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    The Commonwealth Games are almost here, and you know what that means? Self-congratulations! But next month, when our swimmers are lapping Jamaica’s finest and our archers are splitting Rhodesian arrows, spare a thought for the behind-the-scenes success stories – our technology developers who give our sportsmen and women every opportunity to excel. Liz Heynes and Catherine Kerstjens focus their binoculars on six Australian sports technology companies that are keeing us in the fast lane.

    Kicking E goals

    You know you’re a footy star. Or maybe you’re a would-be golf pro, cricket ace or netball champion. Now you no longer need to dream about sporting greatness – you can experience it with the E Ball simulator.

    The idea behind E Ball came from the company’s CEO Tony Course, who saw how his two sons, then aged eight and 10, spent their time playing electronic games and sport. In 2002, Course came up with an idea to unite these two passions – a high-quality ball game simulation that’s fun to play. Noting that the Australian market lacked games specifically for local audiences, Course first tackled that icon of Australian sport – AFL.

    The E Ball AFL simulator gives a realistic experience of kicking, throwing and passing using a standard ball. The game works through the interaction of hundreds of sensors, similar to those in a TV remote control, which can pinpoint where you’ve kicked the ball and where it will end up in the virtual environment. The simulator reacts within the blink of an eye (27 milliseconds to be precise) – a real-time response that makes you feel like all the applause and congratulatory commentary is really for you.

    In developing the product, Course explains that he brought together a range of existing technologies and combined them in a new way. "The simulator uses off-the-shelf technology for its hardware, audio and video equipment – and even the software can use existing game to keep development costs to a minimum. The sensors, however, were developed from scratch because there was nothing on the market."

    E Ball also compares favourably with the competition, taking up just a third of the space of similar games, and costing between 10-20 percent of other comparable simulators.

    For those who don’t share a passion for AFL, E Ball can change sports as easily as changing the ball. Course has already produced prototype games for golf, American football and soccer in less than a month.

    E Ball is taking Australian markets by storm. It’s a fixture in Galactic Circus in Melbourne’s Crown Casino and in Intencity amusement centres. It’s also proving popular at the AFL Hall of Fame in Melbourne, where it has a three-year licence and is attracting more than 4,000 players each week.

    Course sees that E Ball has a number of applications in commercial spheres, entertainment, education, fitness and events. The company’s market research shows that nearly half of the simulator’s players seldom or never play amusement games, indicating that its link with real-world sports is strong.

    E Ball’s flexibility also means that it can be adapted to other sports and, importantly, to other markets. Course is currently negotiating terms with a global manufacturer of amusement games to supply a soccer version to be released for the 2006 World Cup.

    The simulator has been scoring a number of awards, including winning one episode of ABC’s New Inventors, and the 2005 Next Big Thing Award for Victorian Innovation of the Year.


    Sweating beneath a satellite

    You probably know about GPS technology in relation to your mobile phone, laptop and your car’s navigation system. But what about its potential for innovation in sport? Canberra-based GPSports has turned the technology towards helping athletes run faster, jump higher and throw further.

    The company has developed the SPI-10, a world-first and one of the smallest GPS-based devices on the market.

    A wireless, wearable device weighing just 110 grams, the SPI-10 is strapped to an athlete’s body when he or she trains. The device takes a satellite reading every second to track variables like distance, altitude, heart rate, speed and how that speed is maintained.

    After the training session, the data can be downloaded and analysed using the GPSports Athlete Management System to develop training programmes to improve performance. The off-the-shelf unit doesn’t need to be reconfigured for different users or for different sports – anything from cycling and running to rollerblading and skiing.

    As Managing Director and CEO Adrian Faccioni explains, GPSports’ products represent the only GPS system used in elite sport: “There are several general consumer products but none that have the accuracy, reliability and analysis capability of our product set.”

    With products in 18 countries, GPSports has just signed up the New Zealand All Blacks and the English Premier League football side Middlesbrough to its latest elite product, the SPI-Elite, which also has an accelerometer to measure body load, impacts and vertical jumping ability.

