New Sports Sensors Could Help Prevent Bad Referee Calls

Bad Call Football Referee

According to the researchers, the work could also pave a way for exploring other applications for nanogenerators in sports.

If you tuned in to the latest Super Bowl, you saw firsthand the crucial role that a referee’s decisions play in determining the outcome of the game. Slow-motion replays and close-watching eyes help, but a new sensor technology could soon provide a more reliable tool for officials. According to a recent study published in ACS Applied Nano Materials, researchers have created a hybrid nanogenerator sensor that is self-powered and could improve the accuracy of calls and enhance the training process for boxers and cricket players.

The widespread availability of sensors and their increasing simplicity have opened up new possibilities in the world of sports. These sensors can provide in-depth insights for referees, coaches, and players, but for this to be practical, they must be compact, self-sustaining, and cost-effective.

Two technologies well suited for this are triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) and piezoelectric nanogenerators (PENGs). Both work by converting mechanical energy into electric energy, albeit in different ways.

Hybrid Nanogenerator Powered Sensor

A hybrid nanogenerator-powered sensor, shown above a ruler, could help improve performance and gameplay in boxing and cricket. Credit: ACS Applied Nano Materials, 2023, DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.2c04731

When combined into one hybrid nanogenerator, their individual shortcomings can be mitigated, but these devices have so far failed to find many practical applications. So, Nishat Kumar Das, Om Priya Nanda, and Sushmee Badhulika from the Indian Institute of Technology wanted to create a sensor powered by a hybrid nanogenerator that could be used to monitor real-life performance in boxing and cricket.

To manufacture their sensor, the researchers created nanofibers from lithium-modified zinc titanium oxide. These were layered with copper, a special kind of tape, and other films with certain characteristics to create either a TENG or PENG. The PENG was mounted to a cricket bat and the stumps of a wicket — used similarly to the bases in American baseball. If the ball contacted the sensors, it produced a voltage that could be used to determine a call.

When used during practice, it provided data corresponding to the accuracy and power of the swing, with a response time of around 0.02 seconds. Then, they combined this PENG with a TENG to make a hybrid nanogenerator, four of which were then mounted to different parts of a punching bag. The devices distinguished between the six different types of punches used in boxing, as well as the speed of each, giving a player and their coach information about their style. The researchers say that this work could pave a way for exploring other applications for nanogenerators in sports.

Reference: “Piezo/Triboelectric Nanogenerator from Lithium-Modified Zinc Titanium Oxide Nanofibers to Monitor Contact in Sports” by Nishat Kumar Das, Om Priya Nanda and Sushmee Badhulika, 2 February 2023, ACS Applied Nano Materials.
DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.2c04731

The study was funded by the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO).

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