What genetic tests are invented specially for athletes? What developments help to monitor natural turf condition? Why is foam for football referees an innovation?
TechnoSpark technology park, Troitsk, includes more than 100 startups that produce material-based technologies. You can see and touch such developments—accessories, sensors, gadgets and full process lines. One of the main features of the park is a special division of technologies for sport. We explored which innovations are on their way to the industry.
What is a football player tracker?
Today athletes wear just as many measuring sensors as astronauts being selected for a space program. The athletes put on sensors for the training sessions and competitions allowing coaches and doctors to continuously monitor their physical parameters. Modern stadiums are equipped with smart camera systems, which track every and each player’s move.
Gadget obsession is particularly a trend in the professional football. They are ready to try anything if it benefits the players performance. The trackers display whether the athlete is in good shape (normal body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and etc.) and playing effectively (overall speed, runs, interaction with other players). These parameters are compared in dynamics. Now the coach can analyze the data for a half-year period. Whether the player is making progress with his game or on the contrary, what mistakes he makes. In general, while 30 years ago coaches could rely on their eyes only, now they have gadgets.
TechnoSpark was established in 2012. The founders were private entrepreneurs and the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs. The main difference between TechnoSpark and conventional technology parks like Skolkovo, Moscow or Dubna nanotechnology center is the fact that TechnoSpark doesn’t grant support to the existing startups, but creates them. You cannot just come here with an idea, become a resident, win a grant, apply for tax relieves and office rent discount and start searching for investors. Here managers decide what kind of invention is in need and look for people who can turn it around. The TechnoSpark business model is about building and selling startups. It takes 10–12 years for a company to “grow” from the beginning to the capitalization. However, some companies (for example, InMotion) were opened for outside investment from the second year.
The trackers for professional team sport cost a lot. Many teams cannot afford to buy them. Popular trackers for footballers are manufactured in Germany, Australia and Spain. They cost €30,000–50,000. The price depends on different factors. For example, application limits, that is possibility to wear the tracker on the outdoor arenas or indoors only, accuracy of measured data, flexibility (if they are designed especially for football or can be used by basketball and handball players) and novelty of the product. There has been no such tracker manufactured in Russia, but a TechnoSpark startup will present one soon.
“About 10–12 football teams in Russia are using trackers designed by foreign companies. However, more than 50 football teams would make an instant purchase if the trackers had a significantly lower price. And we are talking about football only, but hockey, basketball and handball teams also need such trackers. Therefore we are working on the tracking system that will cost several times less than the competitors. One sensor of Australian Catapult tracking system costs €2,500, of Spanish WIMU—about €2,000. Our sensor will cost less than one thousand Euro. We are planning to make the development process and components optimization cheaper,” Maxim Belitsky, head of the technology park sports division, says.
Maxim Belitsky, Head of TechnoSpark Sports Division and Sports Adviser.
The system consists of the following:
- a device with sensors (attached to the training bibs) that track players’ movements on the pitch and physical stats;
- a base station to receive signals from sensors;
- a software solution accumulating the data and reporting on individual and team performance. InStat, a company’s partner and a possible product’s buyer who also supplies sports teams with sports analytics systems, shall develop the software.
“Trackers are a new generation of analytics systems. This market is about ten years old. The manual video tracking technologies have appeared a little bit earlier. InStat started to develop player’s data fixation system backs in 2007. It’s a simple system: the cameras are filming the football pitch, the image is displayed on the screen. During the game or after its end you can manually analyze player’s interactions with the ball or number of overall passes to the penalty box for the team. Now the company has more than three thousand clients across the globe. To list a few, there are the France national football team, Chelsea F. C. and Real Madrid. Some of the Russian ones: FC Spartak, Zenit Basketball club and other clubs. InStat understands that moving forward is essential, so they need state-of-the-art technologies such as our trackers”.
Which genetic tests are created for athletes?
