Smart Sports Exercises: Intelligent Sports Exercises

The NWO project Slim Sportbewegen (2018-2021) was carried out as part of the ZonMw research program Sport en Bewegen.

In this project, new forms of sports training for volleyball were explored and developed. For this purpose, a special playing field was used: an interactive floor capable of displaying graphics and videos. This interactive floor is essentially a very large LED video screen capable of displaying images, with pressure sensors embedded to measure where people stand, how much weight they apply, and how they move. Determining the specific applications for the floor was also a crucial question for the project. How can certain feedback and exercise forms improve volleyball training differently and possibly even more effectively? Before clarifying what feedback, exercises, and instructions the floor could provide, it was necessary to further investigate the data the floor could collect and the information the pressure sensors could yield.

In spring 2024, we spoke with Dr. ir. Dennis Reidsma. Dennis is an associate professor at the Human Media Interaction group and a lecturer in the Creative Technology and Interaction Technology programs at the University of Twente. Dennis's research focuses on designing playful interactions in smart environments. He has been involved in creating interactive play platforms for children, designing games for people with multiple or severe intellectual disabilities, gait rehabilitation, volleyball training, indoor rowing, and more. The central theme is the influence of technology on social and physical behavior and user experiences.

Interactive Exercises with Technology

A large number of exercise examples were developed in the project. Some exercises were only built as non-functional examples, a movie, or something similar, to explore ideas. Other exercises were fully constructed and could actually be played on the interactive floor. For this advancement, training systems were developed that provide tailored, interactive volleyball exercises. The actions and performances of individuals and teams could be measured and immediately provided as feedback. Due to the flexibility of these interactive exercises - which can adapt immediately to players and teams in many ways - they may train aspects of sports that are not possible without the technology.

Dennis explains that the research did not progress linearly; based on partial insights, subsequent steps were determined. "We conducted many related studies, such as different sports, systems, etc. We also worked on sensor technology to recognize volleyball players' actions. This way, we developed a rich understanding of interaction technology for sports," he says.

Sport Interaction Technology - HCI

To develop the interactive exercises, technology also had to be developed to automatically recognize players' actions on the floor. The models and algorithms for this were developed step by step, both for recognizing actions of individual players and for modeling the pattern of actions between a team during a rally. This was done with volleyball teams of different levels and compositions.

The exercises were tested with a large number of trainers and athletes. This allowed the technology to be improved and also to see if the technology truly has the potential to make a difference. Ultimately, the results of this research were intended to lead to the development of new types of 'smart sports halls'.

Partners

To explore the future users' needs and also to investigate the possibilities of the floor, various parties collaborated on the project. The research was conducted by the University of Twente in collaboration with Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, Sportservice Veenendaal, InnoSportLab Sport en Beweeg!, and the company LedGo - along with numerous volleyball clubs, teams, trainers, coaches, and athletes.

Too Expensive and Large to Acquire

The floor is not yet installed anywhere; according to the researchers, it is far too expensive to acquire. It was one of the research questions in the project: how can the floor become cheaper? "It remains a huge investment," says Dennis. "That's why we also looked into using devices like phones, speakers, projectors, VR/AR. But also into distributing small devices that can be used in training. Our question is then how do you use that technology to measure meaningful things about people and how do you use the interaction capabilities to truly add value to the sports activity. Can technology create a richer learning environment?"

A Lot Set in Motion

"The project has long been completed but it was the start of a lot of follow-up research," says Dennis. "Over the past three years, we have worked hard on follow-up research on designing with movement, also on a European scale. We have developed a comprehensive understanding of the knowledge required, the choices available, and where real gains can be made with interaction technology." Another excellent result is the development of a new course on sports interaction technology at the University of Twente by Dees Postma, one of the researchers hired for this project at the time. New projects are also being initiated, for example, around rowing and VR, and a project examining fatigue in runners and how interaction technology can play a role.

Recently, an extensive publication/booklet has been released 'A Design Space of Sports Interaction Technology' which you can download here: https://www.nowpublishers.com/article/DownloadSummary/HCI-087.

There has also been an article published recently with a sort of roadmap of the major challenges in this new research field for the next ten years: Elvitigala: Grand Challenges in SportsHCI - Google Scholar