TechGraphs News Roundup: 3/25/2016

According to the solar calendar, spring arrived in the northern hemisphere this week. According to that regular calendar on your desk with the new Jeopardy! answer to tear off every morning, it’s just another Friday, which means it’s time for the weekly TechGraphs News Roundup, wherein we bring you the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

March Madness has been pretty wild this year, with the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament featuring a number of shocking upsets. The Sweet Sixteen tipped off last night, and the Maryland Terrapins, who advanced to that round for the first time since they left the ACC to join the Big Ten conference, lost a tight game to the favored Kansas Jayhawks. A disappointing on-court result for Maryland, to be sure, but not for a lack of technology-driven training off the court, where the Terps have been employing an array of biometric monitoring tools. Much of their technological application surrounds team practices, which begin with readings from the OmegaWave system’s monitoring of central nervous system activity. During practice, they incorporate the Zephyr system for heart-rate and G-force tracking. Coaches keep an eye on all of the data these systems collect in real time and adjust training regimens accordingly. Sure, we’re just talking about practice, man, but, at least in College Park, basketball practice in 2016 looks like it has a lot more A.I. in attendance than it did in Philadelphia in 2002.

The latest chapter in the daily fantasy sports legal saga finds FanDuel and DraftKings shutting down all of their paid contests in New York pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement with the New York Attorney General’s office. We’ve called Yahoo! the “third wheel” in the daily fantasy marketplace, but it was not a party to that settlement agreement and therefore appeared to be the big winner in the Empire State, at least temporarily. The New York Daily News reported that Yahoo! still was taking paid bets in New York on Monday after FanDuel and DraftKings had ceased such operations, but, on Tuesday, Yahoo! agreed to join its DFS competitors in ceasing paid contests. The legal battle will continue in New York, with further court arguments set for later this year, but, for now, the New York Attorney General’s office appears to have won a substantial victory.

PITCHf/x, the baseball pitch-tracking and mapping technology, has been a major boon to the study and analysis of America’s pastime, and it’s a foundational pillar of much of the crack baseball analysis you’ll find in the pages of FanGraphs. The recently introduced StatCast technology expands beyond PITCHf/x to track batted balls, defensive positioning and movement, and baserunner movement. “But what about cricket?”, you might have wondered. That worldly mixture of baseball, bocce, lawn darts, and fraternity-style hazing now has PitchVision, a camera-driven technology that tracks ball and player movement and can compile and analyze the collected data. PitchVision is designed to be portable and relatively cheap (kits start at around $52,000, if my Rupee-to-Dollar conversion was accurate), and the manufacturer, miSport, is marketing them to cricket training schools and teams.

Even in its offseason, the NFL is never far from the daily news cycle, is it? The league’s owners’ meeting wrapped up this week in Florida, and, among the various rule tweaks and other minutiae announced came word that data from the RFID chips embedded in each player’s shoulder pads last season (which we told you about back in September) will be available to teams beginning in May. What they’ll do with it is anybody’s guess, but you can be sure that Bill Belichick won’t reveal any clues.

Australian researchers have created a prototype of a concussion-monitoring headband athletes can wear to allow coaches and game officials to receive brain-trauma information in real time. The goal with the brainBAND technology is to both facilitate in-the-moment concussion diagnoses that should preclude players from returning to game action and measure the smaller hits that, cumulatively, can contribute to a substantial effect on the brain. So far, the brainBAND has been tested on amateur rugby players in Australia, but it would seem to have obvious applications for other sports, including (American) football as well.

Before Oscar Pistorius became controversial for decidedly wrong reasons, his use of prosthetic legs in conventional running competitions raised deep ethical and competitive questions with which many continue to grapple. Research and development in the area of prosthetic technology, continues, of course, and a new research paper from a university in the United Kingdom proposes guidelines for avoiding competitive advantage where prosthetic leg technology is used in sporting events. The paper’s central proposal is to apply a set of practical testing guidelines, including the use of the “dynamic drop technique,” designed to generate objective data on competitive advantages that can better inform future rules and regulations.

In the moments leading up to a sporting event, athletes commonly don headphones and listen to music as part of a preparatory routine designed to aid focus, eliminate distractions, and, for those of us who really loved Jock Jams, get pumped up to come off the bench in a middle school B-league basketball game. When it comes to headphone technology, most of us just want to make sure we’re getting enough volume to our ears. Now, a Bay-Area startup called Halo Neuroscience actually wants to turn up the electricity in athletes’ headphones in order to improve their athletic performance. Halo’s headphones, which look suspiciously like Beats headphones with scalp massagers attached, actually contain neurostimulating electrodes designed to improve motor function through electrical interactivity with the brain’s motor cortex. The company’s own research suggests that their “transcranial direct current stimulation” can improve physical outcomes, but some neuroscientists are skeptical, and the company’s research has not yet been published in peer-reviewed publications. Still, the possibilities Halo Neuroscience’s headphones present have been enough to draw $9 million in venture capital funding.

That’s all for this week. Whether you plan to spend the weekend hunting for Easter eggs or just watching your team hunt for a spot in the Final Four, please remember to be excellent to each other.

Alec is a founding contributor at ALDLAND and a writer at Banished to the Pen and TechGraphs. He interfaces with sports twitter @ALDLANDia.

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