Post-Event Report: AISTS & CSEM Conference on Smart Textile Opportunities for Sport
Opportunities for Sport to Push Limits Further with Technology
14 November 2013, LAUSANNE, Switzerland - The AISTS and the CSEM organised a conference on smart textile opportunities for sport on 13th November 2013, at the Rolex Learning Centre at EPFL, in Lausanne. The event touched on the power of technology in the broader sense as well as in smart textiles.
The speakers in the panel discussions represented the perspective of multiple stakeholders:
- Dr Mattia Bertschi, Section Head for the Signal Processing Systems, CSEM
- Dr Claude Stricker, Executive Director, AISTS
- Prof Jan-Anders Manson, AISTS President & Head of the Laboratory of Composite Materials at EPFL
- Dr Kim Blair, Founding Director of the Sports Innovation Programme at MIT & President of the ISEA
- Mr Antoine Dénériaz, Olympic Gold Medallist in Downhill Skiing, Torino 2006
- Mr Jean-Marie Ayer, Secretary General, WTF
- Mr Robbert de Kock, Secretary General, WFSGI
- Mr Bill Morris (Moderator), Consultant Advisor at the IOC
Mr Bill Morris, Consultant Advisor at IOC and Moderator for the event, reminded the audience as he opened the conference, that “all of us” in sport, from Sir Chris Hoy on his unique competition bike to the average middle-aged man in lycra on his Christmas present bike, rely on technology. The “gleaming panel” assembled for the event, provided valuable insights on the technologies that have revolutionised sport, particularly in smart textiles, of which some products were created at the EPFL. The speakers also looked at the implications for sport.
Before introducing the first speaker, Morris offered the audience to contemplate on two questions: “What are smart textiles, and when do we use them?”
Dr Mattia Bertschi, Head of Signal Processing at the CSEM, explained why sport and technology was a “success story” at the CSEM.
“CSEM is a not for profit research and technology organisation supported by the Swiss government. CSEM is a public-private partnership and its mission is to develop and transfer micro-technologies to the industrial sector, with Switzerland as priority, in order to reinforce its competitive advantage, either by collaborating with established companies or by creating start-ups, if this will not compete with the Swiss industry and if we strongly believe that this activity will become a success story.”
He explained that all the research programmes conducted at the CSEM are of paramount importance for sport applications. This can be for example advanced sensors that are used to observe new data that athletes are interested in processing.
The monitory devices that flooded the market at the end of the last century however are facing common problems: Intermittent measurements, gel electrodes, skin irritations, noise & artefacts, cumbersome. There is a need for wearable (small and light), comfortable, multi-parameter, long-term & continuous health monitoring systems.
Bertschi effortlessly explained the technological evolution from the idea to the concept, from the concept to prototypes, from development to market, and from the user’s experience to CSEM’s vision.
The products developed by the CSEM have been tested by many professionals in sport, and have shown great results which in turn stimulated the creation of the start-up SenseCore. A demonstration of one of their products on a bicycle was made possible after the conference.
The CSEM is trying more and more to integrate new systems in/on textiles, by making them smaller, and lighter.
Dr Claude Stricker, Executive Director of the AISTS, took the floor next, noting that the event was very well attended by the sports community of Lausanne and abroad, and asked whether perhaps this was a sign that technology was indeed a key topic for the future of sports.
Stricker explained the AISTS’ involvement in the technological development of voice recognition on the Alinghi sponsored boat for the America’s Cup. Stricker’s presentation focused on the relationship between international sports federations and technology innovation, engineering research in sport and the trends in textile products. His conclusion was that there are many opportunities in textiles to be explored by international sports federations, there are strong commercial ties between textile companies and international sports federations, and he compared the ability of some sports to adopt technology better than others. Stricker underlined the call for further research in textiles, and the importance of trends in the textiles industry.
Mr Jan-Anders Manson, President of the AISTS and Professor at the EPFL, took the discussion a little further into the future, with an engaging presentation on his work as Director of the Polymer and Composite Laboratory, President of the Swimwear Approval Commission of FINA and Member of the Equipment Commission of the UCI.
Manson started by clearly saying that “Yes, innovation definitely has an influence in sport”. He explained that the challenge is always to obtain as much harmony between athletes and their equipment as possible.
In the development of new technologies in sport, the athlete has to be at the centre. The athlete is more important than the industry, and the federations. Manson explained the frustrations encountered in the development of new technologies when a product is banned by a federation. This highlights the need for concerned parties to work together he explained.
Manson raised a question that is often the cause of debates in the face of success: “Is it the athlete or the equipment?” “Of course it’s the athlete” he exclaimed. He continued with another famous question: “Where are the limits?” The expert in composite materials insisted that engineers need boundaries for their “playground of innovation”.
Other challenges are characterised by the financial restraints met by some athletes, particularly those who come from less privileged regions of the world.
Manson touched on the extraordinary record breaking evolution in swimming at the Olympic Games of Barcelona, Atlanta, and Rome, and the studies that were carried out on request of the governing body, FINA, to find out why this was happening. He explained that his team discovered that the design of the swimsuits had a significant impact on the performance with factors such as: hydrodynamic shape, buoyancy, elastic corset, muscle stabilisation, body motion flexibility, metabolism, and a placebo effect with what athletes described as “feel right”. Manson and his team therefore had to modify the rules with FINA. Swimsuits exist at all, he said, because they have a branding advantage. He also clarified: “the International Olympic Committee does not set the rules, they only have an opinion.”
New technologies, such as “virtual development” have changed the dynamics in the innovation process. Then again he explained that sometimes innovation had to be controlled by the international sports federations.