    GPSports’ other clients include professional football teams in AFL, rugby union, rugby league and soccer; Olympic champions in triathlon, kayaking and equestrian; world champion cyclists and rowers; and national sports institutes in Australasia, Asia and Britain.

    The SPI-10’s awards credits include an Australian DesignMark Award and Powerhouse Design Selection Award (both in 2004). The device was also a 2005 finalist in the AusIndustry Business Innovation Awards, and a Canberra state finalist in the Emerging Export Awards in 2005.

    And for those of us who are not quite up to professional sporting levels, GPSports is developing non-professional products too, like an online training diary and a soon-to-be-released consumer version of the elite SPI-10. Those excuses for sitting on the couch are fast disappearing.

    Strength to strength

    Are you working as efficiently as you could at the gym? How effective and how well did you cope with your last workout – honestly? These questions may not be essential in the life of many desk-bound wage slaves, but if you’re a top professional athlete, they represent the difference between gaining sponsorship and not – or between gold and silver.

    An increasing number of professional sportspeople and coaches in Australia, the US and Asia are using GymAware, created by Kinetic Performance Technology, to record and analyse workout performance in the gym and online.

    Sports technology developers Evan Lawton and Rob Shugg along with software engineer Jonathan Ricketson founded Canberra-based Kinetic to develop products like GymAware, a performance-analysis package for smart and effective gym training.

    The system came about because the Kinetic team saw that strength training – crucial to many sports – was neglected in most institutional technology development efforts.

    “We thought we could develop a system that would assist in developing more powerful, injury-resistant athletes,” says Kinetic’s Chief Technology Officer, Rob Shugg.

    GymAware converts a standard piece of gym training equipment into an easy-to-use yet sophisticated training-analysis tool. During a gym session, the small, highly portable handheld (Palm PDA) runs the GymAware application to record weight, time and distance information from the wireless sensors fitted to the gym equipment. Analysis is performed instantly, easily and accurately.

    Coaches then use the GymAware web application to program workouts, send messages, manage teams and produce analysis reports, so that progress can be maximised and the strength, power and sport-specific training loads can be balanced. This can all be done from any web access point worldwide. Kinetic plans to expand the tool to cover other areas of fitness training, including injury management, nutrition and cardio fitness.

    “GymAware is aimed at coaches who want to give their athletes an advantage,” says Shugg. “It increases motivation and helps keeps athletes focused because it provides reliable and immediate feedback on performance.” Kinetic takes a holistic approach to help sportspeople develop faster and reduce their risk of injury, burnout or illness. “It’s all about knowledge-powered training.”


    A love game

    OnlineHQ is turning the net of the tennis court into a nett profitable business and aiding sports clubs Australia-wide in the process.

    “Members of sporting organisations are demanding more value from their clubs. Technologies available in our everyday lives are also expected by the people who manage our recreational activities,” says OnlineHQ co-founder Justine Smirk.

    Co-founded with fellow tennis lover Dale Godfredson, the idea for OnlineHQ was fuelled by the pair’s frustration at the lack of tools available to help sports organisations manage club activities, when they simply wanted to spend more time on the tennis court. By concentrating their combined business talents toward the problem, they came up with a technology solution that stands to benefit not only tennis clubs, but also the sports community at large.

    The cost-effective software is Internet based and offers a collaborative solution to the issues of management commonly faced by sporting associations countrywide – from grass roots clubs to national associations.

    “The OnlineHQ solution facilitates the positive effects of sport in our community by providing a central resource of information that promotes more active involvement, information sharing, community awareness and communication,” says Justine Smirk.

    The key features of the system allow simple and effective management of everything from membership and competition to rostering and court booking records. Each club and association is able to have their own website as part of the software solution, which allows members and affiliates access to this information, a way of keeping in touch with club news and the opportunity to register and pay for upcoming events.

    “Reduced numbers of volunteers means smarter solutions are required for sports associations. A significant opportunity exists for sporting associations to adopt the lessons learnt from the business arena,” says Dale Godfredson.

