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Comate develops hardware for Nebula4: App for athletes

8 March 2019

Physiotherapist Launches App for Top Athletes

08 maart 2019 00:00 De Tijd

Top football player Samuel Eto’o from Cameroon sparked innovation from sports physiotherapist Bram Swinnen. A few years ago, the former Real Madrid and FC Barcelona player was playing football for Anzhi Makhachkala, the Dagestan billionaire team, and there he met Swinnen, who was working as a physiotherapist. "Samuel Eto'o is a very intelligent football player," says Swinnen. "He had to be constantly stimulated."

To provide this stimulation, the physiotherapist came up with a special exercise for Eto’o. The football player had to play the ball after a pass from a teammate with only the inside or the instep of his foot. The number of fingers Swinnen raised would determine the number of times Eto’o had to play the ball.

The physiotherapist made the exercise more complicated every time, and Eto’o thought it was fantastic. The Cameroonian visited his Belgian coach every day. After a few weeks, the footballer noticed that he could make decisions faster on the field due to the new exercises. Swinnen's conclusion: the sharper the focus, the better the performance.

Athletes have to process a lot of information in a very short time. For example, goalkeepers can use the foot position of an attacker to predict the direction he will kick the ball. According to Swinnen, "brain training" is crucial, but it is most effective when integrated into physical sports training. For example, Swinnen does not believe in the positive effects of pure balance training as a way to prevent falls, since falls are a symptom of a larger problem caused by a lack of focus. This is why athletes must combine physical exercises with brain training to effectively improve. For example, Swinnen has his football players focus on their footwork at the same time as their target practice by having them place their feet on glowing circles in addition to shooting goals.

Nebula4 is Bram Swinnen’s start-up company, created from his experiences working with the footballers. Development of an app is underway that will help top sports coaches and physiotherapists set up and implement training programs that combine brain and physical training. The app will use machine learning to determine the current level of the athlete and choose which brain exercises will allow him to make the best progress.

Yesterday, the Leuven research center Imec selected Nebula4 as one of the nine companies included in its incubation program imec.istart. The start-up will receive 50,000 euros and at least twelve months of supervision. Swinnen's first app is slated to be released at the end of this year. Imec provides the software, while the Leuven engineering company Comate is responsible for the hardware. CEO Swinnen has access to support from, among others, the Belgian ex-professional football player Hans Somers at Nebula4.

The 41-year-old graduate in physiotherapy and physical education can also rely on a large network of connections in the world of sports. Swinnen worked in basketball for ten years, including with the Belgian Cats, the national women's team, and clubs in Russia and Spain. In 2012 he rolled into the football world thanks to Anzji Makhachkala, where the Dutchman Guus Hiddink set the lines.

Today, Swinnen is working part-time as a "high-performance specialist" at first-class KRC Genk. In his Hasselt practice, he guides the top athletes in football, basketball, and athletics during their rehabilitation. He prefers not to mention names. "I only see some of them once or twice a year, but then I follow up with them via FaceTime."

Bron: De Tijd, 08 maart 2019