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Why Cameras, GPS and RF Aren’t Enough to Accurately Measure Sports Performance

Technology has proven again and again its potential to affect and improve the sports industry and the games themselves, often by leaps and bounds. There seems no limit to how technological advancements can help elevate athletics.

Even as some of this headway comes in what appears to be small steps, rather than giant leaps, incremental progress can have a sizable amplification effect in this space. The fundamental indicators of athletic performance, for instance – speed, distance, power – can be measured in only so many ways, using a finite number of methods. But through continued technological growth, it is now possible to pinpoint those measurements with astonishing accuracy and break down aggregate data into its smaller (and sometimes more revealing) parts. Reinventing the wheel, in this case, has led to significant breakthroughs.

As professional sports have exploded into big business, performance evaluators at the highest levels are increasingly in a position to become early adopters of the latest technologies, which is why the Premier League, NFL and others are fast learning about the value of lasers.

Lasers – and specifically light detection and ranging technology (or LiDAR) – are allowing performance evaluators to collect sharper data and detect ever-smaller differentiating fractions. As nice as it may be to confirm the accuracy of a 40-yard dash time down to an extra decimal point or two, however, there isn’t a great deal of value in knowing that one player is a few hundredths of a second faster over that distance.

But what about tracking the time, to that degree of accuracy, of an offensive lineman over five yards? Or the speed of a player’s individual cuts in the shuttle run at the NFL Combine – rather than an aggregate time? With LiDAR, evaluators now have the tools to break down traditional athletic measurements into components and learn more than ever about highly specific skills that offer new insights into the relative abilities (and value) of athletes.

Cameras, GPS and radio frequency had been the methods of choice for prominent athletic organizations in recent years – but they no longer represent the gold standard. In fact, they don’t really meet any acceptable standard for a modern sports organization. Cameras, by all estimations, don’t effectively track physical objects and are highly sensitive to the vibrations of stadiums. GPS is inaccurate and subject to stadium interference. (Think how often your wearable places you 100 feet down the street from your actual location.) Radio frequency has similar issues.

Additionally, these other technologies may require chips and sensors that pick up signals to deliver performance data to evaluators. That can create logistical difficulties and limitations in accuracy and the scope of measurement capabilities. Lasers offer sports organizations more flexibility in evaluation, provide more robust data sets and, of course, record the measurables with an unmatched level of accuracy.

Lasers and other advanced technologies are creating new metrics and new ways of thinking about athletic movement and performance. They’re helping not only in the evaluation of raw measurables but, with the assistance of AI, also revealing patterns and trends that can be used by coaches and managers to strategize on the playing field in real-time.

In fact, we’re likely only beginning to scratch the surface of what may be possible with the application of lasers in sports. Given the influence they’ve already had on our games, those investing in the technology now figure to be in the best position to capitalize on the coming breakthroughs in the future.

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