U.S. athletes benefit from BMW technology
The BMW Technology Office USA is developing BMW’s next-generation driver assistance systems. But the company has found other places to use the technology -- on the track and in the swimming pool.
BMW, a sponsor of USA Track and Field and USA Swimming, has developed technology to help U.S. long jumpers and swimmers improve their techniques in advance of the Olympics, which start Friday.
"At BMW we’re not sports scientists. We’re going to leave that to the Olympic teams. We’re just really providing technological solutions that arm them with information that they can provide to their athletes," said Chris Pavloff, an advanced technology engineer at the BMW Technology Office USA in Mountain View, Calif.
Pavloff said the company worked with the two organizations to develop technologies after athletes and coaches outlined problems with their traditional training methods.
Previously, long jumpers didn’t have a wide breadth of quantitative information available to study their jumps. Aside from analyzing technique on video, jumpers could use a form of laser technology to obtain performance metrics, but that system requires several days’ worth of analysis from a doctorate-level sports scientist, Pavloff said.
As a result, BMW created a system with a dual-lens camera and 3-D imaging to track a jumper’s head, which is the most stable part of the body, as the athlete jumps. Using those images, BMW’s system instantaneously ascertains the athlete’s horizontal velocity, vertical velocity and takeoff angle.
U.S. decathlete Bryan Clay, who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 2008 Summer Olympics, helped test the system and said in a video on BMW’s Web site that previously he’d have to wait until “the next week or the next practice” to implement what he’d gleaned from the data on his long jump.
Though Clay failed to qualify for the 2012 games, he said the instantaneous availability of quantitative training data would make it easier to adjust his technique.
“Our world is measured in centimeters and thousandths of a second, and it really is the difference between a gold medal sometimes or no medal,” Clay said in April after BMW delivered the velocity measurement system to USA Track and Field at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
BMW is testing a similar system in some of its vehicles. Pavloff said the automaker has put a stereo camera system, similar to the one used to measure velocity of the long jump, in research vehicles for pedestrian and lane detection.
BMW is experimenting with the 3-D sensor in the stereo camera. The sensor in the camera could detect not only whether a pedestrian is in front of the vehicle, for example, but the person’s distance from the vehicle.
Swimming races also are often decided by a fraction of a second, and BMW has developed a system for USA Swimming to help Olympians save time as they initially dive into the pool at the start of a race and as they complete turns at either end of the pool.
At the request of USA Swimming, BMW developed software to accompany the team’s underwater camera system to capture and analyze swimmers’ dolphin kicks. The dolphin kick is an underwater undulating kick that swimmers use to more quickly propel themselves through the water.
The dolphin kick is known to work exceptionally well -- Michael Phelps is one of the world’s best -- but USA Swimming has been unable to seriously analyze data to understand what makes the kick so effective, Pavloff said.
To use the system, swimmers wear athletic tape on six points of their bodies. The cameras then pick up those points and capture data to analyze the depth, frequency and number of kicks.
BMW delivered the system to USA Swimming just one day before the U.S. Olympic trials last month, so the swimmers haven’t had much time to train with the motion-capture techniques. Still, BMW’s endorsement of USA Swimming runs through 2016 so Pavloff said he expects the system to be used extensively in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics.
This system also has potential for in-vehicle use. Using the motion-capture technology, cameras may be able to detect whether an object in front of a vehicle is, say, a bicycle or a child solely based on the way it moves.
Said Pavloff: "It’s really putting more and more smarts into understanding how we can use information that we may get from a camera."
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