuring hydration level, fatigue level of muscles, or the mapping pressure on the foot, have become critical tools to help coaches reduce the number of injuries in tennis.
So what are the most common types of injuries in tennis today?
According to a study from the Business Journal:
- 39% of injuries were acute new presentations occurring during the Championships.
- 34% presentations related to acute traumatic injuries that had been sustained elsewhere prior to the Championships (acute-prior).
- 16% of presentations were pre-existing chronic in nature.
- 11% injuries had occurred within 8 weeks of recovery from a similar injury to same site and were classified as recurrent injury.
Source: Business Journal
Shoulder, knee and lumbar spine presentations are common in both male and female tennis players at The Championships. Male players appear to sustain more groin, hip, ankle and heel injuries, with wrist and foot problems being commoner in female players. Figure 7 shows a graphic representation of the proportion of injuries sustained by male and female players by body region over the 10-year period, 2003–2012.
- Axial injuries (including head, spine and abdomen) account for 25% and 23% injuries in male and female players, respectively.
- Upper limb injuries account for 28% injuries in both genders.
- Lower limb injuries account for 47% and 49% injuries in male and female players, respectively.
Source: Business Journal
In this analysis, we’ll provide an overview of the key tennis tech segments, the key players, and current and future trends.
Let’s start by defining the key tennis tech segments:
(1) Wearables: This segment typically includes wearables from various shapes and forms such as smart patches, smartwatches, fitness bands, smart t-shirts, smart shorts, smart shoes/insoles embedded with sensors capable of measuring athletes’ biometric data (HR, HRV, workload, fatigue, breathing, and more). Key players include companies like Hexoskin, OMsignal, Babola, Polar, IOFIT, Sensoria, Strive, Athos, Myontec, Adidas, Samsung, Apple, Sony, Fitbit, Plantiga, Garmin, adidas, LG, Huawei, Motorola, Kenzen, Gatorade, MC10, iRythm, Vital Connect, among others.
(2) Performance training: These are typically devices or software that are specifically focused on measuring the performance of tennis players and help coaches better understand the readiness of players or even prevent injuries. They can be software solutions (Tennis Locker, Kitman Labs), and are not necessarily wearables (Bisu). They can also be worn on the body and track GPS (location..) as well as workload, fatigue level, speed, the mapping pressure on the foot, and more. Key players include companies like PIQ, Plantiga, Myontec.
(3) Neuroscience & biofeedback: These are technologies that enable the visualization of brain wave activities as well as the measurement of data such as ECG. It can be typically worn on the head and can also be used to measure biofeedback to help athletes relax and be in the zone when they need to perform during sports events. Key players are Emotiv, or NeuroSky. And companies like Halo also built a neuroscience based device enabling athletes to increase neuroplasticity. Lastly companies like REBALANCE Impulse developed a solution for tennis players that combines neurotechnology, with apply neurosciences, color and sound therapy to create an effective stress-reducing experience.
(4) AI based video highlights: This segment typically includes AI-based solutions that enable the creation video highlights and teasers which enable broadcasters, publishers, and teams to automate the video production process using AI and neural networks. The key players in this vertical are companies like IBM, Vilynx, Stainless AI, Reely, Minute.ly, and WSC Sports.
(5) VR/AR/MR/3D/Avatars experiences: These are typically VR or AR/MR experiences that helps recreate a tennis experience in a virtual environment or augmented environment. Key vendors in this space are companies like Microsoft, HTC, Sony, WEARVR. Other companies like VREE have also created a virtual tennis competition where users can wear a full body suit and play against any players in the world. Other companies like Silkke have created a 3D based avatar experience for tennis players.
(6) Sleep monitoring: These are usually smart devices (e.g. mask, headband, watch..) capable of monitoring the athletes’ sleep and even making them fall sleep. For example Sana built a smart sleeping mask that uses pulses of lights and sounds and can make athletes sleep in 15 minutes. Other companies focusing on this area include companies like Fullpower Technologies, Fatigue Science (watch), Dreem (headband), Philips, Whoop (Watch), to name a few.
