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Nike has developed a means of increasing visual short-term memory retention and physical reaction time via a set of strobing goggles that rob athletes in training of some of their vision. The SPARQ Sensory Performance system evaluates an athlete for 10 visual performance skills and creates a training program specifically for him or her that involves wearing Nike’s SPARQ Vapor Strobe Eyewear, which basically fog over to block the wearer’s vision for short periods of time, forcing the athlete to anticipate what’s coming next.

The idea is to fine-tune an athlete’s sensory perception, visual acuity, and the brain’s ability to maintain a precise sense of timing absent a constant stream of visual input. The regimen is backed up by Duke University research that shows that the SPARQ system can indeed heighten visual skills and improve athletes’ reaction times. The system is apparently already in beta with some professional and collegiate sports programs, and will see a worldwide rollout soon.

It’s tough to say at this point how much that improvement translates to the playing field, but Nike isn’t the only entity out there looking for ways to groom the brain into a better tool for physical activity. DARPA and the DoD are constantly on the lookout for technological tools that will help soldiers stay more alert, improve physical reaction times, increase eye-hand coordination, and sharpen decision-making skills on the fly–so the implications for this technology beyond athletic training are certainly real.

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