Wearables and wearables equipped with sensors are typically common solutions for sports teams to make data-driven decisions about load management to understand when an athlete needs rest to perform at their best. . Now, neurotech company NeuroSync aims to overturn that pattern with a new eye-tracking product to measure cognitive fatigue.
NeuroSync (formerly SyncThink) calls its new software product Pro-Sync and contains a series of video-based eye movement tracking tests accessible through wearing a virtual reality headset. The setup is similar to Eye-Sync, the company’s eye-tracking product launched in 2016 and used by college football and NBA teams to test athletes for concussions.
Pro-Sync contains a series of video-based eye movement tracking tests accessible through a VR headset.
“We use a different measurement tool that basically walks you through a battery of eye movement tests, some are similar to what we have in Eye-Sync and some are different and new,” says Scott Anderson, Clinical Director of NeuroSync. . “We look at different aspects of your concentration, your ability to maintain your attention, or your ability to maintain your working memory or inhibitory control.”
The VR headset’s cameras track the user’s eyes while NeuroSync’s algorithm quantifies how long their eyes move to the appropriate location. NeuroSync then provides an instant score from 0 to 100 (100 being best) to rank their results via a machine learning model that compares their performance based on NeuroSync cognitive assessment data from over 20,000 patients. Some of these patients are NBA players from NeuroSync’s work with teams such as the Warriors, Wizards and Hawks, all of whom originally used the company’s Eye-Sync concussion product as a concussion solution. fortune to monitor fatigue amid the rigors of an 82-game schedule.
“Teams make arbitrary decisions about load management, based on what’s going on physically, but what people don’t realize is that the central nervous system in the brain controls your whole body. We just look at all the physiological parameters that help us understand what the status of the athlete is,” says Anderson. “I think there is a better way. If you start at the source, you’ll understand why physiological changes happen and cardiovascular changes happen – that’s because it’s all run by your body’s central processing computer.
The brain has long been overlooked by sports scientists and team doctors working with athletes, according to Anderson, who notably also serves as a consultant medical observer for the NFL. He often sits in the replay booth during games and shares specific video angles with team doctors on the field to help identify and diagnose player injuries after games.
NeuroSync uses proprietary eye movement measurements and analytics to determine cognitive readiness.
Earlier this spring, the NFL mandated players’ use of wearable devices to track load management during all preseason practices. While football has been a primary target of Eye-Sync, Anderson expects Pro-Sync’s fatigue rating to be more applicable in continuous play sports such as basketball, soccer and rugby.
“People spend a lot of time talking about reaction time, but in fact visual processing happens before reaction time. And so you have to move your eyes to the right place, so your brain can interpret what’s in front of you, so you can formulate a reaction,” says Anderson.
Anderson says NeuroSync conducted “unofficial studies” over a few NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks that confirmed a relationship between slower eye movements and physical injuries sustained. “They had several players who, as soon as these markers appeared, soon after, they got injured. And so we want to be able to predict when someone is at risk of diminished performance or injury,” he says.
The Hawks and Wizards also worked with NeuroSync to deploy eye-tracking tests on college applicants ahead of the NBA draft, to assess their cognitive abilities. The process played a role similar to the Wonderlic test used for scouting evaluation in the NFL.
“We reviewed more than 60 [NBA] draft prospects and then rank them based on risk,” Anderson told SportTechie. “We identified the best performers and those that we thought were risky investments.”
Devices from Kinexon and Catapult are among the most widely used wearables in the NBA and college basketball for load management, and the NBA is also testing Nextiles sensors in wearables. Pro-Sync’s cognitive function assessments would provide a complementary perspective for evaluating athletes whose schedules include cross-country flights and games in different time zones.
“We have data on NBA players before they go on a five-day road trip, in the middle of that road trip, and when they return home from that road trip,” Anderson explains. “And the difference in their cognitive abilities at those three times is remarkable. They get ransacked when they get home, and nobody knows about it.
Pro-Sync’s software roadmap for 2023 includes the addition of training protocols for athletes to train to improve their cognitive deficits in virtual reality. NeuroSync has more than 20 sports teams in the NBA and college football, including its league-wide agreement with the Pac-12, but it’s been a few years since the company announced a new team partner as the teams do not want to publicize a potential competitive advantage.
While NeuroSync’s Eye-Sync concussion product is a registered medical device with FDA approval, Pro-Sync is considered a non-medical device and therefore does not require these certificates. What started as a “passion project” for Anderson, now believes he’s poised to change the way sports view fatigue and cognitive function.
“I think this is the next frontier. I wrote about it for Leaders in Performance in 2016, talking about the potential of measuring brain performance in real time, how it could change the sport,” says Anderson. “Since then, I’ve been obsessed with it.”
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