Drone technology keeps BMX riders on track for gold

Great Britain Cycling Team’s BMX squad is equipping its bikes with technology used in drones to shave precious milliseconds off its race times.  

The project uses the same optical sensor technology developed for the ‘sense and avoidance’ system in drones to prevent mid-air collisions with other flying objects.

Miniature LEDs are fixed to the off-road two-wheelers to record the trajectory of the riders while on the ground and in the air, which are monitored using the sensors placed at the track’s sides.

The data is then fed back to an app that shows the riders and the coaches a real-time read-out of performance and allows them to identify where they can make those critical margin gains.

The move is part of the eight-year research partnership between UK Sport and engineers at BAE Systems.

Liam Phillips, British BMX rider, said during a training session: “In an elite sport such as BMX, where riders are travelling around 40kph and spending more than 40 per cent of the race in the air, every milliseconds counts and one imperfection for your form can put you at a disadvantage.

“This new technology will revolutionise the way we train, allowing us to analyse our techniques with a new-found precision and helping us shave off those valuable fractions of a second.”

The team hopes to use the information to improve their techniques and race strategies ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year.

Previously, the riders were reliant on data from timing loops buried into test tracks for feedback, but the extra data should provide detailed insight in to how team members change speed as they handle jumps.

“They can race round the track, take the jumps and immediately see how their performance has been compared to other runs perhaps on the same day by that [same] rider, or maybe by a different rider on a different day,” said Kelvin Davies from BAE Systems.

The defence company had already worked with more than 20 different Olympic and Paralympic sports and 140 athletes over the past six years ahead of major competitions.

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