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Cutting edge technology becoming an integral part of sports

More than science: Cutting-edge technology has become an integral part of developing tools to aid athletes at all levels. And things are only getting more interesting.

other Updated: Dec 31, 2013 01:35 IST
Kaushik Chatterji
Kaushik Chatterji
Hindustan Times
3D printing,FICCI,Magnus Carlsen

Box a cat overnight and cut it up, and all that's left is a lingering doubt as to how the feline met its demise: by mutilation or suffocation. But shut these up in a jar full of living liquid for a night, and what you have the next morning is a pair of shoes as good as new.

Shamees Aden's revolutionary concept — a swinging troika of life sciences, 3D printing and sport that debuted at the Wearable Futures conference earlier this month — is still a long way from mass fruition; the London-based researcher himself feels that the regenerative running shoe made from protocells can only become a reality by mid-21st century. As true a picture as any can be found in the fictional universe of Howard Wolowitz and Dr Rajesh Koothrapalli — after hours of drooling over their newly acquired 3D printer, all the two Caltech geeks have to show for their efforts is a measly whistle worth less than a dollar.

Object printing
Sitcoms such as The Big Bang Theory are, of course, prone to exaggeration. True, it is a nascent technology still almost exclusively used for rapid prototyping. But already, 3D printing — using a computer-aided design to manufacture objects one layer at a time, as opposed to creating holograms or 3D stills on photo paper — has made custom trainers a distinct possibility. Just ask Jack Bolas — in January this year, the middle-distance runner became the first-ever track athlete to compete in customised, 3D printed plates.

While you wait for the shoe that truly fits --- the ultimate aim, to paraphrase television's famous scientists, is to bring manufacturing out of China and potentially into our homes — it is imperative to stay in shape. Doing so has become surprisingly easy — stressed out and often on the edge, yuppie India has had no choice but to become more fitness-conscious. The result? Well, the figures speak for themselves.

Numbers don't lie
According to a study jointly conducted by FICCI and PwC earlier this year, the wellness industry is all set to cross the trillion-rupee mark by 2015, and a sizeable chunk of that belongs to a Rs 60 billion fitness and slimming segment that is growing at over 20% annually and is estimated to breach the 100 billion mark in the next couple of years. While fitness service providers such as gym chains account for nearly half of it, the trend — at least as far as the sports enthusiast is concerned — is clearly homeward bound.

Two major factors have contributed towards making the home gym a distinct possibility — technology and Indian entrepreneurship. Sure, simple innovations have dwarfed equipments that have traditionally been unwieldy. But more than that, indigenous manufacturers of sports goods, having tasted success in their core area — the domestic equipment market has grown by 12.5% over five years, while in the past one year alone, total exports have gone up by over 10% — have expanded their domain and are hawking their latest wares online.

On track to being fit
Thanks to companies such as Nivia, Co-Fit and Cougar, a prosumer can, at a very affordable price, work out using the same equipment that, stripped down to its basics, the Indian cricket team uses. Assembling a full-fledged, entry-level training kit on an online retail store such as Flipkart costs less than R 5,000. Sure, these avatars are nowhere as cutting-edge as the stuff used by the pros. But at least it's a start.

If you're one of the 60 million-odd who use smartphones in this country, staying fit costs nothing — literally. Just two thumbs away is your gateway to good health — an app store replete with pedometers, diet trackers, exercise planners, blood pressure monitors… in short, the works, quite a few of which have developed in the IT hubs of Bangalore and Pune.

Playing by the book
Of course, if you are one of those sports lovers who cannot be bothered to get up and running, modern technology has enough in store for the new-age lazy desi. Just take a leaf out of David Eger's book. No couch purist, the Champions Tour golfer's text to a rules official during the Masters set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to Tiger Woods being handed a two-stroke penalty at the year's first Major. Eger wasn't there at the Augusta National. And while he watched the contentious drop live on TV, it was only when he hit rewind that he was ultimately able to confirm his suspicion — Woods had improved his lie by going for a longer shot in violation of the sport's Rule 26.

Golf is played by an honour code; most other (admittedly quicker) sports are not. With stakes running high, there is little tolerance for human errors in decision-making — so we have the world's top-ranked shuttler Lee Chong Wei challenging a call much like a tennis player would, and over half a dozen cameras hovering around each of the goals during Premier League football matches. Not that the machines are foolproof — cricket, for instance, is yet to iron out all the bugs from its Decision Review System.

Going green
Those who run the show have the unenviable task of striking a balance between making changes and keeping it recognisable. Purists, of course, aren't thrilled. Motorsport fanatics the world over are up in arms over Formula One's decision to move to V6 engines from 2014 onwards. One of the concerns is that the sound won't be as characteristically deafening as the V8s.

The primary reason for the switch, of course, is fuel efficiency — the new engines guzzle significantly less gas. But what wins way more brownie points for the world motorsport governing body is the introduction of the Formula E, the fully-electric racing series that starts in September. Motorsport isn't the only one going eco-friendly — what the Indian cricketer wears is either recycled (polyester) or recyclable (polyurethane); the main arenas of next year's Sochi Winter Olympics and Incheon Asiad are among the greenest in the world.

Incidentally, the year that saw Magnus Carlsen ascend to the throne of world chess champion opened with Andrew Bujalski's mumblecore masterpiece winning the Alfred P Sloan Prize for the best technology-themed film at Sundance. Computer Chess is the quirky story of a tournament set in the early 1980s, long before artificial intelligence became all-pervading. As 2013 draws to a close, perhaps it's a good time to watch the film while waiting for the revolution to be Whatsapped.

First Published: Dec 31, 2013 00:07 IST