The UK Tae Kwon Do Olympic team will be getting a kick out of its new sparring partner: a virtual reality simulator.
Developed by BAE Systems, in collaboration with UK Sport, the simulator is slated to help the team prepare for the the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Featuring depth-sensing cameras, motion sensors and eye-gaze trackers, the system will pit virtual opponents against the Olympic fighters. The technology will also feature post-training analysis, since a fighter’s every move will be captured and recorded in meticulous detail.
It’s not built yet, but three display types are being considered for the simulator: a virtual reality headset, a single-screen projected display and a full-on holodeck where a fighter is surrounded by a 3-D projected image.
BAE officials say the project will draw heavily from the company’s experience designing battleship and combat flight simulators, which use predictive algorithms to produce more intelligent opponents.
“To go and fight someone in Cuba who fights a particular way and never wants to fight you. How do you learn to prepare against that when you can’t actually do the real thing? You can use a computer simulation, imagine some of the Nintendo Wii-type games where you have to react and respond to things,” Scott Drawer, lead researcher on UK Sport’s innovation team, told the Guardian. “Coaches can use that technology to help prepare athletes for something that may happen.”
The simulator is part of BAE’s broader initiative with UK Sport to develop new technologies for the country’s elite athletes. So far, BAE has designed more streamlined carbon-fiber wheelchairs for Paralympians and skeleton sleds. However, Drawer also believes the virtual reality simulator could help athletes prepare for high-pressure situations, like penalty kicks in soccer.
“You can never get it down to a tee because when people get into a competition their physiology changes and is different to training,” he said. “But it’s better than doing nothing.”