(7) SaaS systems: This category usually includes SaaS platforms that enable tennis clubs and academies to handle the booking and scheduling of tennis courts. Key players in this space include companies like IBM, Kourts, just to name a few.
(8) Radar / computer vision: This segment usually includes companies that developed advanced radars based on AI/computer vision technology capable of measuring various stats (Speed of the ball, score..) on the tennis courts. Key players in the space include Playsight, Mojjo, just to name a few.
Source: Sports Tech Advisors, 2019
In the following section we are going to highlight some of those emerging areas in greater details.
- Holograms enabling fans to virtually play against tennis players:
What if you could virtually play against the holographic version of your favorite tennis player? This is exactly what companies like VNTANA created. A few years ago they teamed up with Mercedes Benz to create an holographic experience that allowed fans to interact with a hologram of Tennis star Roger Federer.
So what what was the outcome of this experience?
Over 8,000 fans went through the activation, increasing consumer engagement by 20% from past years.
As we noted in a previous analysis, we believe that Holographic type experiences are a great way for teams, and brands to engage fans, and drive activations. Brands can leverage such an innovative medium to capture contact information that may lead to potential leads and future sales. Teams can attract more fans to their sports events as well. It is a win win situation for the brands, the athletes, and the teams. That being said, brands and teams have to invest carefully into these types of mediums to make sure that they can get a tangible ROI Vs how much they spent on such technology.
Picture: VNTANA, Roger Federer
- 3D Avatars enabling tennis fans to be teleported into a virtual tennis court:
What if you could be teleported into the main court of Roland Garros to see what it feels like? This is pricesely the type of experience that Silkke has built. The French startup teamed up with Roland Garros a few years ago.
So how does it work?
Their capsules scan fans and then generates a 3D avatar of themselves. The fans are then teleported into a virtual tennis court. The resulting applications are then almost infinite: For example, Nike could invite people to create their avatar and then play tennis against Rafael Nadal in a game.
- From AI based court booking systems to AI based video highlights:
Over the past few years, AI has become a prominent part of the world of pro tennis and it is now at the center of many services and products used by tennis players.
For example, AI is powering court booking systems like Kourts to help tennis clubs and academies improve the efficiency of the booking system, the courts occupancy, and help retain and attract new tennis players.
“We have a marketplace with more than 80,000 tennis players, we’re directing players towards facilities that are on our platform and I’ll give you an example. We’re based in Venice Beach, California, which is one of our biggest markets mostly because we are headquartered here, we are currently in 24 different states in America. We’re only in the US for the time being. One club in particular, which was one of the first four clubs that was on the platform, when they started with the Kourts platform, they had 42% on average court occupancy. In today’s situation, and this is 18 months in, they have more than 72% court occupancy”, said Walid Fattah, Kourts CEO.
Kourts plans to add new features like enabling tennis players to more easily find instructors based on their location, or find a tennis partner based on advanced playing matching capabilities:
“Now, let’s say you, Julien, you come to Los Angeles and you’re going to spend three days here and you’re looking for an instructor. Well now, through the Kourts app, what you’ll be able to do is whoever is on the Kourts platform as an instructor, you’ll be able to say, “I’m looking for an instructor. I am in Santa Monica,” and now what the app will do is will show you all the available instructors in Santa Monica at the specific time that you’re looking for (..) The other thing that we’re adding as well, which I think is almost as important as that is player matching. There’s a lot of player matching apps out there, which work great, but the issue they have is they have very little content. (..) As I said, almost 100 thousand players. It’s very likely now that depending where you go, if you use the Kourts app, and if we have player matching, you’d be able to find a player”, continued Walid Fattah, Kourts CEO.
Picture: Kourts’ mobile app and desktop app
To learn more about Kourts, you can listen to our full interview with Kourts CEO here.
