Boxing by numbers: a look at the latest sensor-equipped glove technology

It was only a matter of time before the Internet of Things (IoT) found its way into the boxing ring. After all, from the promise of driverless cars through to smart toothbrushes, there are few areas of activity that haven’t yet been linked to this new phenomenon.

By IoT we mean connecting everyday objects to the internet, allowing them to send and receive data. Closer to home, you only have to take a look at the growth in popularity of fitness trackers to see that sport and IoT are already firmly linked.

Now let’s take this idea and apply it to gloves. Imagine a complex network of sensors telling you precisely how hard, how accurately and how fast you’re punching. Couple this with data readers elsewhere (in shorts, for instance) and there’s the possibility of building up a complete ‘virtual picture’ of training sessions and contests.

Right now, the sport is still in pioneer territory with all of this; although a handful of offerings are already on the table. So are we talking gimmicky bandwagon here, or is it something that’s going to be genuinely useful for trainers?

We take a look.

The TV angle

As anyone who tunes in regularly to NFL coverage knows, American sports commentary tends to be laden with statistics. Yet compared to the likes of baseball and American football, boxing has tended to be rather light on real-time data. Thanks to sensor technology, this is now changing and the TV networks are at the forefront of driving forward developments in this area.

In September, Sky reported how HBO has been awarded a patent for accelerometers and gyroscopes to be embedded into boxing gloves. NBC is embracing this too; multiple camera angles, sensors in gloves, shorts and footwear, real time data being fed directly to commentators and online viewers: all of this is aimed at providing spectators with an immersive, data-driven experience.

As well as helping to create glossy graphic overlays in the studio, it’s not hard to see how all of this performance-related data could prove valuable to the boxers themselves and to their trainers.

But where does all of this leave the judges? If we start seeing contests where thousands of data readings paint a picture that’s at odds with the subjective opinions of the panel, calls for more data-driven scoring could become irresistible.

The ‘tech startup’ angle

A glance at who’s bringing sensor-embedded boxing gloves to market suggests this is still pioneer territory. You won’t see the likes of Adidas, Wesing, Top Ten or Sting in there (at least, not yet). What you will find are a number of small, techy companies with offerings that are very often crowd funded. Here are some examples:

  • Puncho. The brainchild of Berlin-based EMAMIDESIGN, these gloves use organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology to measure impacts from 10 to 10,000 N (most punch forces are between 400 and 5000 N). A paired app lets athletes check progress and compare results with other athletes.
  • iPunch.  From fitness startup, Responsive Sports, these gloves combine multiple sensors to measure impact and motion. The linked app features training tools and the ability to compare data with friends. The version available currently is geared towards MMA training, although a full size boxing glove is currently in development.
  • StrikeTec. Real time stats from multiple sensors, designed for use by individual boxers and their coaches as well by broadcasters.       

The trainer’s angle    

Data is useful – so long as there’s a point to it all. For anyone in training, it’s easy to see how there might be a morale boosting element in being able to watch your stats improve from one session to the next. There may also be situations where sensors could help highlight areas that are worth concentrating on and that might otherwise be missed by a trainer.  

It’s not without its risks, though. For one thing, there’s the danger of becoming overly fixated with the figures and automatically assuming that a boxer is making progress, just because the graphs are heading in the right direction. Is the boxer becoming a better athlete or is he merely being conditioned to ‘beat’ the app?

Perhaps one of the best ways to view this technology is as a useful training tool. For instance, you wish to correct a boxer’s technique. You wire him up to show the stats for his punch before and after he’s made the correction. He can see in real time why it’s worth making a change.

In short, while we’re not talking about a replacement of traditional training techniques with this technology, we may be looking at a useful supplement to it.