August 15, 2012

Something to take away from Olympic swimming


The Mars landing brought to the fore all kinds of talk about how NASA’s research is creating useful technology for everyone to use. But do you generally have the same thoughts about the Olympics? Maybe you should. 

As you probably know, the Australians are particularly passionate about their swimming, so it should not be a surprise that, in trying to gain an advantage over other countries, Swimming Australia has been working with the University of Western Australia to capture swimmers’ movements underwater in 3D, so as to better analyze and optimize their form.

To do this, they actually had to invent technology:

University of WA School of Sport Science Biomechanics associate professor, Jacqueline Alderson, told CIO Australia that the development phase of the project included the creation of an underwater motion capture system called I3D visual Hull reconstruction.

“This hull is created using multiple 2D views of a swimmer and is then combined with a high resolution laser scan of the same swimmer,” she said. “This data — 3D swimming technique plus surface skin information — is then passed into a computational fluid dynamics model.”

In total, the system uses 17 cameras, above and below water (have you seen the recent Shark Week footage collected using that huge array of digital cameras above and below water? Probably something similar going on here).

Hmmm, seems like that might be useful for more than just analyzing the performance of swimmers. Could that same technology be useful in the ship-building industry? For researchers studying aquatic lifeforms? Maybe even for physical therapists?

In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait for the Rio games to see if what they learn actually leads to increased swimming performance. Even if it doesn’t, here’s hoping that technology development doesn’t go to waste.

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