Iprova disruption briefing — 2: Sports and fitness

Last time we initiated our series on smart spaces for invention with: Food: 4 Areas of Disruption In A Post-Pandemic World.

This week we tackle sports and fitness – looking at how these industries have responded to social distancing requirements – and outline some surprising areas of disruption, and opportunities for invention identified using Iprova’s data-driven invention platform.

Even before the outbreak, the adoption of digital sports and fitness products had been gaining momentum. “Fit-tech” companies like Mirror and the controversial Peleton started bringing the experience of the gym and road cycling into people’s homes, Strava has enabled virtual communities of athletes to share their workouts, and for some of us at Iprova, even Oculus’s Beat Saber and Racket Fury VR experiences have got our blood pumping. The real-world fitness industry has been forced to rapidly reinvent itself, migrating classes to online platforms like Zoom or ClassPass. These technology-driven products and services have allowed some of us to stay fit at home. Many of us, however, miss our basketball games in the park, the in-class corrections from our yoga instructor, and the roar of the crowd when our team scores a goal. Fitness and sports are not just about physical health — they nourish our mental health and feelings of social connection.

Here are 5 points of disruption that we think have the potential to drive inventions in this space:

1. Low-resistance respiration (Next-generation masks)

Running outdoors is great for your mental and physical health but reports of overcrowded paths in cities have led to questions about safety. The US CDC has recommended that runners wear face coverings, but this only prevents wearers from spreading the virus- it won’t necessarily protect them. Respirators that will protect wearers, however, restrict airflow and quickly become wet and uncomfortable. There is a huge opportunity to develop masks for exercise or even competitive sports in the future. These masks could incorporate moisture wicking, and filter material that enables increased air intake, whilst also blocking submicroscopic particles, for example, by using this nanofilter composed of carbon nanotube-silver composites designed for water treatment. When social distancing measures ease, this type of mask could also be used to reduce transmission of viruses while playing sports with others, and/or to reduce exposure to city pollution while exercising outside.

2. Smart route planning

What if you don’t want to wear a mask? Have you tried to go for a bike ride early Sunday morning to avoid crowds only to realise that everybody else had the same idea? Google Maps and Waze have become pretty good at telling us about traffic and providing us with dynamic optimal routes.

Imagine if your smart watch could schedule your exercise and give you real time directions allowing you to get your kilometres in, while avoiding crowds or vulnerable people.

Post-pandemic dynamic smart routes could also:

3. Autonomous vehicle-based strength and balance monitoring

A 2020 Australian study found that “prefrailty” occurs in 45% of the population over 40, and is exacerbated by stress and a sedentary lifestyle. Does that not sound like the lockdown conditions we are now all too familiar with? Prefrailty is a risk factor for disease and can be monitored and improved by building core strength and balance…

…meanwhile, healthcare is making its way into the transportation industry (Uber Health) —suggesting great potential in the autonomous vehicle technology space, thanks to the multitude of sensors that are already used to monitor passengers and control the car. To track core strength and balance, the car could initiate small movements, and by evaluating the occupants’ reaction to these, measure the body’s muscular response.

4. Virtual Sports

Why do many of us choose to go watch our favourite teams in the flesh rather than from our homes? Aren’t our couches more comfortable than the stands? The interaction we have with our friends, fellow fans, and even the impact we have on the players, is an important part of the experience. What is a soccer game if we can’t yell at the referee (even if (s)he can’t hear us)? Even as social distancing measures ease, crowds are unlikely to be permitted for a while, so below are some proposals as to how we could enhance the sport viewing experience well past lockdown:

  • At a game you can choose your seat, and you can choose where to focus your attention. Perhaps you like to follow your favourite player or are more interested in how your team’s defence is organising itself. Not everybody wants to be watching the same action, but television broadcast traditionally provides a single perspective to all viewers. By tracking small eye movements, such as could be enabled in VR setups, we could imagine a viewing experience that estimates our desired field of vision and focal point, and adapts what is presented based on what we want to see.
  • In the stadium players are energised by roaring crowds and referees are booed when they make questionable decisions. We might not be able to sit in the stands but what if we could influence the game anyway? Maybe player substitutions are made based on collective emotion? Perhaps viewer responses could be detected based on emotional body gesture recognition from a simple wireless signal, or even uploaded as a TikTok video?
  • Players appearances could even be temporarily augmented on the screen. For example, ‘Player X’ turns into grandma as viewers are complaining about his fitness. Or imagine if a viewer could mimic a great pass that just happened, and during the replay, see themselves passing to NFL player Tom Brady instead, with a score ranking their form. This functionality could be enabled by pose estimation and deep fakes.
  • Technology could also allow viewers to physically take part in competition. The Tour de Suisse cycling event will be held virtually this April using smart roller trainers and virtual cycling platform ROUVY. Teams will be represented on a virtual course using avatars, so what is to prevent viewers from participating. Perhaps the top 3 participating amateurs are also added to the broadcast, or handicaps could be applied so the viewer him/herself can ride along with the pros.

5. Anything-as-a-sport

For many of us, the draw towards sports stems from the sense of competition, the satisfaction of skill mastery, and the community we build around them. To fill the void left by cancelled sports events, even competitions as inanimate and random as marble racing are gaining traction.

“If for some reason you don’t know what a marble race is, the concept is very simple to grasp. A group of marbles are sent down a track and the first marble to the finish line wins. That’s it.”


If marble racing can be engaging, then why not turn everyday activities into sport. Feeling a bit down and need a competition to lend excitement to mundane everyday tasks? Your next generation smartwatch might be able to recognise your mood from physiological signals, and suggest that you join a micro-sports team looking to carry out the same task. The team may then be pitted against another team (e.g. making omelettes) where the cooking of everyone is visible to the cooks and an audience — automatically encouraging competitive behaviour. Teams could then support each other in the performance of the skill. What about laundry folding?

Which ordinarily mundane task would you like to see gamified?

Which other ways do you see incoming technologies opening up ways of disrupting sports and fitness as we know them?

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