Tech help to train the athlete

Tech help to train the athlete
Julien Eberle; Dr. Darragh Whelan and Dr. Martin O'Reilly. Photo Nick Bradshaw

Start-up Output Sports says its wearable product also assesses injury risks in training, writes Trish Dromey

Start-up Output Sports says its wearable product also assesses injury risks in training, writes Trish Dromey

Aiming to get the best out of athletes, start-up Output Sports used wearable technology to develop a fitness analysis system that improves strength and to identify potential injuries.

Winner of the Best Idea award at this year’s Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition, the company is currently raising funds and plans to launch on the market at the start of 2020 in Ireland the UK and continental Europe.

“We also see huge opportunities in the US where we have carried out trials and working on developing relationships with teams and colleges,” says company co-founder and its chief scientific officer Darragh Whelan.

He wants to break through into the US market in 2021.

The setting up of the company by Mr Whelan, Martin O’Reilly, Julian Eberle and Brian Caulfield involved commercialising doctorate research on the use of wearable technology in sports.

A large number of wearable technology products have come on the market for athletes in recent years, but Mr Whelan says that its product can test more components of an athlete’s performance and can deliver more scientifically accurate measurements.

Explaining that the sensors are attached to the athletes when they are being assessed by physios and sports scientists, he says the system is capable of measuring multiple components of fitness such as strength, balance and flexibility.

By collecting and analysing the data, it provides valuable information to medical staff and strength coaches.

“Output Sports allows for the testing and tracking of athletic performance with a new level of practicality, portability and data integration compared to existing methods,” he says.

A physiotherapist specialising in sports medicine, Mr Whelan has long been unhappy with the degree of subjectivity involved in assessing an athlete’s fitness, noting that “physiotherapists could disagree with each other and even with themselves on different days.”

In search of the science, he decided to investigate the ways wearable technology could be used to increase strength in training and to assess the risk of injuries.

He started the PhD research at UCD in 2013, and was joined by Mr O’Reilly who had a background in sports science and engineering, and subsequently became the chief executive at Output Sports.

Intending from the start to put the research to commercial use, they secured €320,000 in commercialisation funding from Enterprise Ireland in 2017.

Spinning out the company in 2018, the founders were joined by chief technology officer Mr Eberle, who had previously worked for Citigroup.

The company has since focused on researching markets and on improving its technology.

“To understand the needs of athletes we have talked to over 60 strength coaches and medics who work with premier league teams, professional rugby organisations, and Olympic athletes,” says Mr Whelan.

He explains that the information is then used to develop prototypes and coaches are encouraged to tell the company what they think of the products.

“Our second prototype is still being trialled and we expect to have a minimum viable product ready by the end of the year,” he says.

The prototypes have been tried out by premiership football teams as well as with professional rugby teams in the UK and Ireland.

In the US, college teams, professional soccer club Colorado Rapids, and George Mason University in Virginia, have tried them out.

Mr Whelan says rugby, football, and athletics clubs at an elite level are showing strong interest.

He is optimistic that some of the clubs which have tested the products will become early customers.

Much of the interest has come so far from elite sports clubs but he says that the technology can be used across all sorts of sports.

“Anyone interested in tracking components of fitness is a potential customer,” he says, adding that his long term hope is that recreational athletes will also use the product to optimise their fitness levels.

Ahead of that product launch early next year, it plans to recruit a team of 10 people, including staff with experience in sales and sports science.

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