As we noted earlier, another area where AI has been used for tennis is the area of AI-based video highlights and teasers which enable broadcasters, publishers, and teams to automate the video production process using AI and neural networks.
One of the biggest players there is IBM. IBM iX and IBM Research used Watson to identify the points and shots in a match that are “highlight worthy.” The system uses cognitive algorithms to select exciting moments from US Open match video based on video, audio, and scoring data.
For example, researchers taught Watson to understand the content of tennis video, such as detecting what a player celebrating with a fist pump looks like. It analyzes the audio to identify cheering and high levels of crowd noise. And it understands the vital statistics of the match – like game points, set points, and match points – to recognize how critical a moment is to the outcome of the match.
Once the individual highlights for the match are determined, the system uses meta-data to automatically generate the graphics and facilitate storytelling. These highlights are being shared on the US Open Official platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Lastly AI can also be used to automatically insert virtual ads into a tennis experience without the need to use any hardware. It enables sponsors to get more awareness about their brands and products. This is exactly what companies like Stainless AI have built.
The point here again is that AI is touching on many aspect of the tennis game. We expect AI to continue to power many new emerging products and services in the years to come. AI will only get better over time based on the continued advancements in neural networks.
- Advanced radars enabling coaches and broadcasters to keep track of the score
Over the years, advanced radars have become part of the daily routine from pro tennis to amateur tennis. One of of the most well known companies in this area is PlaySight. They created SmartCourt, a camera-based sports system that provides live streaming, multi-angle video and analytics for tennis.
Powered by computer vision, AI and machine learning technology, SmartCourt is now being used by hundreds across the tennis world with the top athletes, schools, academies, clubs and federations in the sport. One interesting thing about PlaySight is the product’s data analytics piece which helps analyze tennis players’ game by tracking the various strokes, speed in real time.
We expect radar systems to become more advanced and portable in the next few years. This is likely to happen to due to advancements in computer vision and AI.
- Non invasive contactless biosensors set to become the new norm for sleep monitoring among the world of pro tennis.
As we mentioned in a previous analysis, athletes are very particular about their sleep. Wearing smartwatches, headbands or any other wearables to monitor their sleep is a no go in our opinion. This is why we believe that non invasive devices using biosensors capable measuring the sleep (light, deep sleep, REMs..) is the way to go.
In fact, we work with many pro teams and based on our feedback teams prefer using non invasive devices using contactless biosensors because it is more convenient for the athletes and it makes the coaches’ job easier.
We have come across many devices using contactless biosensors and one of the best products (see picture below) that we have seen and tested is SleepScore Max. The device was very convenient to use as we only needed to put it on our bedside table. It seemed to be accurate in terms of sleep measurement as it was able to measure our light, deep sleep accurately.
Another key product that we tested is Sleeptracker® Monitor, which analyzes sleep cycles, breathing rate, heart rate and movement to offer personalized suggestions for better sleep. Of note, this device made by the leading company Fullpower Technologies.
Photo: Fullpower Technologies. Tomorrow’s non invasive contactless biosensor.
We found the quality of the device’s measurements very accurate. In fact, Fullpower Technologies is recognized as one of the leaders in the smart sleeping market especially in terms of accuracy. Of note, we recently interviewed Fullpower Technologies CEO Philippe Kahn and plan to publish the video interview soon.
Picture: Fullpower Technologies. Tomorrow’s non invasive contactless biosensor.
In the next 5 years, we expect most pro tennis players to use those types of devices using contactless biosensors in the future simply because it is a lot more convenient than having to wear a watch, headband or a ring to measure sleep quality.
- Next generation wearable capable of providing relevant insights and even detect early signs of chronic diseases, will separate themselves from the pack.
