Any athlete will tell you that training involves a lot of
repetition — doing something until it's in the "muscle memory" and
doesn't need to be consciously recalled.
For visually impaired athletes, though, it can be harder to
train, because they can't see well enough to know what movement they are supposed to
imitate. That got Benedict Copping, an engineering student at Imperial College,
London, thinking: how to transmit what a coach is feeling when they demonstrate
a movement. This is especially true in swimming, where getting motions
precisely right can shave an extra fraction of a second from the swimmer's
Copping and a group of friends, Jason Cheah, Idrees Rasouli and Shruti Grover, designed the Ghost, a device that tracks the movement
of the wearer's arm and allows him or her to repeat the motions precisely. It
also has sensors that detect the twisting and flexing in the arm.
For example, a trainer might guide a swimmer through the
motions of a stroke. The Ghost notes certain "waypoints" and stores
them. When the athlete moves her arm, the Ghost will vibrate to give
feedback to show whether the movement is correct. Repeating the motion helps
the athlete get it right and also develop the unconscious memory.
Copping told Discovery News he envisions one day connecting the Ghost
to a computer via Bluetooth, which could then store the
information and even create a kind of "virtual arm." With further development, Copping said the Ghost could even be built into the tape that was popular among Olympic athletes this year.
While it was designed for paralympic athletes, Ghost could also
be used by able-bodied people in sports such as tennis. Imagine Roger Federer
or the Williams sisters storing their own racquet technique, and aspiring
players downloading it from the Internet. Or perhaps R. A. Dickey and Tim
Wakefield could finally explain how to throw a knuckleball.
Copping added that he came up with the idea while thinking about gymnastics. There's no paralympic gymnastics, and he started considering how people orient themselves. "I was struck by the story of somoene losing their sight, and how they lost confidence and the ability to orient themselves in space. It can be harrowing." That got him thinking about how people learn movement.
The Ghost is was developed at Imperial College London in the
Sports Innovation Challenge, funded by Rio Tinto (which provided the metal used
in the Olympic medas this year). It is also a finalist for the James Dyson award,
which will be announced on Nov. 8.
Credit: Cargo Collective / Jason Cheah