Attaching the pressure mat.

Researchers make waves with underwater monitoring

A system that tracks movement wirelessly through water is being used to help UK swimmers improve their performance.

The system is the first of its kind to be able to track movement wirelessly through water. It generates comprehensive data on the swimmer’s body position, speed and acceleration and enables coaches to provide feedback and advice that is more immediate, more detailed and more objective than previously possible. The data is accessed via a laptop and could be used by those with expertise to interpret the information to suggest alterations to the swimmer’s technique at the poolside during training.

Not only has the Loughborough team refined a range of existing sensing and motion-tracking technologies for use in the system, but this is also the first time these technologies have ever been assembled into one integrated package. Moreover, the system is underpinned by patentable technology specially developed by the researchers which enables data to be transmitted wirelessly through water.

“Transmitting signals wirelessly is much more difficult through water than through air, especially in a swimming pool where there is so much water turbulence and noise from pool filtration systems,” says Professor Paul Conway, who, together with Professor Andy West, has led the project. “Solving this problem was vital to the development of our multi-component motion tracking system.”

Until now, coaches working with Britain’s elite swimmers have only been able to provide immediate feedback in training sessions based on their own visual impressions. Although video footage has been available, it has only been possible to study this for technical information after a session has been completed.

In the new system, a lightweight, streamlined box containing tiny accelerometers, gyroscopes and other sensing technologies, is fitted to the small of the swimmer’s back. Force transducers are incorporated into the starting blocks and pressure sensors into touch pads at the end of swimming lanes. Waterproof LED markers have also been developed as part of the project to help monitor body movements.

As the swimmer moves, data is sent to the laptop where bespoke software interprets and displays the information, in easy-to-understand forms, alongside video footage provided by cameras positioned above and below the waterline.

The system was developed at Loughborough University’s Sports Technology Institute in conjunction with British Swimming, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Other partners are UK Sport, Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London.

Further information:

Check out an audio slide show about the research on EPSRC’s YouTube channel.

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