Sport climbing: Singapore duo Paul and Chan scale greater heights with smart suit that captures motion

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

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

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

To improve, he 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 last 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 featured for Singapore at last year's Asian Games.

"I don't get as fatigued as fast as I normally would and it proved that I have a lot more to get better at."

Paul, 20, and compatriot Mark Chan are two of the six athletes who are part of this campaign. The other four come from Australia, Hong Kong, India and Japan.

JLL worked together with global multimedia and 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 the motional data of the athlete's posture, rhythm, techniques, speed and endurance.

This data is then recreated in 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 suit that could help over some of the limitations climbers faced.

Executive creative director of Isobar Apac, 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 that 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 added: "It was really interesting to look at how we can take a different perspective and understand those very small movements. 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 once every one to three months, Chan, 19, found that he was more aware of his actions in the training sessions that followed.

"I'm more self-conscious in training sessions," said Chan, who was the first sports climber to represent the country when he participated in last year's Youth Olympic Games.

"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 that that did not affect their performances.

Lim also emphasised that this is not the finished product and that the team would be working on making 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 hopes that it can one day benefit the climbing community and beyond.

The 40-year-old 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.