Cycling

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In Australia, the Internet of Things Extends to Bicycle Racing

13 Jan, 2016

By: Tracey Schelmetic

The “Internet of Things,” or IoT, has largely been a business phenomenon until now. The prospect of fitting nearly everything that moves, measures or monitors with a sensor that is centrally networked to analytics software to keep track of performance, operations and status has been revolutionary in manufacturing, telecommunications, transportation, warehousing and inventory and more.

The term is also starting to appear in homes as individuals connect their smartphones and tablets to heating, smoke alarms, security systems, entertainment systems and lighting. (You can even GPS chip your kids and your pets, if you like, to keep better track of them.)

Being able to digitally track and monitor the performance of athletes may be one of the next big frontiers in IoT. Today’s sports fans are passionate, most of them carry smartphones and a significant number of them would be willing to download an app that would allow them to track athletes in races. The idea is particularly compelling in the world of cycling, since it’s a frustratingly brief spectator sport: standing on the sidelines, you’re likely to catch a six nanosecond glimpse of your favorite athlete before he or she disappears around the bend. Sure, there are road cameras and helicopters, but those lack the kind of personal and interactive relationship with favorite athletes fans like to create today. One Australian company has come up with an IoT-based idea to better connect fans to athletes.

In 2015, Cycling Eventures, which runs the Tour of Margaret River bike race in Western Australia, joined forces with Perth-based IT consultancy Satalyst to create a fully interactive experience for cycling spectators. Satalyst, which sponsors its own racing team, provides its Tracker technology to place the riders on a map for spectators, according to a recent blog post by Juha Saarinen writing for IoT Hub. But their location wasn’t all that was tracked for spectators’ and fans’ benefit.

“During the race, the audience and race commentators were able to check how riders performed,” wrote Saarinen. “They could see riders’ speeds, location and get data on them such as their power output and heart rate, which provide an idea of how hard the cyclists were working - and how tired they were. Over the four days that the Tour of Margaret River lasted, around 930 people viewed Satalyst Tracker and the information it presented, over the Web.”

Essentially, the data were collected by sensors on the rider and the bike, sent wirelessly over a 4G network to an IoT platform, analyzed by analytics software, and put into a format that would be interesting for viewers, fans and members of the press looking for access to real-time information. While some athletes who participated in the rate appreciated the intelligence gathered by the Satalyst partnership – better insight into their performance means better training – others worry that there IS such a thing as too much data that could be used for nefarious purposes.

“For instance, a team manager could use the monitoring to discover that a competing cyclist was down on power, indicating she or he was getting tired or otherwise struggling on a particular sector, providing an ideal moment for others to attempt a break away and drop the fatigued rider,” wrote Saarinen. “Machine learning - which collects large amounts of data from bike riders - could also be used to predict who would win a race, measuring power output, fatigue and other factors.”

Since spectator sports are a business and race organizers prefer to earn more than they spend, however, it would appear that any technology that better connects fans to athletes (and offers a few opportunities for digital sponsorships) is probably here to stay.

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