Training tech lets competitive swimmers hear water pressure

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The system was tested out in September 2015 by ten professional swimmers(Credit: CITEC/Bielefeld University)

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Swimming has been an Olympic sport for 120 years, and nowadays it's the competitors with the best technique that manage to beat the rest of the field and walk away with the medals. Now, researchers at Bielefeld University in Germany have developed technology that could provide athletes with an edge in training, converting pressure data into live audio, allowing the swimmer to perfect their technique in real time.

The idea of the new system is to enhance the athlete's perception of the water that surrounds them. Swimmers can already see the way that their hands and body move through the water, and they can feel the way it glides over them. Bielefeld's "Swimming Sonification" system takes things to the next level, recording flow pressure and converting it into audio feedback.

It consists of a pair of specialized gloves, which include a number of thin tubes placed between the fingers. Water passes through the tubes as the swimmer moves through the water, measuring water flow pressure. That data is then fed to specially-designed software that translates the information into sound, which the athlete then hears in real-time through headphones.

As the hands repeatedly move through the water, the system increases or decreases the pitch of the sound being played to the user, indicating rising of sinking flow pressure. This allows the swimmer to subtly adjust their technique, and get immediate feedback as to whether it's helping them move through the water more efficiently. The coach can also hear the audio through poolside speakers, allowing them to advise the athlete at the same time.

"It is advantageous for swimmers to receive immediate feedback on their swimming form," said researcher Dr Thomas Hermann. "People learn more quickly when they get direct feedback because they can immediately test how the feedback – in this case, the sound – changes when they try out something new."

The team tested out its tech in a practical workshop in September 2015. Ten professional swimmers tried out the system, and gave positive feedback, saying that it did indeed help them improve their technique. The system was also tried out for two months by two swim teams in the Netherlands, one of which – PSV Eindhoven – competes in the country's top league.

Looking forward, the researchers plan to continue work on the system. Currently, the pressure sensing equipment requires the swimmer to be physically tethered to the side of the pool, but the team hopes to streamline the tech in future, incorporating it into a wearable device that can be used independently by swimmers.

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