Scaling greater heights with smarts

The motion-capture climbing suit records the athlete's posture, rhythm, techniques, speed and endurance. This data is then recreated in 3D so climbers and their coaches can review and analyse their performance.
Emmanuel Ryan Paul (left) and Mark Chan have been able to improve their climbing techniques using a smart, motion capture climbing suit from JLL.
Emmanuel Ryan Paul (left) and Mark Chan have been able to improve their climbing techniques using a smart, motion capture climbing suit from JLL.PHOTOS: JLL, ST FILE

New high-tech suit, with 16 motion sensors, is giving S'pore climbers a confidence boost

As a speed climber, Emmanuel Ryan Paul knows the huge difference the smallest details can make.

What separates one climber from another is merely a fraction of a second; the Singaporean's personal best of 5.9 seconds is 0.42sec off Iranian Reza Alipour's world record.

To improve, Paul often scrutinises his performances through video playbacks, but certain things go unnoticed as he darts up, like how his hips are too far away from the wall.

But that changed over the past six months when he donned a smart, motion-capture climbing suit that was created as part of global real-estate company JLL's campaign to support six climbers' dreams of competing on a global stage.

"I could not see that from my normal videos but the suit definitely did help," said Paul, who finished 10th in the speed climbing event at last year's Asian Games in Indonesia.

"I don't get as fatigued as fast as I normally would (after making adjustments to his hip) and it proved that I have a lot more to get better at."

CHANGES FOR THE BETTER

I don't get as fatigued as fast as I normally would (after making adjustments to his hip) and it proved that I have a lot more to get better at.

EMMANUEL RYAN PAUL, Singapore speed climber, after donning the smart suit.

Besides Paul, 20, and compatriot Mark Chan, the other four athletes who are part of this project are from Australia, Hong Kong, India and Japan.

JLL worked with global digital marketing company Dentsu Aegis Network's experiential agency MKTG to launch the campaign.

Digital agency Isobar, also under Dentsu Aegis Network, assisted JLL in creating the suit that enhances the climbing experience.

Sixteen motion-tracking sensors line the interior of the suit, capturing data of the athlete's posture, rhythm, techniques, speed and endurance. This information is then recreated in an online 3D software in real time and stored in profiles in an application that athletes and their coaches can access to review and analyse the climber's performance from all angles.

The agencies worked closely with the athletes over seven months to come up with a customised suit.

Isobar Apac executive creative director Stan Lim, 38, said: "We realised that, sometimes, climbers just rely on what they remember from past climbs and their coaches.

"But it happens so fast the coaches can't catch some of the smaller details. Since the coach's perspective is from bottom up, the limbs are actually out of the line of sight.

"That's where it got us thinking from a slightly different approach to using technology."

MKTG Apac regional business director Mike Hemmingway said: "If we can kind of correct and help the climbers identify some of those weaknesses and some of those strengths, it can help them make those marginal gains."

While the climbers wear the suit only every one to three months, Chan, 19, found he was more aware of his actions in the training sessions that followed.

"I'm more self-conscious in training sessions," said Chan, who finished 13th out of 21 in the boys' combined event at last year's Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

He was the first sports climber to represent Singapore at the YOG.

"I definitely use it to optimise my training. I want to know how much I've improved from before and the technology provides a good gauge of that."

One downside to the suit, which is made from a synthetic rubber known as neoprene, was that it was warm to wear, but both climbers insisted it did not affect their performances.

Lim also emphasised the suit is not the finished product and more work is being done to make the software and application more user-friendly. There are currently no concrete plans for commercialisation, with the suit still in its trial phase.

However, Hemmingway, 40, hopes it can one day benefit the climbing community and beyond.

He said: "This technology can be used to get those fundamentals right, so it doesn't matter what shape or size you are, climbing is one of those sports that, with the different grades, anybody can get involved."


Correction note: The story has been updated as the photograph of national climber Mark Chan was not correct.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2019, with the headline 'Scaling greater heights with smarts'. Print Edition | Subscribe