Sensors capturing real-time data give fans unprecedented access to traditionally hard-to-relate-to sports like BMX and skateboarding.
Kyle Baldock’s passion for his sport is second only to his energy and deep desire to make BMX accessible to everyone.
It’s a thrill he wants the whole world to experience.
BMX events used to be inaccessible to the masses. That changed with the introduction of the X Games in 1995. This event has turned sports once considered “extreme” into mainstream international competitions. Now, with new technology integrated into some of the BMX and skateboarding events in the latest event in Texas, these formerly fringe sports are becoming even more accessible.
“When you watch these events at home, you really don’t get the perspective of how far they’re traveling or how high they’re going,” said Tyler Fetters, a new concepts engineer with Intel’s smart devices innovation team.
For the games, Intel Curie, a button-sized platform, is loaded with sensors, including an accelerometer, a gyroscope and magnetometer. The module is about the size of a box of matches and will be used in three events at the games – including Skate Big Air, BMX Big Air and BMX Dirt.
Fetters said Intel’s Curie collects data on everything from jump height to landing g-forces.
“With this information and technology, somebody at home can better understand exactly what the athlete’s going through as they’re doing these amazing feats.”
Two Curie-powered modules are attached to each rider’s BMX bike and on each skateboarder’s helmet.
“I’m really excited for the audience to be able to experience this technology,” said Fetters. “We can measure what the athletes are doing in real time and share it with the audience so that they can better engage with the sport.”
The data from the X Games tech also helps broadcasters break down the action, and helps athletes train more efficiently.
“This new technology is going to blow the world away,” said Baldock, 25, a native Australian who believes better understanding of BMX will make it more accessible to viewers and young athletes coming into the sport.
He said data from the Curie module helps inform his training – if he needs to get higher on a jump, for example, he might need to do more squats.
Other athletes look to the technology to help with training and injury prevention. In a sport like Skate Big Air, each centimetre is vital and risky.
Skateboarder Bob Burnquist started skateboarding at age 10, in soccer-obsessed Brazil. He said his sport is all about feel and instinct, but technology has made him curious about the science behind his sport.
To outsiders, skateboarders seem to just launch and go, but Burnquist, also a pilot, said there’s so much more to think about – everything from altitude and wind speed to ramp angles and air temperature.
“I don’t need to know how much I’m spinning,” he said. “If I’m in my trick, it doesn’t matter whether I’m going 360 … I know how much I’m spinning. But I don’t know how fast I’m going, and I don’t know what the wind is doing – that information is really valuable.”
He said the real-time data collected from the Curie-powered module affixed to his helmet helps him adjust on the spot, but it also makes his sport more relatable for viewers.