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Table tennis pros begin testing Kyoto firm's wearable sensor that visualizes swing data

A visualization of a table tennis racket's movement is seen in this image provided by Kyocera Corp. Among the data measured are the angle of the blade and the speed of its swing; it also quantifies players' characteristic use of the rackets, and their habits.

KYOTO -- The movement of table tennis rackets has been made visible with smartphones thanks to a high-sensitivity gyro sensor developed by Kyocera Corp. that attaches to paddles and tracks their movements.

    Trials to turn the sensor into a usable product are beginning in February, and to do so Kyoto-based Kyocera will be working with Okinawa Prefecture's Ryukyu Asteeda, one of the table tennis teams in Japan's professional table tennis T. League. Three of Ryukyu Asteeda's athletes will use the technology for a year, through which issues on the way to making it a full product are expected to come to light.

    Keio University's Keio Research Institute at SFC, in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo, worked in cooperation with Kyocera, in west Japan, to develop a triple-axis crystal gyro sensor module which serves as the heart of the system. Built with a triple-axis acceleration sensor to track movement and a triple-axis geomagnetic sensor to monitor the rackets' direction, the whole unit fits onto a racket's grip.

    Among the variables the device senses are the angle of the racket's blade, the arc and speed of its swing, and the timing with which it impacts the ball. It then transmits the data to the screens of computers and smartphones, where the information is visualized.

    Table tennis rackets move so quickly that the naked eye cannot take in the details of their action, and through the use of digital technology it's become possible to make those fine elements visible. The images produced can be viewed from a number of angles, and it's possible also to compare one's swings with the swings of advanced players. Characteristics and habits of people's swings can also be quantified, and the technology could be used to assist training and coaching.

    The triple-axis crystal gyro sensor module that attaches to the grip of a table tennis racket is seen in this image provided by Kyocera Corp.

    Over the year of in-the-field tests set to take place, its accuracy and its usability -- among other variables -- will be examined to turn it into a marketable product. The company intends to have it become commonly used in Asia, where the number of competitors in the sport is rising, as well as the rest of the world.

    It's also possible to attach the sensor to athletes' bodies, and the company is moving ahead with plans to develop the system for compatibility in other competitive disciplines and in applications beyond sport.

    (Japanese original by Yasuhiro Okawa, Kyoto Bureau)

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