Could a sensor-studded shirt sleeve make you a hoops star?

November 15, 2013

All net.

When Deric Thompson coaches fourth grade basketball, he warns his players about “chicken wings.” Not the greasy fastfood variety, but the kind that basically makes it impossible to sink a shot.

“Don’t do the chicken wing,” Thompson reminds his players. “Keep that elbow in, especially on the release.”

What the coach wants to establish in his kids is muscle memory, a physical recollection of exactly how their arms should be positioned to increase their chances of scoring.

Thompson himself still needs reminders, or at least he did. He recently started using a new wearable sensor device developed by Vibrado Technologies. The startup, which spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley campus, created a sleeve that Thompson says made a difference within the first couple of minutes of putting it on.

“It changed the whole dynamic of my shooting,” he says. Thompson’s innate talent for the sport probably didn’t hurt, either. But even I managed to make some corrections to my form and nail a few rim shots with the guidance of instantaneous feedback from the sleeve.

Vibrado is still refining and iterating the sleeve technology and expects to get it to market in late 2014. The startup is hoping its creation will appeal to athletes of all abilities. While players new to a sport will focus on matching their movements to good models, President Quinn Jacobson says, more skilled players can use the data derived from the sensors in a different way.

“If you’re talking about more-advanced players, they have their own form and you don’t want to change that,” says Jacobson, “So what we can do with more-advanced players is record them shooting and look for consistency from shot to shot.”

So that age-old excuse of being ‘off one’s game” just won’t fly anymore.

Learn more about the sensor tech that drives this gizmo (and admire my skills on the court) in this CNET News video.

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