September 14, 2007 Real-time athlete monitoring is now firmly entrenched as an essential tool for elite athletes, with a growing array of sports monitoring systems available for both top-level sportspeople and your average fitness fanatic. This new body sensor currently under development at Imperial College promises a new level of usability by virtue of its form – the cufflink sized device clips behind the ear so as not to impede performance and delivers extensive metrics on posture, stride length, step frequency, acceleration and the body's response to shock waves.

Currently undergoing trials with elite UK athletes, the e-AR sensor fits snugly behind the athlete’s ear so as not to cause discomfort or adversely affect aerodynamics. “The sensor we’re working on is inspired by the semicircular canals of the inner ear, which play a key role in controlling our motion and balance,” says Professor Guang Zhong Yang, who is leading the project. The device works by collecting and immediately transmitting data from the human body to a control centre to allow coaches and medical professionals real-time data of their sports stars.

The small enables the collection of wide-ranging data in real-time and allows support teams to improve performance during training by immediately displaying information collected from the wearer via a handheld device or laptop. This data will help coaches to correct errors in technique on the spot, ultimately improving the all around performance of the athlete. “Having biomechanical data available there and then, during a training session, can make the whole process of improving sporting technique much quicker and easier,” says Professor Yang.

The device is under development at Imperial College with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Government’s Technology Programme. Professor Yang and his team hope the device will be used widely within 12-18 months, initially for sprinters but eventually for rowers and other athletes.

More than just a sporting tool, it has the potential for use in monitoring patients suffering from a range of injuries and illnesses such as degenerative arthritis, neurological gait abnormalities and orthopedic issues. Further, the data provided on body movement could prove useful in the burgeoning fields of human/computer interfacing and virtual reality-based sports training.

For us mere mortals who will not be gracing an Olympic dais anytime soon, there is still a range of affordable and easy to wear monitoring devices available. The Dual Sports device is a wearable MP3 and heart rate monitor so you need not carry both your heart rate monitor and iPod whilst working out. NuMetrex have cleverly combined two important functions, creating a sports bra with a built-in heart monitor. And for those serious about their health and sport, Bluetooth devices are available which allow you to upload your vital stats to your doctor from home via your mobile phone.

The e-AR sensor will be presented at this month's BA Festival of Science in York.

View gallery - 2 images