A smart textile shirt that can protect baseball pitchers against injuries is being prepared for commercial use in 2010.
The sensing shirt, which can be used to monitor a pitcher's mechanics during training or a game, was demonstrated with a prototype at Northeastern University.
Researchers at the Boston, MA, US-based university have attracted the interest of Major League baseball teams, as well as college teams and potential manufacturers.
Marcus Moche, one of the mechanical engineering students behind the shirt, comments: 'We're getting the intellectual property done at the moment - we'd like to get this to market as soon as possible, so players can start using it.
'In a month or two we hope to start working on it. If the IP is established soon, we can have a production prototype ready in around six months.'
The aim is to create a shirt that can be used both in training and in a real game, so that expensive injuries to pitchers can be avoided.
Says Moche: '$54 million (€39.3 million) is lost each year in pitching injuries, and the number of injuries has been increasing for decades now.
'We're focused on baseball as there's such a large market, because the salaries are so high and so much stands to be lost.'
The e-textile shirt consists of conductive threads that carry the signals of sensors located throughout the shirt. The signals are calculated and differentials in the mechanics of a player's pitch can be shown.
The technology could make it easier to notice a change in pitching -due to fatigue or a lapse in concentration, for example - that would change the dynamics of the pitcher's muscles and possibly cause an injury.
Moche remarks: 'We looked at pitching mechanics and found that each pitch generates enough force to tear the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) [the muscle that prevents lateral stress on the elbow].
'However, other muscles like the bicep take some of the load away from the UCL. We wanted to see if there was a way to quantify pitching mechanics.'
The team tested the device and have compiled data that shows how these mechanics work throughout the body and help to indicate when they change.
Moche adds: 'We determined the quality of mechanics over a pitching session, which is typically around 30-70 pitches. As the player gets tired, the mechanics tend to worsen - with the shirt that becomes very obvious.'
The prototype currently uses data transferred to a spreadsheet to formulate plot points on a graph. However, the researchers will ultimately create a system that can be easily interpreted by all users. The prototype also requires connection between the shirt and a computer via a lead, though the research team will also include technology to wirelessly transfer data in the future.
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