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The problem of concussions has gained attention in contact sports, from youth programs to the pros. A new SAP HANA application that uses real-time data analysis may help to prevent concussions and make contact sports safer.
Protecht was developed by Sports and Wellbeing Analytics Limited to measure head impacts in contact sports. The tool was built for rugby but can be applied to any sport where the players use a mouthguard, such as American football, mixed martial arts and hockey, according to Chris Turner, CEO at Sports and Wellbeing Analytics, a sports technology firm based in Swansea, UK.
Protecht is currently being used by the Ospreys, a professional rugby team from Swansea that helped to develop the concussion monitoring system.
Embedded mouthguard sensors
The system relies on mouthguards embedded with IoT sensors that capture data when a player is hit during training or a game. The sensors use radio frequency to send data in real-time to laptops on the sidelines, where it can be interpreted by analysts, Turner said. The data is also aggregated and sent to a cloud-based SAP HANA application, where it can help provide a deeper analysis using SAP Analytics.
The data from the mouthguard measures the speed and force of a blow in two dimensions, rotational and linear. "We can look at the number and size of the impacts both on an individual basis, but more importantly, on a cumulative basis over the course of all the training sessions, a game or even longer," Turner said.
Protecht is an SAP HANA application built on SAP Cloud Platform with links to SAP IoT. SAP Analytics runs on top of that, according to Turner, enabling users to customize analytics to their particular needs. Teams can access Protecht via a subscription from Sports and Wellbeing Analytics, which then provides all the other parts of the system.
Building a system from scratch
Protecht was developed by Keytree, a London-based SAP partner. Work on it began three years ago, and a main challenge was that it was being made from scratch, according to Dan McNamara, Keytree CEO.
"We came in to design the applications and enable the algorithms and the analytics, but there wasn't even a hardware solution, so we designed that from scratch," McNamara said. "When you do something like this that's never been done, you have to establish really early whether it's technically feasible, so we took an Agile approach to get a minimum viable product done within three months."
The hardware, software and analytics grew more sophisticated the more they were used, McNamara explained.
"It's a system that evolves," he said. "The biomechanics of what's happening -- what isn't contact and what is -- has been evolving since then, going back nearly three years now, where we've had that data coming through the system."
The system has evolved significantly from its original intention of providing players with protection from unintended head impact injuries into something that can provide a wealth of performance based analysis for teams, Turner said.
"They can tune it to find out what their players need to do to meet their objectives, which is to win games," he said. "That's the change that we've seen. And we provide the analytics to help them do that on top of the system. So it's not just about measuring the head impact, it's measuring the data and using that information to improve performance."
Because it's an SAP HANA application running on SAP Cloud Platform, the system can bring in data from other sources, such as GPS or health and wellness applications to combine with the concussion data in a more holistic way.
"For example in rugby, we can look at both the running part of the game and the contact part of the game simultaneously," Turner said. "That's quite important when it comes to how they view what's going on with their players."
Need to prove data's value
Nevertheless, rugby is a traditional sport and adopting something as new as Protecht has seen pushback from players and club management, according to Turner.
Players are most concerned with the comfort level of the mouthguards, and while the clubs have expressed interest in the system, they are skeptical of the value of the data.
"It's been important to bring that data together with other data sources to give them comfort with the way they get the information, and it's consistent with things that they are familiar with and know how to use," he said. "The main resistance is just feeling that it's accurate, so we work extremely hard to make sure that the whole thing is properly calibrated against our most sophisticated processing facilities."
Data security is another issue, and one of the main advantages of using SAP Cloud Platform has been the strong access control capability.
"We're very careful to implement strong access controls and make sure that is properly cared for," Turner explained. "It uses the SAP Cloud Platform tenant model -- which is very secure -- to make sure that we don't have any leak-through access from one club to another."