Safaricom, Vodafone Drive IoT Innovation to Help Athletes Break Two-Hour Marathon Mark

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Safaricom and Vodafone Group are working to deliver Internet of Things (IoT) technology to Kenyan athletes in a bid to help them break the two-hour marathon mark.

The current marathon World Record is 2:02:57 and was set by leading Kenyan athlete Dennis Kimetto on September 28, 2014, at the Berlin Marathon. Safaricom and Vodafone are working with a group of specialist scientists, the world’s best marathon runners, and other industry partners in a project called SUB2 ( to help break that record.

SUB2 aims to leave a legacy for athletics by demonstrating how science and technology can fairly help athletes improve their performance. SUB2 is led by Yannis Pitsiladis, who is a Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton and is a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Medical and Scientific Commission.

“At Safaricom, we continue to seek and explore new innovations around the latest technologies, with the goal of creating new opportunities for Kenyans. This application of IoT in athlete training in Iten and Eldoret will not only help Kenyan athletes improve their performance, it will also further refine and fine tune our IoT solution in readiness for nationwide deployment,” said Thibaud Rerolle, Director – Technology, Safaricom.

IoT technologies bring Internet-connected network intelligence to a wide range of devices at work, home and on the move.

Vodafone has built a SUB2 smart watch app to provide telemetry with enhanced location tracking using mobile networks. Ethiopian elite marathon runner, Kenenisa Bekele, used the app as his digital pacemaker in the 2017 Berlin marathon.

Working with partners, Vodafone engineers have now also enabled a series of body sensors to communicate with the SUB2 app over a mobile network:
•contact time, cadence and strike angle – motion sensors from Gait Up, a spin-out from the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) and the Swiss Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL), provide running efficiency metrics that will help physiologists working in coaching teams to determine an athlete’s running mechanics and communicate advice for injury avoidance and performance enhancement, even while they are still out on a training run;
•3D visualisation – technology from a start-up called Notch can reconstruct running movements in 3D on a smartphone or laptop, which can help those responsible for an athletes care and performance implement corrective running strategies; and
•skin and land surface temperature – using sensors from French lab Bodycap the SUB2 app can now inform elite athletes if they are hotter than expected during a run and should change their water intake strategy. The team expect to also be able to show core temperature within the app in the near future.

The technology, which was demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain earlier this month, is currently in use at the Iten and Eldoret training grounds in Kenya. The technology has been deployed on a two kilometre stretch within the hilly Iten area, and a 16 kilometre stretch on the flat South Moiben route in Eldoret.

The sensors give coaches live access to real-time data as athletes train, helping them understand the root causes of injuries or performance degradation, and how these can be avoided.

More than 100,000 attendees at Mobile World Congress had the opportunity to experience a demonstration of the technology relayed live over Safaricom’s 4G+ network from Iten and Eldoret.

In May 2017, Safaricom and a number of partners announced a Kshs. 200 million investment in the Technology Lab, where the company’s employees trial and test a number of emerging technologies including IoT. Since then, a number of IoT applications have commenced in the lab and on the network, with the company gearing for nationwide IoT deployment in coming months.