    OnlineHQ foresees a bright future in making their software package more widely available to sports associations and administrators. In the process, they hope to reduce the level of manual administrative tasks and data entry currently required of staff, freeing up time and resources to direct towards supporting club activities and promotion. It’s a master stroke that could see OnlineHQ become the doubles partner of local tennis clubs across Australia, and beyond.


    Oar inspiring

    The simple rhyme ‘row, row, row your boat’ has found its application in the training arena. Rover Rowing logger technology, a rowing monitoring device, was developed over a four year period by the Australian Institute of Sport and the Cooperative Research Centre for MicroTechnology. It is now being commercialised for use beyond the research environment by Melbourne company Tectonica.

    “The Rover Rowing logger builds on technical advances made by combining Micro Electro Mechanical Systems Inertial sensors and GPS,” says Miles Partridge, Managing Director of Tectonica.

    “This innovative approach has resulted in a device the size of a small mobile phone that can monitor an entire rowing event or training session.”

    As well as its compact size, the Rover Rowing logger technology offers numerous features. Monitoring boat speed, stroke rate and forecasting finishing times, the device transmits real time information to the coach in regard to the individual rower and squad’s performance.

    With no external wiring and requiring no calibration, coaches are able to attach the device to the deck of the boat (with Velcro) and monitor crew performance while they motor along side.

    “One key feature is the ability to record the boat’s speed one hundred times per second so that, back at the office, the coach can see minute speed fluctuations caused by poor technique,” says Partridge.

    “Another is the ability to accurately synchronise a video recording with the data logger record so that coaches and crews can watch the video and observe graphs of speed and the motion of the boat”.

    Used to coach seven of the nine Australian crews that competed in the Athens Olympics, the technology looks set to find its niche in the worldwide market. Tectonica foresees applications for other sports will follow.


    Turning point

    The folks at Rotasole® are inspiring a ‘twist again’ renaissance, and they’re shaking up the sports industry in the process.

    The brainchild of father and son team Dr Jack Goldberg and Brian Goldberg, Rotasole® is a medically designed sports shoe that ‘turns’ – a shoe that enables athletes to seamlessly change direction while their foot is still planted on the ground.

    “It makes sense that if you are twisting and pivoting during sport, in games such as netball, that the shoe should provide support for these strenuous movements,” says Brian Goldberg, CEO and co-founder.

    Integral to the shoe’s design is its unique turning module, which allows 30-degree rotational movement in either direction. Incorporated into the sole, the shoe’s rotational capability helps overcome the natural limitation of the knees, hips and ankles when the body is changing direction in full flight.

    The Rotasole® technology will reduce the risk of injury associated with high impact sports. Watching his own children playing weekend and professional sport and witnessing the fallout of knee injuries as a sports doctor inspired Dr Jack Goldberg to develop the technology with his son, a trademark attorney.

    Importantly, the shoe is lightweight and durable, offering extra advantage without any additional bulk or weight. The shoe also incorporates a specifically designed sole, which provides optimal grip for the athlete ‘on the go’ and an air cushion that will absorb shock on impact.

    Now a patented technology, the Rotasole® shoe improves upon the traditional design of current sport shoes and takes aim at some of the competing brands’ limitations. As Brian Goldberg points out, “the original sports shoes were designed for straight line running, not the twisting and turning required in sports such as basketball, tennis and netball. Rotasole® has been medically designed specifically to benefit the athlete by allowing for these twisting movements.”

    And it’s not only the medically beneficial design that has people cheering. Importantly, the shoes actually offer improved performance. Basketballers will be able to baffle their opponents by twisting and turning around them. Netballers will be able to change direction more fluidly. And tennis players will reduce the strain placed on their body as they jolt from the base line to the net in pursuit of a winning shot.

    Happily, the shoe looks nothing like the orthopaedic or medically endorsed shoes of old. Its funky design is sure to attract interest from every corner of the market. With a red and white colour theme, and spiral design on the sole, you’ll no doubt seem speedier and sportier – even if you’re barely moving.

    Recently admitted to the Australian Technology Showcase, Rotasole® is hitting its stride. With the shoe now available Australia-wide – their game plan is now to fit the soles of athletes worldwide.


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