Trends & Features

The technology of tomorrow

Some of the most innovative sports products allow for longer endurance, better health and greater enjoyment. John Bensalhia looks at some of the most notable products of recent times, some of which are award-winning

Ah, Tomorrow’s World. Sorely missed on the current TV screens, the programme should raise fond memories for wannabe inventors. From the opening John Dankworth theme tune and fried eggs, ball bearings and fire spelling out the title, the show dealt with all the latest innovations for the future, including Teletext and the compact disc.

There’s no such equivalent in 2009; in fact, the nearest you’d get is Dragons’ Den, in which any hint of innovation is shouted down by the stern-faced Dragons. It’s such a shame, since some of the best inventions in the field of sport are needed to be broadcast.

However, there are other outlets for recognising the most innovative sports products on the market today. The Gatsby Innovation Awards is an incentive that allows inventors to work with top experts from the Loughborough University Sports Technology Institute.

Here, top candidates have access to some of the country’s leading specialist sports research facilities as well as assistance, help and advice from the university’s business development experts. Institute director, professor Mike Caine, says: “As specialists in research-led innovation, partnering leading brands including adidas, Canterbury, Dunlop-Slazenger and Nike, Loughborough University Sports Technology Institute is well-placed to support student entrepreneurs. We can draw from our own experience in developing and pitching novel ideas and starting up businesses to help boost their chances of success.”

Some of the most recent sports inventions needed backing and finance, and these were luckily assisted by the Innovation Awards. For example, a new putter grip was invented by PGA coach, Philip Gazeley. The grip gives golfers a greater degree of accuracy and was designed to be twice as wide as the average grip, thus reducing the rotation of the putter head during putts. Fortunately, the Gatsby grant allowed Gazeley to put his theory into practice.

Other new innovations to make the final cut were Leon Marsh’s portable hydration monitor and Darren Heyes’ heated goalkeeping glove, which is known as the KATZ (Keepers Agility Technology Zone).

The portable hydration monitor was developed over four years, and works by having a temperature sensor placed in the ear to chart the body’s core body temperature. A processor is placed in a watch, which calculates the hydration level, and the watch displays these levels. Following initial positive contact with Loughborough, Marsh managed to get the grant in order to establish his innovation.

Heyes’ goalkeeper gloves arrived after his career in professional football as a goalkeeper finished. Heyes had played for clubs such as Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest, and after discussions with former goalkeeper, Ian Andrews, they looked for ideas with regards to gloves. In particular, Heyes recalled the cold English nights that froze his hands and feet, which made holding onto a football ball very difficult.

So what other recent inventions in the world of sport have made notable impressions? In the world of footwear, the Vibram Five Fingers Barefoot Shoe is one such innovation. Recommended by gym instructors and personal trainers, barefoot running has become more popular. However, the barefoot shoes allow for a comfortable running experience, while helping to maintain top speed. The shoes are beneficial to the body in a number of ways. They help to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis and varicose veins, and also reduce the number of ankle sprains, shin splints, and keep back pain to a minimum. In return, the user can maximise his or her performance, while keeping the body healthy and active.

Earlier this year, ECCO announced that it would be working in conjunction with P2i, a developer of a world-leading liquid repellent nano-coating technology, to launch a running shoe with a difference. The result was the ECCO Biom, footwear that’s constructed using biomechanical principles and natural motion.

P2i’s ion-mask technology applies a protective layer around each fibre of the shoe using an ionised gas. Because the eye can’t see it, the look, feel and weight of the shoe are not compromised, instead rendering it super-hydrophobic. Ion-mask also allows the shoe to ‘breathe’, which means constant air circulation, drier feet and the prevention of blisters over long-distance runs. On the outside, the shoe is protected from dirt and scuffing, and so is in excellent condition for a far greater period of time.

A number of notable innovative products were shortlisted for The Technological Innovation in Sport Award, part of the Sport Industry Group’s annual Sport Industry Awards. This year the ultimate winner was Speedo’s LZR Racer Suit, a swimsuit that uses a high-technology swimwear fabric that comprises woven elastane-nylon and polyurethane. The suit was developed in tandem with the Australian Institute of Sport, with the assistance of Speedo’s sponsored athletes. NASA’s wind tunnel testing facilities and Ansys fluid flow analysis software supported the design. The line’s cosmetics were designed in collaboration with Comme des Garçons.

In terms of competitive benefits, the suit allows for better oxygen flow to the muscles, and holds the body in a more hydrodynamic position, while repelling water. The seams of the suit are ultrasonically welded to further reduce drag.

Runners-up in the category included Aqua Sphere’s Vista swim mask. The mask’s clear lenses are designed to ensure the best possible visibility while swimming indoors or in low light situations. The Everton Bluetooth service made it to the final four as well, as did Hi-Tec’s V-Lite Altitude Ultra, a lightweight boot that also utilises ion-mask technology.

What will the products of tomorrow bring? Whatever the next decade brings in terms of innovative sports products, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be designed to give the user the best possible sporting experience.

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