However, there appears to be more to the famous luxury auto company than just cars.
BMW is now using 3D printing to improve USA swimmers.
How cool! While it’s not the only brand that is using some form of 3D printing technology to enhance the performance of athletes in the ongoing 2016 Rio Olympic Games, BMW is certainly the most unexpected brand to show interest in athlete conditioning and peak performance.
We all expect the likes of Nike to be involved in creating some kind of gear for Olympic athletes but who would have thought BMW would also take part in this sort of thing?
With annual revenues clocking €80 Billion, it’s clear that the company has managed to provide its worldwide fans with the best cars on the road. The question is will it succeed in creating the best swimmers in the pool? Time will tell! BMW intends to use their 3D print-assisted LED driven motion system to provide coaches with vital water sports conditioning information that they can use to train swimmers on how to perfect their skills.
Having been the official mobility partner of the U.S. Olympic Committee for the past six years, BMW is not exactly new to the world of swimming. Actually BMW had started improving swimmers with their motion tracking system back in 2012, an exercise which led to the USA swimming team bringing home 16 out of the 46 gold medals that America won in the 2012 Olympics.
Fast forward to 2016, by introducing the use of LEDs; there is a high likelihood that US swimmers will perform exceptionally well at the Olympics in Rio.
Peter Falt, the director of BMW Group Designworks said:
“Until now swimmers typically have had to depend on the coach’s eye to help them adjust their alignment, strokes and kicks.”
However, the 3D print assisted LED driven motion tracking system is going to be a game changer. How? Falt explained that:
“By tracking and measuring the movement of the athletes’ joints and limbs during the kick and delivering hard data in real time to help improve technique and maximize that movement, the result is a unique learning system where its analytic techniques continue to evolve to produce insight never before possible.”
The Taillight Solution
Just as BMW would implement LEDs when trying out a new car in their R&D lab, the company mounts LEDs onto the shoulders, wrists, hips, knees and toes of swimmers.
Incidentally, the mounting system is formed through 3D printing. Once the mounting is done, the LEDs on the swimmers’ bodies appear as illuminated markers. The lights serve a special purpose – to illuminate the paths of swimmers underwater giving coaches an easier time to efficiently measure their stroke or kick motion and movements in general.
An underwater camera interfacing with the BMW motion tracking technology then takes real-time footage of the athletes practicing. Using this footage, BMW software provides coaches with quantitative data that they can use to analyse a swimmer’s dolphin kick more accurately.
Falt says that before they settled on using LEDs, one of their biggest challenges was finding a solution that would not get in the way of the swimmers’ ability to train comfortably. This is how they came to refer to the solution as the ‘tail light’ system. They found this to be a befitting name because similar to a Cars disappearing tail lights, their main focus was to come up with a solution that would be both extremely lightweight and totally inconspicuous in order to disappear from swimmers’ consciousness.
“It was important to ensure the training didn’t create a different feeling or result than would be experienced in real competition. This is also why we ruled out body suits or more obvious potential solutions that would have been a lot easier.”
Falt stressed that the system is designed in such a way that it can:
“Hold up to the intense forces of Olympic swimmers, but at the same time disappear, meaning that they are not noticeable by the swimmer or impede their motion in any way.”
The USA Swimming National Team performance consultant, Russell Mark; added that:
“The goal is that by comparing measurements to performance over time, we can use BMW’s motion tracking tool to hone in on technique adjustments that work best for each individual swimmer.”
Russell further explained that:
“The tool is an exploratory project that we’ll continue evaluating over time, but our hope is that the potential of its outcome can make a significant impact on the future generation of swimmers.”
Two Key Algorithms
The BMW motion tracking system designed to improve USA swimmers is based on two algorithms that flawlessly detect and adaptively track swimmers’ motions. One of the algorithms is computer vision; which is normally used in BMW vehicles to identify humans, determine park distance, lane deviation and ensure active cruise control. The computer vision and some other software algorithms form the heart of the BMW’s motion tracking system for swimmers.
How effective the system is to the actual performance of swimmers will be best determined after the competitions in Rio. Will USA swimmers bring more gold medals this time compared to the last Olympics?
The bottom-line is whatever the outcome; swimmers will now stand a better chance to perfect their kick motion and style through this new training system. Who knows, if all goes well USA can stand a real chance of standing out at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Seems a bit far to start thinking of it today but you know what they say – time flies.
Despite the motion tracking system being clearly an interesting invention, especially when geared towards improving the performance of swimmers, BMW has three other technology projects in the development pipeline. These other projects include a racing wheelchair made from carbon fibre for the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field team, a velocity measurement system for long jumpers and a two-man bobsled.
Update: with 16 gold, 8 silver and 9 bronze medals in the swimming, it’s clear that the USA did exceptionally well in the swimming this week.
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