As we noted before, the holy grail of wearable health and sports products is to be able to analyze a large amount of data, makes of it all and detect early signs of chronic diseases. This is why we believe that in the next 2-3 years we will see the emergence of next gen wearables capable of detecting early signs of chronic diseases such as diabetes, or blood pressure. This will be made possible by the use of advanced algorithms and biosensors. For example Apple is rumored to be working on a new type of wearable device capable of measuring glucose level.
But Apple is not the only companies or institutions trying to crack this code, go beyond steps/calories/HR sensor data and generate insights.
For example, as we mentioned in our analysis on the wearable sports market, the iQ Group Global, an Australian consortium of life science and financial services companies, developed a biosensor capable of accurately measuring glucose in a person’s saliva. They claim that they built the world’s first non-invasive, saliva-based glucose test for diabetes management that measures glucose in saliva rather than blood. The saliva-based glucose test is being developed. The technology, invented by Professor Paul Dastoor and his team at the Centre of Organic Electronics at the University of Newcastle in Australia, comprises the Glucose Biosensor Unit and a digital healthcare app. The iQ Group Global acquired the biosensor technology in 2016 and has accelerated its development for diagnostic applications. The Glucose Biosensor Unit is a small, disposable strip, which when exposed to an individual’s saliva instantly provides a glucose measurement. The glucose measurement will be presented in real-time, via a proprietary digital app on a patient’s smart device.
Now some of you might be thinking “This is great but this looks more like a research project than an actual commercial product”. That’s a fair point but we believe this is the kind of technologies that will emerge in the coming years.
Picture: Glucose biosensor (iQ Group Global)
Another company focusing on glucose measurement in a non invasive way is Biolinq. Of note this startup is backed by Dallas Mavericks (NBA) owner Mark Cuban. Biolinq is developing a device for patients with diabetes who regularly monitor the level of glucose in their blood. It uses sensors to test fluid in the uppermost layer of the skin. As shown in the picture below, the idea is that the patch, which the company describes as “pain-free,” would replace finger sticks and other more invasive monitoring methods.
Picture: Biolinq’s glucose monitoring patch
- Wearables, coupled with advanced and more accurate injury prevention software, set to become a key competitive advantage for pro tennis.
As we mentioned before, having the ability to take a large amount of data and makes sense of it to generate meaningful insights and assess the risk of injuries is critical. With that in mind, today we’re seeing many startups that are leveraging AI to analyze a large amount of data (like wearable sensor data and video) in order to assess the risk factors of injuries, evaluate and even scout players. This is the case of companies like Kitman Labs, Mycoach, and CoachMePlus.
We believe that over time these various types of AI-based injury prevention and training systems, coupled with advanced wearable devices, will become better at predicting the risk of injuries as new types of wearable biometric data (electrolyte, lactic acid, sweat volume, glucose, protein) become widely available and continue to feed the system. These new types of biomarkers will make the AI-based model more capable and insightful over time.
Another key area in injury prevention for pro tennis is enabled by advanced wearables made by companies like Plantiga or Myontech. Few sports require as many pivots, direction changes, and accelerations as tennis. This is why the USTA is now tracking the workload of tennis players by using an innovative orthotic made by Plantiga. The tennis governing body has begun outfitting some of its players with instrumented insoles that act like portable force plates in each athlete’s sneakers.
“One of the big things that we measure is the accumulation of impact force over a given session,” said Plantiga cofounder and CEO Quin Sandler. “Every time you hit the ground, you spike with force. If you hit the ground stiff and your frame is stiff because you’re tired, more force is created.”
The implications of this data are plentiful for guiding workout programs. The USTA’s general manager of player development, Martin Blackman, said the organization started supplying the devices back in the spring to objectively register each player’s acceleration, deceleration, and training load.
Picture: Plantiga’s smart insole
Picture: Plantiga’s advanced analytics dashboard
- New types of wearables capable of measuring human power, electrolyte, lactic acid, set to become a must have among pro tennis players.
