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The University of Alabama

UA Trustees Establish Sport Technology Research Center

Dr. Edward Sazonov, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and I-CAST researcher, is developing a shoe insole to monitor energy output. Accuracy comparisons between this shoe insole technology and commercial fitness trackers showed the insole better at tracking activity levels.

Dr. Edward Sazonov, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and I-CAST researcher, is developing a shoe insole to monitor energy output. Accuracy comparisons between this shoe insole technology and commercial fitness trackers showed the insole is better at tracking activity levels.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama will be home to a new center whose researchers will study the intersection of sports and technology, involving Crimson Tide athletics in an innovative approach to improve training and performance of athletes across the world.

The UA System Board of Trustees approved the Integrative Center for Athletic and Sport Technology, or I-CAST, at its meeting June 17, establishing the research center devoted to the development of new technologies and the application of existing technologies for the purposes of reducing injury, accelerating recovery from injury, enhancing human performance and optimizing nutrition in performance and recovery.

The central theme of research and development of new technologies directly associated with competitive sports gives UA faculty, staff and students the opportunity to be part of the first such research center in the nation.

“The University of Alabama Crimson Tide is well known in intercollegiate athletics for success on and off the field,” said Dr. Carl A. Pinkert, UA vice president for research and economic development. “This tradition, coupled with the fact that our faculty has a track record of recognized expertise in many areas that can be directly applied in the human performance arena, makes UA an outstanding place to establish a center such as I-CAST.”

I-CAST leadership and participants will be drawn from across campus, reflecting the interdisciplinary mission of the center. Researchers from the Colleges of Engineering, Education and Human Environmental Sciences will be part of I-CAST along with trainers and staff from UA Athletics and UA Adapted Athletics.

“I am very gratified to see this initiative take place, primarily because of the cooperative spirit of several departments across the spectrum of our campus life working together to benefit student-athletes,” said Bill Battle, UA director of athletics. “Not only will this technology and academic research improve performance and reduce the chances of injury for our student athletes, it also provides a tremendous example of our ongoing efforts to give our student athletes the best care possible during their time here.”

The technical focus of I-CAST provides the possibility of rapid innovation that generates intellectual property that can reach the marketplace quickly — and not just for athletics. The technologies developed through I-CAST could potentially impact a wide variety of other applications and uses.

“I-CAST provides a unifying theme to bring together multiple colleges and departments to address the technical issues facing competitive athletics, but the trickle down effects are expected to reach deeply into other areas such as adapted athletics, health and wellness, rehabilitation, workplace safety and even amateur athletics,” said Dr. Tim Haskew, I-CAST director and head of the department of electrical and computer engineering. “I-CAST will provide a gathering place for those with the needs, those with the technology and those with the ability to market and distribute the solutions to come together and solve real problems.”

Along with Haskew, leadership of the new research center includes Dr. Elizabeth Hibberd, assistant professor in the department of health science and part of the UA Athletic Training Program; and Dr. Jonathan Wingo, associate professor of exercise science and head of the department of kinesiology. Also, Dr. Ken Fridley, senior associate dean for administration in the College of Engineering, will serve as I-CAST’s assistant director for technology transfer.

I-CAST brings together 22 people from across campus with a passion in this niche topic who already are collaborating on innovative research. A variety of novel ideas were proposed, and several projects are underway, including new collaborations with internal and corporate partners.

“For those of us in sports medicine and athletic training, we often see needs that spark ideas to improve not only performance, but injury prevention and recovery,” said Jeff Allen, assistant athletics director for sports medicine and head athletic trainer for football. “By partnering with professors and students researching athletic health and performance, we can realize benefits for our student-athletes swiftly while adding to the knowledge base in a wide range of disciplines and applications.”

The prototype of the SidelinER is used during a University of Alabama Crimson Tide game during the 2015 season.

The prototype of the SidelinER is used during a University of Alabama Crimson Tide game during the 2015 season.

An example of the sort of collaborative project envisioned with I-CAST is the SidelinER. The sideline medical tent was a project between UA Athletics and engineering students that resulted in a patent-pending technology used by Crimson Tide athletic training and medical staff during the 2015 football season. Less than a year after its development, the SidelinER has inspired a spin-off company.

Other projects include using 3-D printing for medical braces and splints; electronic sensors and computer programs to track health markers, fitness data and stress on the body; virtual reality environments to improve reflex response; the incorporation of rehabilitation devices into clothing; and new programs for injury prevention.

The center is set up to respond quickly to ideas from physicians, trainers and athletes. Typical projects will involve at least two people — one representing the athletic or sports application, and one representing the primary technology area used in the application, Haskew said.

It’s predicted to take three years for the center to be at full strength. Funding for the center’s projects likely will come from grants and contracts, industrial sponsors and revenue from licensing intellectual property generated by the center.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.