The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) has been the smartest with regards to using technology in sport he continued. WTF uses electronic buds in the protection vests of the athletes to measure the force of hits during matches, to avoid having to interrupt the game to debate on the quality of each hit. This “changed the dynamic of the sport in competitions” he explained. Manson added that in his opinion, the adoption of this new technology had been key in admitting Taekwondo as an Olympic sport.
He reminded the audience that the parties involved in technology innovation work in complementarity, with the athletes and the industry pushing the limits, the athletes and the federations promoting the sporting value, and the industry and the federations allowing the sport’s evolution. Nowadays the marketing value also plays a central role.
His first question was: “How do we get to commercialise some of the technological ideas?”
Blair explained that the main reason why so many new products are coming from the industry, is because the prices are going down, the access to capital is greater, the content delivery methods are multiplying (which is great for sport), and access to facilities is much easier now.
The problem is that around 30’000 products are launched every year and 90% of them fail. In his opinion the problem lies in the conception of innovation. Blair explains that innovation has become a buzzword. Blair offers to define innovation as ‘insight + invention’ and to differentiate ‘innovation’ from ‘invention’. The key is to understand what people’s needs are and how to get rid of the risk of failure. The answer to that lies in “focusing more on technological feasibility and resisting the temptation to run forward with the first great idea”.
Blair concluded with the statement: “what sport really needs is a sponsor, because sponsors want the fans, and the fans want sport.”
Mr Antoine Dénériaz, Olympian Gold Medallist in Downhill Skiing at the Torino Olympic Games in 2006, ever so modestly shared his insights on the role that technology played in his athlete career, after the audience watched a video of his winning race, graciously provided by the IOC.
Dénériaz raced for 11 years, won several World Cups, and broke his knee one year prior to the Olympic Games in Torino, which he won. While competing as an athlete, Dénériaz was involved with the French Olympic Committee and worked closely with sponsors. He later created his own brand ‘Dénériaz’ to try to put his experience into his own products.
The Frenchman explained that technical parameters can make a huge difference on the results, particularly in a sport like downhill skiing. There are also parameters he could not control himself, such as the weather conditions.
Dénériaz described his training routine as a competitive skier and explained that he worked all year round with 20 different pairs of skis in an effort to find the best pair. This was a process closely supervised by a technician. However as Dénériaz explained, skiing is not so easy to commercialise, particularly the ski suits which are developed with the manufacturers directly. The athlete compared Downhill Skiing to Formula 1 with no hesitation, saying how the governing body for skiing (FIS) was working hard on making it a safer sport.
Dénériaz concluded on the declaration that a skier’s worst enemy, would have to be the flaws in his equipment.
Bill Morris next opened the floor to a panel discussion and questions in which the speakers were joined by Mr Jean-Marie Ayer, Secretary General of WTF, and Mr Robbert de Kock, Secretary General of WFSGI.
- Ayer opened the discussion by explaining that his federation used technology because it had to use it, in order to have fair rules in competitions. The issue, he explained, was that the federation did not define from the start what it wanted the scientists to do. “The federation started looking and taking what was interesting”.
- Ayer continued: “We don’t really understand what a textile is, in a federation.” He addressed the following question to Manson: ‘Why do swimmers need swim suits anyway?” After laughter ran through the audience, Manson explained that sport was part of the fashion industry, and there was no reason to exclude the sport of swimming.
- Dénériaz liked the idea that came from the audience, to have data captured on the skiers’ textile equipment to share information on the athletes’ performance with the fans through media. He explained that it is hard for fans to understand the real difficulty of skiing and its technicality. This is information that is not currently communicated on TV.
- More questions stimulated the response of de Kock: “My job is to market new technologies. At WTF technology is necessary for scoring. The reality is that there are very few products used in high level sport that are commercially interesting. Therefore if we want these products to be developed, we must find another way to finance them.” The question is “how can we maintain the speed at which innovation is currently going?”
- Questions arose on the topic of the commercialisation of innovative sports products. De Kock explained that contrary to impression, there is a lot of interest in innovative products from amateurs and from the average consumer in sports goods. Blair added that although technology is developed for the top of the pyramid, it tends to trickle down very fast to the wider market.
- The audience enquired whether there was any resistance from national federations in adopting rules set by the international federations. Manson confirmed the impression explaining that a national federation had recently bought large quantities of a new technological product developed for sports competitions as imposed by the international federation, but with technology progressing so fast, the system was already set to be different the next year. Ayer took that question, explaining that technology did not always need to be used. International federations also encourage sponsorship.
Morris closed the conference by thanking the speakers, the hosts, and the audience for their excellent contribution.
The Winter Universiade Torch made an appearance at the end of conference to everyone’s delight (see photo below).
Winter Universiade Torch carriers standing on the left of the panel of speakers of the conference.
About the AISTS
The AISTS (International Academy for Sports Science and Technology) is a foundation located in Lausanne, the Olympic Capital, Switzerland. It was founded in 2000 by the International Olympic Committee, EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne), IMD Business School, University of Lausanne, University of Geneva, IDHEAP (Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration), EHL (Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne), City of Lausanne, and the Canton of Vaud.
The mission of the AISTS is to Master Sport by positively contributing to sports management through a multi-disciplinary approach to education and sciences and by remaining at the forefront of the sport industry’s development and the Olympic movement.
About the CSEM
CSEM, Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology), founded in 1984, is a private applied research and development center specializing in micro- and nanotechnology, system engineering microelectronics and communications technologies. It offers its customers and industry partners custom-made, innovative solutions based on its knowledge of the market and the technological expertise derived from applied research.
CSEM's mission is to enhance the competitiveness of industry, particularly Swiss industry, by developing applied technology platforms in micro- and nanotechnologies and ICT and transferring them to the industrial sector.