Big Data, Cycling, Tour De France

Exclusive interview with Robby Ketchell new chief data analyst for Team Sky

By @SimonCocking

For all of our cycling, Tour de France and big data fans out there, we’re really pleased to bring you this interview with Robby Ketchell @RobbyKetchell . Founder of winning algorithms@winningAlgs, involved in Scientific Innovation Labs , @silScience, and most recently new recruit to Team Sky.

What’s your main focus? The applications of data in sport, or is that just one aspect of a wider range of interests?

Sports are my passion, and I really love how technology can impact performance. I believe that data science is probably the most misunderstood aspect of sports science and that there is a lot of potential for improvement. That’s why I’ve decided to focus a lot of my energy on data capture, management, and optimization.

At the end of 2014, I started working on a lot of exciting project with my company winningAlgorithms. I had purchased a PCB plotter, and in addition to the 3D printer I have in my lab, it really changed the way I was able to develop new prototypes and work on some of the wearables that we thought could impact sports science.

 At the beginning of 2015, an amazing opportunity came to me and I’m going to work with Team Sky on a data project. I’m really excited about this.

Are you still with Garmin, but working collaboratively with Team Sky now? From your visit to Silicon Valley, what were you excited by?

I’m working with Team Sky for 2015.

In San Francisco, I went with Dave Brailsford and Fran Millar to visit with a bunch of start up companies. Most of them were wearable devices or companies that worked with software. I was amazed by all of the new and creative products that these companies were producing. What really stuck out to me was the innovative and creative environment that Silicone Valley has created. Seeing all of the new start ups work together and thrive off of one another was really interesting and got us excited to explore it more.

What tech would you like to exist, to help you in what you do?

A robot that could travel for me… Seriously though, the technology would be creative ways to introduce technology and ideas to people without becoming invasive to their every day routines. There is a lot of great technology out there that we don’t take full advantage of because we are too busy doing the things we need to do in order to just get to the finish line. If we could optimize the process of introducing technology, I think that could have a huge impact on how we use it.

Right now I see the biggest push for wearables and lots of devices that focus on capturing specific measurements like heart rate or movement. For me, what really could impact performance is how we organise and utilise this information, or how we bring it all together.

What happens next, do Team Sky take your advice on what they might use? Or were you scouting for your own projects too?

Next, I will put my head down and try to build on the data science projects that are new for this year. I’m hoping that I can have an impact on how data is captured, organised, viewed, and used to make decisions in sports.

Could we reach a scenario like Gattica, where people are screened early on, and perhaps identified which sports they should and should not play. How do we find the balance between data based decisions, and scope for individual intuition?

I think that data is always useful to help make any decision, but it needs to be taken into context. Nowadays, with all of the hype about big data, we need to remember that we as human beings have been capturing data and learning from it. This is what we call our experience. The athletes, coaches, directors and other support staff all have their own data sets that they use on a daily basis. Data that we capture via technology can only supplement that.

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