I assume that you have heard about genetic tests that can, for example, tell how many Neanderthals you have among your ancestors. Or provide information about liability to diseases and recommend a diet. These tests are quite controversial. One of many issues is their accuracy, validity and usefulness of the results (yes, getting to know more about the migration routes of your ancestors sounds interesting but where to apply the information), however, that is entirely a different topic. Nevertheless, the market is growing and genetic tests are getting cheaper. Now the cost starts from 8,000–10,000 roubles. There are new tests that do not try to answer all your questions at once (your ancestors, liability to diabetes and creative aptitude) but focus on one specific area. For example, genetic tests for athletes. You can start with measuring your sport abilities (shall you fit for running or boxing). Or find out how high is the risk of getting a skeletal system trauma.
Gleb Speshilov, head of the ReadSense startup, a company that develops genetic tests for athletes
ReadSense has prepared a genetic test for athletes that can detect inherited heart diseases. The first pilot project test (to try the technology) was conducted on Olympic team athletes. The test from a foreign company analyzing 174 genes was used. “The doctors ran tests on 720 members of our national team and selected 36 athletes for us. Using the results of various medical tests the cardiologists suspected that those people might have genetic diseases. According to the results of lab tests, ten test subjects had genetic mutations that could result in developing heart failure. It’s important to understand that not all heart diseases are genetic by origin. However, if someone has the mutations, he or she needs to go through an additional detailed examination. One of benefits of the testing relates to the fact that some genetic diseases are rare and can be insidious. Therefore, it is hard to identify the disease using the standard diagnostic procedure,” the company head Gleb Speshilov says.
After that, ReadSense in collaboration with colleagues from the Central State Medical Academy, Moscow, developed their own genetic system that analyzes more than 450 clinically significant genes associated with genetic cardiovascular diseases. Mutations in one or several genes from the list can lead to the heart failure. The method has been tested on more than 300 patients of cardiac clinics. By the way, the research is still going in collaboration with the cardiac clinics.
How and why testing stadium grass?
GreenGene startup specializes in industrial microbiology and can run diagnostics on the natural turf in regard to phytopathogenic microorganisms. “We had a pilot project on a large football pitch. It was one of the FIFA World Cup football pitches,” the startup head Yulia Dolgopolova shares. “Football pitches are our primary market and area of interest. You say, ‘Why?’— because pitches are high-class sports lawns. They are constantly irrigated, kept warm and illuminated. As a result, it is not only the grass that is growing very well, but many other microorganisms dwelling on that grass. Fungi and bacteria can cause bare spots or lawn deterioration, the grass will lose its bright color and elasticity. Before, the natural turf of our pilot project stadium had to be replaced every six-seven months. It costed 10–15 million roubles. Our goal was to make it last longer, to figure out the source of the problem and invite specialists who can give a piece of professional advice about the situation.”
Robots for logistics, medical high-tech equipment, artificial diamonds, composites, optical coatings, genetic tests, industrial microbiology services, power storage systems, thin-film integrated photovoltaic systems, 3D printers, flexible electronics. There are even full process lines. Such as a plant manufacturing surgical endoprotheses. The preparations are underway for the launch of the first Russian center of flexible electronics. It will produce flexible transistor matrices for displays, electronic tags and sensors.
In fact, the analysis of microbiological profile has long been conducted for football pitches, agricultural lands and park lawns. But GreenGene can offer a new technology that allows testing the samples faster.
GreenGene startup's team runs diagnostics of the natural turf condition at football stadiums
“Usually, it first requires to take samples of the soil and grass. After that, the samples are plated in a selective medium and grown. That will give a picture of what grows on the lawn. It means, the microbiologists can’t analyse the samples they have immediately. They have to grow more cells. This standard procedure has some disadvantages. It takes too long—7-14 days. Not all bacteria grow the same way in a Petri dish. The method imposes a lot of requirements to the lab staff. In our company, we sample some green plants, extract DNA and by sequencing method identify all microorganisms present at the time. The process takes one-two days. After that we apply our data processing algorithms. As the final result we get the Big Data with all sample´s characteristics. We also have report-generating algorithms. The report can provide information about harmful and useful microorganisms. Sometimes it’s complicated: the microorganisms can affect one type of grass positively and another–negatively.”
The product of this startup is on the pilot projects stage.
Why do football referees need a foam?
