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1 February 2002

Digital Coach for Olympic Swimmers?

Scientists at the European Media Laboratory are collaborating with the University of Heidelberg's Institute of Sport and Sport Science to develop an electronic swimming trainer "DigiCoach" — Digital sensor technology can help improve performance

Digicoach im Einsatz

Top-flight sportspeople all have a dream — winning a gold medal. For swimmers in particular, victory or defeat is frequently decided by fractions of a second, so efficient coaching is essential. Scientists at Heidelberg's European Media Laboratory (EML) are working on a hand-size electronic assistant that analyses the movements of swimmers during training and thus helps improve performance: the "DigiCoach."

The device, at present still about the size of a walkman, is strapped to the swimmer's back. It has sensor technology of the kind employed in the car industry and uses it to measure acceleration and monitor the swimmer's movements. But that's not all. The DigiCoach also transmits the data it collects to a pool-side computer and has special software able to identify different movement patterns and interpret the data for the human coach and the swimmer. Initial tests at the Rhine-Neckar Olympic base in Heidelberg promise well. "At present we're integrating additional sensors into the system," says Dr. Steffen Noehte, manager of the EML "Dr. Feelgood" project that the DigiCoach developed from. "That means we can analyse complex movement patterns like those involved in breaststroke swimming."

The EML scientists collaborate closely with the University of Mannheim's Institute of Computer Science and Technology (Prof. Reinhard Männer), the Institute of Sport and Sport Science (ISSW) at the University of Heidelberg, and the Rhine-Neckar Olympic base. "We anticipate that in the long term the 'DigiCoach' will be a valuable asset in improving training diagnostics," enthuses Dr. Klaus Reichle, a member of the teaching and coaching staff at ISSW. The methods in use there at present — the so-called towline method and analysis of video recordings — provide coaches with information about the movement patterns of their charges during a swim. But multi-camera video is intricate and time-consuming, and data evaluation is anything but immediate. Also, the towline method substantially impedes swimmers' freedom of movement because they have to swim against the resistance produced by a rope tied to their bodies. The new monitor, by contrast, requires little effort, enables on-the-spot evaluation, and — as trials have shown — does not interfere with the swimmer's style. Also, the DigiCoach goes one better than existing methods by providing accurate measurement of such things as fatigue phenomena and finishing spurts. Then the "real" coach can evaluate the data at the pool-side on a laptop computer. But before that happens the EML scientists will have to put some more work into the improvement of hardware and software. To this end they are looking for suitable industrial partners.

Digicoach im Einsatz

"Once DigiCoach starts working to its full capacity," says Dr. Steffen Noehte, "it could be used in other sports as well, like rowing or cycling. Also, its measurement system could be used in movement therapy, for example in aqua-jogging after knee injuries. So the DigiCoach could also make a contribution to rehabilitation."

The German Swimming Association (DSV) and the German Sports Federation (DSB) are observing these developments with great interest. Further tests in Heidelberg with so-called cadre swimmers are planned for early 2002. So in future the DigiCoach might be just what it takes to get the next generation of German swimmers back among the medal-winners at the Olympics.

The European Media Laboratory GmbH (EML) (www.eml.villa-bosch.de) is a private research institute for Information Technology and its applications. Its aim is to develop innovative information processing systems that combine highly sophisticated technology with optimum user-friendliness. The central research focus at EML is on bioinformatics and mobile assistance systems. At present EML focuses largely on projects powered by the non-profit-making Klaus Tschira Foundation (KTF) (http://www.kts.villa-bosch.de). Like the KTF, the European Media Lab is housed in the Villa Bosch in Heidelberg, the former residence of Nobel Prize laureate Carl Bosch (1874-1940).

For further information please contact
Dr. Peter Saueressig
Public Information Officer
European Media Laboratory GmbH
phone: 06221/533245, fax: 533198
peter.saueressig@eml.villa-bosch.de

Please address any University-related inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/index.html


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Updated: 06.02.2002

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