From sports physiotherapist to data specialist: a seemingly unusual career change. But for Maarten Gijssel, the founder of Kinetic Analysis, this change of direction was a logical step. “Physiotherapists are experts in human function and movement”, he explains. “To be effective in this day and age, you also need specialists in human movement data.”
Maarten is not somebody who works based on feelings and intuition. In his view, the subjective judgements of patients and therapists are often overemphasised in physiotherapy. He sees the same phenomenon in the professional sports sector: coaches tend to base their decisions on emotions and gut feelings. This is what motivated him to study health sciences. During his course, he developed a passion for working with human movement data, resulting in the establishment of Kinetic Analysis in 2012. Eight years later, Maarten and his team have won international acclaim for the quality of their data collection and data analysis systems. And they are currently collaborating with reputable research institutes in the Netherlands and abroad to develop innovative products that are likely to change the sports, health and vitality sector forever.
“The great thing about data is that you can load it into models that allow you to make predictions and identify the knock-on effects of specific decisions”, Maarten says. “A torn anterior cruciate ligament is one of the worst injuries a football player can suffer. If surgery is required, the patient will need to rehabilitate for at least 9 months. If you have the right data, you can prevent this type of injury. This is because most injuries are caused by overexertion or abnormal biomechanical stress, rather than a fall or contact with another player: fatigue, for example, can impair your coordination and timing, and make you move incorrectly. We can measure this.”
With the right data, you can also help athletes optimise performance. This objective has been one of the main priorities of Kinetic Analysis from the outset.
The company - still a one-man business at the time - focused initially on researching the effectiveness or accuracy of innovative technology in sports and healthcare. This focus not only made Maarten a much sought-after speaker and consultant in this field, it also resulted in an extensive set of human movement data. Based on the principle of not wasting time on something that a trained person can do far more effectively, he recruited a data scientist to automate the data analysis process. At the time, his data collection process was manual and very time-consuming. Maarten: “We started looking for smarter ways to collect data. There was one possible solution: wearables, e.g. smart clothing equipped with different sensors. But the products we required were not yet available. So we had to develop them ourselves.” That required other specialisms. The company now also employs an engineer, a designer, a software developer and a human movement scientist. From their facility at the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS) in 's-Hertogenbosch, this team is currently working on a variety of innovative products with Delft University of Technology, other universities of applied sciences in Breda, Eindhoven and The Hague and professionals in the sports medicine and healthcare sector.
University spin-offs are due to launch three of these innovative products later this year. When we asked Maarten to tell us more about one of these products, he found it hard to make a choice. Although, Skillvol, a hockey sensor for team players, is relatively simple from a technological point of view, it is still worth a mention. “It’s a great product because it creates connections, both on and off the field. We hope that it will encourage more people to join a sports club.” The data collected via the sensor not only shows how intensively someone trains (valuable information, because an excessively high training intensity can result in injury), it can also be used for competitive comparisons: who covers the greatest distance on the field? Who runs the most short sprints and how fast are they?
The smart plaster that Kinetic Analysis is developing in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and EIT Digital, the European Institute of Innovation & Technology, is in a completely different league. Maarten was approached by two researchers after giving a presentation on sports innovations at the Swedish University. They had invented a method for measuring lactic acid levels in an athlete’s blood based on sweat droplets. This is extremely useful information for an endurance athlete because it allows you to accurately determine your ideal training intensity: if your lactate content is too high, your muscles acidify and you have to stop. If it is too low, you can step it up a notch. Lactate measurement in sports is already an accepted practice, Maarten says. “But you have to take a blood sample and analyse it. Not particularly easy when you are in the middle of a time trial.”
The Swedish researchers were looking for a partner capable of turning their scientific discovery into an attractive product for the target group: a product that would be readily adopted by endurance athletes and could be used without complications. Maarten: “We were the ideal partner for them: we knew what was required and were capable of building it.”
This assignment turned out to be a challenging task. They had to develop affordable electronic components that were capable of sending real-time data to a smartphone. And an app to convert the data into accessible and usable information. But if you really want to make the general public enthusiastic about your product, not just class-leading athletes and their coaches, you have to offer something extra. So the lactate readings are linked to training advice and motivational messages that encourage athletes to get the best out of themselves. This was where the broad expertise of Kinetic Analysis and their good understanding of practical applications came in handy. They interviewed large numbers of runners and cyclists to identify their wishes and needs, talked to leading coaches to develop training advice and are now collaborating with a number of European Olympic teams to test the smart plaster in practice.
The plaster may also have other applications in healthcare. After all, many different diseases, including kidney problems, result in an increased lactate value. Products that are developed for the sports market quite often find their way into the healthcare sector. “We want to test products as soon as possible,” Maarten explains. “That process is very time-consuming in healthcare; you have to comply with all kinds of regulations. But if you ask an athlete to try your plaster, he simply asks: ‘Will it make me faster? If so, stick it on!’ This explains why Kinetic Analysis develops many products for world-class athletes, as even the tiniest technological advantage can mean the difference between winning and losing. When top athletes embrace a product, the recreational segment automatically follows suit.
The third product that will soon be available on the market also adds value in the sports and healthcare sectors: Sportslapp, a movement data analysis tool for trainers, coaches and therapists. The tool combines data obtained via sensors on the body with a video recording of the athlete in motion. When the therapist or coach plays back the recording on his iPad, he sees the measurement data and is also informed whether the athlete has a problem, the cause of that problem and what can be done to remedy it. In most cases, the technology picks up problems that the athlete himself is not (yet) aware of. Maarten: “Our data quickly and easily shows you things you wouldn’t otherwise see or would only discover after extensive medical tests. For example, a soccer player who is unable to strike the ball well because he has a shoulder problem.” That is the value of data, he says. It is also the area where Kinetic Analysis adds value: the company has a huge kinematics database and is expert in applying it intelligently.
“As a physiotherapist, I could help about twenty people a day,” Maarten comments. “Now we are developing tools that give others the capability of helping thousands of people, both in the sports and healthcare sectors. Our impact is immeasurably greater!”
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