Preparing 2020: How Tech Will Help Train Athletes

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Preparing 2020: How Tech Will Help Train Athletes
February 27, 2018
A woman plays Libzent Innovations Inc.'s virtual reality tennis game at an exhibition in Chiba on Wednesday. | KYODO

 

With Japan riding high after its best showing ever in a Winter Olympics, a recent trade show drew attention to state-of-the-art technologies that could one day help train future Olympians.

 

Sports Business Expo Tokyo attracted 630 companies and an estimated 30,000 visitors to Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba Prefecture last week to see the latest in sports technology.

 

Many of the companies showed off products linked to the hottest trends, including artificial intelligence and virtual reality, while others tried to cash in on the momentum building toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

 

Lightz Inc., an Ibaraki-based firm, pitched an AI system that simulates volleyball matches and maps the emotional state of athletes based on variables input by trainers and athletes. The simulation can be paused so that teams can analyze the state of each athlete at any point during the match. This system is already being used by the women’s team at Tsukuba University.

 

Asked how the market has responded so far in the runup to the Tokyo Olympics, Lightz spokeswoman Kanako Kunii said that she feels the industry has picked up and that interest in the product has been gaining traction since late last year.

 

Lightz developed the AI system as “a way to help teams formulate game plans prior to future matches,” Kunii said. She hopes the systematic way it maps each athlete’s mental state will help teams formulate new game plans unfettered by pre-existing notions.

 

The products were not limited to high-level training gear, however. Several explored new ways to watch sports using advanced camera technology and VR.

 

Canon Inc. showed off a three-panel display that screened a soccer match recorded with an 8K camera — the highest commercial TV resolution currently available. The panels give viewers a full view of the arena, re-creating the excitement of a live match but with the comfort of an indoors venue.

 

“We want to create a space where people can watch sports matches as if they’re in a movie theater,” said Canon spokesperson Tatsuo Youro.

 

At another booth, visitors got the chance to experience a virtual sumo match against Mongolian wrestler and yokozuna Hakuho. Using a combination of technologies, including 3-D body scanning and motion capture, Imagica West Corp. provides a way to archive an athlete’s physique and movements.

 

“Our technology could be used as a way for viewers to experience athletes up close using VR on the one hand — on the other, our archived data could also be used for researchers to analyze the movements of top athletes,” producer and spokesman Takeshi Tokumoto said.

 

Other participants expressed hope that the industry will grow ahead of the 2020 games.

 

Akihiro Sato, president of Bodymetrix Japan Inc. — which sells stretching equipment with special springs designed to strengthen the core muscles — said “it would be great if my product could help Japan win the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.”

 

At the booth for Zygospec Co., which sells lightweight sunglasses, President Masaki Yoshimura had high hopes for cashing in ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

 

Japan is “going to gather stream in anticipation of the Tokyo Olympics,” he said. “I’m hoping that I can catch that wave.”

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