TEN+1 company created the first-ever Russian vanishing foam for football referees. If you are a football fan, then you should know what the foam is used for. If you are not familiar with the sport, it is used by football referees to mark the exacts spots from which a penalty kick is taken and where a wall of players shall stand. The vanishing foam for referees has recently been introduced. The foam made its debut in the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Before, having measured the nine meters from the spot where the ball was set for a penalty kick, the referees had to show the defending team players where to form a wall, meanwhile the attacking team was often attempting to move the ball to the better spot. The playtime was lost and controversial situations happened.
The vanishing foam for football referees is a market-ready product at the TechnoSpark. It's formula had been invented and patented faster than we came up with the aerosol can holder design.
It looks so simple but required a lot of time and effort from our developers. First, they had to invent a new formula from scratch (later they actually got a patent for it). Secondly, they had to design the aerosol can holder. It was clear that the can should be possible to attach to the clothes because the referee does not stand in one place. He is constantly on the move, but it is not convenient to have something in your hands all the time. The developers went through a dozen of options and settled on the holder resembling a portable radio pin. It may not be the final design, because our industrial designers are still scratching their head over new ways to attach a spray can to the referee.
The TEN+1 spray has successfully been tested for the first time on Moscow football pitches. It also has been shortlisted for the Sport Innovations Awards as one of the top Russian innovations for sport. The foam is already available on the market.
How to create hockey sticks using a spinning wheel?
In the large Artek Braiding workshop, you can see an enormous strange circle with coils—a braiding machine. Thin carbon threads are run through it. The employees call it a spinning wheel. We see how the threads run through the spindles and stretch to another machine, where they are wound on large wooden coils. You can spend a while mesmerized by the process and trying to figure out where the threads are coming from and where they disappear.
After that another machine is “weaving” thin and seamless “sleeves” (the long tubes indeed resemble some sleeves—very thin ones) from the carbon cables. In fact, you can weave anything from them. In addition, the materials can vary and be selected from kevlar, basalt, linen, fiberglass and others. After that, the sleeves soaked with polymer are put in a stove for solidification. This is the way to make, for example, hockey stick pieces, skies, oars or drone frames.
These strong carbon threads will be used to weave sleeves that will turn into hockey stick pieces once hardened in a stove
Composite materials are a multi-component system consisting of two or more materials. Normally it is some plastic reinforced with glass, basalt, kevlar and other materials known for high strength and light weight. Nowadays the engineers want to replace some heavy materials, mostly metals, with composite ones because they have similar strength, but weight less. The most popular example is a bridge construction. They say that one day we will be able to build not only iron ones, but also bridges made of light and less costly materials.
One of the startup clients is a hockey sticks manufacturer from Moscow region
“We supply our products to the sports equipment manufacturers including the hockey sticks producers. And that’s not all. For example, upon request of a major customer, we produce foot prosthesis parts. We also participated in construction of the first bridge made of composite materials in the Ulyanovsk Region. Besides that, the composite materials are used to produce protective masks for athletes,” Alexey Abroskin, Artek Braiding Director General, says.
The reinforced protective masks for athletes who suffered a facial trauma and need to continue training
For example, if the athlete had a nose injury and carries a bandage, but he still has to train, he could use a special mask, protecting him from punches. After the athlete gets an injury, he can create a 3D face model in the medical center. Then the model is sent to the factory to produce the mask. Another company, Zdravprint, makes 3D printed athletes protective masks of hypoallergenic plastic. They also develop orthoses, being medical devices that secure, support and facilitate recovery of injured joints or limbs.
More than 50 startups in the technology park are working on their prototypes or improving market-ready products. Just as many startups are at the incubator: they haven't produced a marketable product or prototype yet, but have been developing their ideas
TechnoSpark can boast many more sports developments. Some startups are constructing their first prototypes. The mastic for handball teams is being developed. Another startup is working on sensors monitoring boxers’ physical parameters. A smart t-shirt prototype is being prepared. Basically, it is a long-sleeve with a lot of gadgets that like a fitness band tracks athlete’s physical states. Every year the technology park grows a dozen of new startups. Usually some of them are sport-related technology projects.
Photos: Anton Novoderezhkin
Date: October 28, 2019