Dec 1, 2016
Up Their Sleeve

A high-tech sleeve aimed at preventing pitching injuries for baseball players is being tested. Developed by Rice University seniors Senthil Natarajan and Alex Dzeda, the sleeve uses a variety of technologies to sense a muscle’s electrical activity along with other metrics.

“It has sensors that can track and monitor your muscle activity and your motion through accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and electromyography,” Natarajan told SportTechie.

The idea came about after Dzeda designed a device to track dance students’ hip movements. After meeting Natarajan in an engineering design workshop, they collaborated to refine the device.

“Once we had (the second prototype), we realized that there is a lot of potential for something like this,” Natarajan told SportTechie. “There’s a lot of use case in which an accurate, portable [electromyography] device could be pretty useful. And not only that, if we could combine it with some sort of motion sensing, that gives us this unparalleled ability to holistically evaluate physical activity.”

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After realizing that their product could be marketable, Natarajan and Dzeda launched Ziel Solutions as a startup company. They decided to focus on baseball pitching due to market research. If everything goes as hoped, the final version of their sleeve will be ready in early 2018.

“We’re going to begin beta tests formally late spring or the summer,” Natarajan told SportTechie, “and that’s going to be serving primarily as a data collection mechanism for us—to understand how the sleeve holds up in live-action play, durability concerns, connectivity issues, all those kinds of things.”

Currently, the fourth prototype is focusing on the Bluetooth capabilities as well as using more flexible circuit boards and lowered power consumption. The sleeve’s sensors would send data to an app that shows the sleeve’s data and provides advice on improving throwing motion.

Although the current focus is on baseball, Dzeda and Natarajan are planning to eventually expand their technology for many activities. The team has finalized a licensing deal with their first customer—an individual who works in physical therapy—to sell sensors that can be integrated into physical therapy devices.

This is an easy leap since the technology is versatile. “The software—how we analyze the data and stuff—would have to be tweaked, but the hardware would remain mostly intact,” Natarajan told SportTechie.  

As far as the sleeve’s marketing goes, it’s expected to sell for about $250. Coaches would also be able to subscribe to the software and analytics for $10 per month.

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