In recent years, we have witnessed increased discussions on developing robots to be more human and whether robots can surpass human intelligence. Though it may take decades, if not more, the debate around robots in sports has certainly heated up. For instance, Toyota shocked the world when they designed a seven-foot basketball-playing robot, which was showcased during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. This shows how much the topic is becoming a reality, with the possibility of embedding robots into the sports world in a myriad of ways.

Robosport Robosport Photo: Robosport

Robosport Technologies, on the other hand,  a sports performance technology company based in NYC, is blazing a path that utilizes robots to make athletes less robotic. The company believes in humans' innate abilities to be more powerful and adaptive than artificial robots can ever become. However, just like robots need to be programmed to move with various degrees of freedom and sensors to adjust that movement, the human brain also needs to have  its software (the nervous system) constantly upgraded in order to keep its potential optimal and optimizing. Robosport is re-examining the brain in athletic performance, not from a “mental” or “psychological” perspective, but rather from a “neurological” or “neuro-motor” vantage point.

In practically all sports, athletes don’t normally have much time to think in the game, they only have split second timing to decide what to do and react. Therefore, according to Robosport, the goal is to train the brain to think at a subconscious level at a greater speed than your conscious level. Led by a team of professionals with a wealth of experience, the researchers believe that the more a person’s brain and its various parts are connected and communicating, the better it can produce more neuro-motor pathways to their skeletal-muscular system. Taking that one step further, the more heightened their senses become from this process, the more proficient athletes can become at filtering environmental data, digesting it swiftly, and making better decisions faster with more accurate and precise motor movement.

"Robosport's method to enhance sports performance is not a ‘mental’ or ‘psychological’ approach but a neurological one. We ‘open’ up the brain's connectivity to itself and to the muscle by using opposite-side training (“contralateral”) principles and a randomized “contextual interference”) approach rather than a one-sided, repetitious manner," explains the Robosport Technologies team. Contralateral or cross education principles have been used in rehab for over a century but used sparingly, if not at all in sport specific practice. Scientists mostly agree and studies conclude that contralateral training changes the nervous system and changes the musculature on the other side of the body, however what the neurological or bio-chemical process that allows that to happen is still unknown.  

Randomization or ‘contextual interference” as it is scientifically known, is a simple process of practicing in a random fashion rather than a repetitious one. So if one is learning a skill, instead of learning the different parts of a skill in a blocked manner such as  11111-22222-33333, a randomized practice would look more like 22311-13312-21233.  Studies have shown that while blocked practice is easier to learn in the short run, it provides a false sense of security because it does not provide long term learning and memory retention.  Randomized practice, unlike blocked or repetitive practice, is more difficult in the short term because it is forcing the athlete to “rethink” each motion and thus engaging the brain at every point. However, most studies over the past 60 years reveal that learning in randomized fashion provides longer term learning and memory retention than blocked practice.

Recognizing the neuro-motor advantages of randomization and opposite side training, Robosport is the first company to combine these principles and begin to embed them in the technology. The baseball batting tee was the first place to start.

Robosports first launch product is a robotic batting tee that randomizes the position of the ball, thus, preventing batters from hitting the ball in the same consecutive spot.  This method forces batters to “re-think” each swing and keeps the swing path flexible and fluid while keeping the brain more reactive and better connected to the skeletal-muscular system.  Robosport’s training methodology will strongly promote and encourage opposite side training, not to turn batters into switch hitters, but rather, to open up communication between both sides of the brain and body and more effectively help coordinate the dominant side.

Robosport has 10 U.S. approved patents and two patents pending in Japan. The patents run the gamut in emerging technologies in robotics, wearable batting gloves that detect vibration, artificial intelligence, bat rings that detect launch angle, data capture, processing and retrieval.

 

Robosport has also patented a method of hitting training through augmented reality. A batter would use augmented reality glasses and see a pitcher on the mound who will pitch a virtual ball left-handed or right-handed. The virtual ball pitched will be randomized by pitch type and pitch speeds and intersect a real ball on the robotic tee.  The batter’s goal is to hit the real ball on the tee in as close as possible to the point that the virtual ball intersects the real ball.  This method will not only teach timing but come closer to the real game because unlike virtual reality the batter will have a real bat, a real ball and a real swing.

Robosport’s goal is to attempt to teach batters to store data in their brains and not just in the cloud. The human brain was designed to process, store, and retrieve information faster than a computer can, and we can now use the technology not just to make robots more human but to make humans less robotic.  

Robosport is working to develop new technologies for other sports, such as tennis, golf, and football, by utilizing the same methodologies but tailoring the technology to the specific sport and the specific motor-learning required for that sport. Additionally, the future of man-machine interaction lies not in just collecting and analyzing data, but rather how each can build upon the other.  So, as the machine collects data and learns from the athlete, the athlete is simultaneously learning from the machine in real time..