A box measuring just 80mm by 50mm and only 12mm thick is attached to the back of a swimmer’s costume and is filled with a number of tracking technologies, such as accelerometers and gyroscopes.
Extra LED sensors can also be fastened to the athlete’s hips or other significant body parts to tracking movement, while pressure pads are added to starting blocks and the end of swimming lanes to accrue extra data.
Data from the sensors is combined with video footage taken from cameras both above and below the waterline and transmitted wirelessly through the water to a laptop computer, running bespoke software to determine the swimmer's performance. This allows coaches to find out where the competitor is excelling or where they can improve their technique.
The development of the system took five years and was undertaken by researchers at Loughborough University’s Sports Technology Institute working alongside the British Swimming organisation. It was mainly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), while other partners involved included UK Sport, Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London.
Professor Paul Conway, one of the leads on the project, said the hardest aspect was passing data 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,” he said. “Solving this problem was vital to the development of our multi-component motion tracking system.”
However, now this aspect has been overcome, the system is set to be a very useful tool for swimmers in training, and has already been used by members of the Team GB swimming team.
“The new system has enabled elite training sessions to become even more productive,” said Professor Michael Caine, director of the Sports Technology Institute.
“Ultimately, even small adjustments to technique can pay big dividends. Our aim has been to provide a legacy for swimmers to fulfil their potential at this summer’s and future Olympics.”