This brings the next point which is the emergence of new biosensors capable of measuring new types of data. We talked about new sensors capable of measuring glucose level, but we are also seeing other companies developing biosensors to measure other markers for optimizing health and fitness. This is important in the world of tennis. One of those companies focusing on this is Bisu, a startup building a smart urine analyzer. The device uses a microfluidic platform to extract high-sensitivity data not available with conventional urine test strips, from a few drops of sample. It currently tests hydration, dietary acid load and ketosis, and is being prepared to test electrolytes and exercise-induced oxidative stress also. Bisu eventually aims to offer tests for inflammation and hormones such as testosterone and cortisol.
Picture: Bisu’s smart urine analyzer
Picture: Bisu’s mobile app which is currently in development
- Neurofeedback / stress management tools set to become the norm in the world of pro tennis.
Tennis is one of the most demanding sports in terms of mental toughness. Some experts believe that what makes the difference between an average player and some of the best tennis players in the world is their mental toughness. Tennis players like Rafael Nadal are known for being very strong mentally which is one of the key reasons for Nadal’s success throughout his career. Companies focusing on this emerging area is REBALANCE Impulse .
Picture: REBALANCE Impulse’s mobile app and system
They’ve developed an equipment dedicated to preventing and alleviating chronic stress. They combined neurotechnology, with apply neurosciences, color and sound therapy to create an effective stress-reducing experience.
So how does it work? The REBALANCE program is both personalized and able to evolve over time. It adapts and adjusts in real time thanks to data transmitted by its various sensors (neurofeedback and biofeedback). The user can use an app to view the results of each session (REBALANCE indices). After a few 30-minute sessions, and sometimes after just the first one, each user discovers his or her ideal relaxation method and unlocks the keys to controlling stress in the long term. Stress diminishes, the level of vitality increases, these are the signs of balance being restored. This type of solution also enables other benefits such as full neuromuscular release, an increased ability to concentrate and memorize, better-quality sleep, faster recovery, stronger immune system, improved acid/alkaline balance. It also protect and stimulate telomerase, which has an anti-aging effect, and enable athletes to better channel their energy.
“Rebalance Impulse acts directly on the rebalancing and regeneration of the autonomic nervous system. Thanks to the various sensors of neurofeedback and biofeedback, our software determines for each athlete what is the combination of cognitive and respiratory exercises that allows him on the one hand to manage his stress in the long term, and on the other hand to find the routine that it allows him to dissolve the stress as soon as it appears and to find, in a few seconds, his cardiac coherence, his motor neuro preferences and his maximum concentration abilities,” explained Philippe Avice, cofounder and CEO of REBALANCE Impulse.
- Sleep & Recovery tools set to give tennis players an edge to help them fight jet lag and recover faster
Pro tennis players, by the nature of what they do, have to travel across the globe and deal with multiple time zones. This is why being able to effectively manage their sleep is critical. One of the companies focusing on this area is Sana. Sana has built a smart sleeping mask that can make tennis players sleep in 15 minutes without any chemicals and by using pulses of lights and sounds.
Video: Sana, HAX
Over 1,300 tests helped Sana’s medical engineers to create the optimum feedback loop to help improve sleep and treat varying levels of pain intensity.
We personally helped Sana test the smart sleeping mask on a pro athlete who had sleeping issues and we were impressed by how effective the device worked. In this case, it helped the athlete improve its sleep in a significant way.
Picture: Sana’s smart sleeping mask.
Bottom line: In the next 5 years we expect the world of pro tennis to use more advanced technologies to help improve the performance of players as well as the fans experience. Some of those advanced fans experience powered by AI, AR, VR..will help improve viewership on TV and bring more people to tennis tournaments. Advanced wearables and sensors will continue to become more advanced and affordable and better at helping coaches prevent injuries. Tools that help improve mental toughness and sleep/recovery will also become part of tennis players’ daily routine to help them handle tough situations during key match points. So are you ready for tennis 2.0? We certainly are..