|Wearables in the Workplace|
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Getting set for his 40-yard dash, the Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton leaned into a sprinter's stance and swept his left arm upward, ready for the downward thrust that would launch him off the line. The Forty, as insiders call it, is the premiere test of raw speed. Newton's burst at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine showed that he has plenty of it: He covered the distance in 4.59 seconds.
Newton's athleticism has since been on display with the Carolina Panthers, which made him the first pick of the 2011 draft. But team managers didn't have to rely on stopwatches to judge his quickness. Woven into his red Under Armour shirt were sensors that transmitted real-time statistics on the physics and physiology of his performance to the computers of scouts, coaches, and league officials. How much power was in Newton's fourth stride compared with his 14th? At what points were his legs out of sync? How did his heart rate and breathing compare with competing prospects' at each millisecond? Charts and other graphics covered the screens, offering answers. Five years ago scouts assessed players' Forties solely on the basis of time. Today an array of wearable sensors offer them rich data about every inch of a player's sprint.
The scene is a harbinger of the widespread use of what I call physiolytics, the practice of linking wearable computing devices with data analysis and quantified feedback to improve performance. Physiolytics grew out of two trends. The first is a wave of innovation in wearable technologies. Current items range from sensors in shoes (such as Nike+, used by runners to track distance, speed, and other metrics) to smart bracelets (such as BodyMedia's FIT, which deploys IBM algorithms and crunches 7.2 million physiological data points a day). The second trend is big data, though in physiolytics, the analysis starts with a sample size of one.
For an NFL prospect looking to earn millions a year, it's obvious why obsessing over fractions of seconds could be worthwhile. But physiolytics is spreading to workers in factory and office settings as well. As it does, it represents the next evolution of the time and motion studies done by the efficiency expert Frederick Taylor a century ago. Taylor examined iron.