Hot Topics in Health: Smart Ice Skates are the Latest in Smart Athletic Gear Aimed at Reducing Sports Injuries

Hot Topics in Health: Smart Ice Skates are the Latest in Smart Athletic Gear Aimed at Reducing Sports Injuries

Figure skating is a sport which manages to combine athleticism and art all in one aesthetically pleasing package. As beautiful as it is to watch, one rarely considers the level of stress that figure skating can put on skaters’ bodies, particularly their joints. This stress can ultimately make each remarkable triple axel or salchow as precarious for skaters to perform as it is marvelous for audiences to watch.

 

Various studies, based primarily on simulations, have estimated that skaters can exert a force on their bodies up to six times their own body weight when performing jumps. Considering on top of this the fact that figure skaters usually practice all year round, five times a week, and perform a minimum of about 50 jumps per practice session, it’s not difficult to see how a skater’s joints may suffer.

 

A new smart ice skate with the ability to measure the impact and levels of stress that skaters impose on their joints while figure skating, however, may change the nature of risk associated with the sport dramatically.

 

The device to monitor stress on figure skaters' joint is attached directly to the blade and weighs less than 150 grams, making it relatively unobtrusive for skaters (engineering.com)

The device to monitor stress on figure skaters’ joints is attached directly to the blade of the ice skate and weighs less than 150 grams, making it relatively unobtrusive for skaters (engineering.com)

Developed by a team of researchers from Ithaca College and Brigham Young University, these new smart skates are capable of measuring the magnitude of each jump or motion directly from the blade itself. This works thanks to an unobtrusive and lightweight measuring device which is fitted onto the blade and utilizes strain gauges to detect stress through various motions. It then proceeds to measure and calculate the total force on the skate, and by extension, the skater. The device is equipped with a digital card on which it records the data collected in order to allow skaters to monitor their motions and how much force they are imposing on their bodies.

 

Because the skates are still in the process of being developed, their ability to measure stress presently remains limited to vertical loads. However, the researches behind the innovative smart skate are continuing to expand on the device’s capabilities, and by improving the blade’s ability to measure horizontal loads in addition to vertical, it will be possible to improve the overall accuracy of the device.

 

The application of wearable technology to athletics is something we’ve seen before with pedometers and fitness trackers like the Fitbit. However, these forms of wearable technology have largely focused on monitoring progress and keeping track of activity. Items like this ice skate, on the other hand, approach smart athletic gear from a different angle, focusing less on athletic progress and instead on athletic safety. The goal has shifted from letting athletes know how far they’ve come to letting them know when their activity has gone from healthy to dangerous.

 

Sensors in football helmets could help alert athletes and coaches when a player has taken a hard hit and may reduce players' risk of serious head injuries (smartplanet.com)

Sensors in football helmets can detect when a player has taken a hard hit and may reduce players’ risk of serious injuries (smartplanet.com)

This new incorporation technology into sports gear as an effort to avoid injuries and keep athletes aware of important safety risks is something that surfaced not too long ago with the development of the smart football helmet. By fastening a sensor to the inside of a player’s helmet, it is possible to collect data regarding the force and frequencies of impacts to the head. This data could then be used to better monitor how often and how heavily players are getting hit — information which could help keep players healthier and could prevent serious injuries, including concussions.

 

Now, this smart skate is doing something similar by once again using wearable technology as a way to improve sport safety. By allowing skaters to monitor the force which they exert on their joints, it is possible for them to adjust routines and refine certain movements in order to minimize that strain and avoid the risk of chronic injuries.

 

What are some other pieces of sports gear which you believe could benefit from this kind of technology in order to improve the safety of athletes? We’d love to hear your ideas! Share with us in the comments below, or tweet me @tamarahoumi

Tamara Rahoumi

Tamara Rahoumi is a third-culture kid of Egyptian descent who was born and raised in New Jersey. She loves experiencing new things, and is in a constant state of wanderlust. She has spent a year studying in Switzerland and another teaching in Albania. Tamara graduated from Rutgers University, where she studied political science and cultural anthropology. She reports on a variety of stories for MUIPR. Follow Tamara on twitter @tamarahoumi.

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