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The Future of Wearable Technology & How It Can Improve Racing Performance
January 15, 2021
From tracking everything from our step count to our sleep stages, wearable technology is changing the game when it comes to health tracking. It’s making the unknown visible and giving us real-time data to help us live, work, and train smarter. With an up-close look at the human body, we’re able to gain new insight into our mental and physical potential.
These technologies are being used in sports to not only help boost players’ performance but also help prevent injury and let athletes know when they should recover (1). One sport, in particular, is getting faster with this cutting-edge technology: car racing.
How Wearable Technology is Helping Racers Drive Smarter
In the competitive world of car racing, there’s a lot of data on race cars but surprisingly little on the actual racer. Until now, the mental state of the driver behind the wheel has been otherwise unknown. And so too were the answers to questions like: Are they stressed? Are they distracted? What’s their level of focus?
In a sport where races are won by seconds, having real-time answers to these questions can help racers optimize their performance and shave critical seconds off their time.
Drivers can proactively train qualities like focus, mental strength, and well-being using neurofeedback that delivers brain insights. Neuroscientist Dr. Tony Steffert explains that when it comes to performance, there’s an optimal state for racers.
“It’s about matching your arousal with the demand of the task. If you have a really difficult task, you don’t want to be too excited or you’ll miss lots of detail. Equally, if it’s a boring task, you don’t want to be too under aroused because you’ll make silly mistakes (3).”
The Drivers’ team, or pit crew, can also make smarter real-time decisions with visibility into the driver’s current state. Dr. Steffert says that because we have a narrow attention space, getting instructions from a pit crew while driving can be distracting, especially if you’re stressed. Real-time EEG feedback could reveal to the pit crew that stress levels are higher for drivers coming around a corner, and thus they should wait until the straightaway—when the driver is calmer—to give instructions.
Professional Race Car Driver Mark Webber and His Race-Time Brain
To get a closer look at the impact EEG and wearable technology can make on performance, British television network ITV teamed up with Dr. Steffert on the segment “The Racing Mind.” In the experiment, British TV host Dermot O’Leary faced off against professional Australian race car driver Mark Webber so their brain activity could be observed with Muse S while racing. Equipped with an EEG-powered Muse S device around their foreheads, they hit the speedway.
Dr. Steffert first wanted to see where Mark’s brain sat on the arousal curve. He hypothesized that, as an expert racer, Mark should have good control of his prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain associated with focus, emotion management, and impulse control. And that even if he is aroused, he should be able to maintain focus and block out distractions, which would be much more difficult for a novice like Dermot.
While they lapped the track, Dr. Steffert received real-time data from the drivers’ Muse S devices that did, in fact, underscore his hypothesis. Regardless of if Mark was behind the wheel or not, he stayed relatively relaxed and at an optimal state of arousal. Dermot, on the other hand, was noticeably more anxious which only increased the longer he was behind the wheel.
The experiment revealed how an EEG device can help Mark and Dermot make better decisions at the moment on the track as well as reveal how they should tweak their pre-race preparation based on how they’re expected to react mid-race. For example, studies have shown that meditation with neurofeedback could help improve performance by reducing the type of brain activity associated with voluntary movement control (4).
How Other Sports and Workplaces Are Adopting Wearables
Off the track, wearable technology can be used to optimize performance in everything from public speaking to finding focus at work, general peak performance training, and better sleep. Last year, Google and Adidas teamed up to create a wearable designed to measure player’s data from an insert in the sole of their soccer cleat.
The device can track how far they’ve run and how fast as well as how hard they kick the ball or when they collide with other players (2). All of this data can be drilled into and analyzed by players to help them understand what’s happening on the field and where they could improve.
Muse also released a new Sleep Tracker feature for the Muse S last year, which uses advanced EEG technology to respond to your mind, heart, and breath. It is designed to help you understand and track how well you focus, sleep, and recharge so you can refocus during the day and recover each night.
With the global popularity and high stakes of competitive sports, teams are increasingly turning to EEG devices and other wearable technology to gain an advantage over their rivals. While step counters can help motivate us to stay active, sleep stage trackers not only help give us insight into our recovery but also let us know when it’s time to rest.