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Major research collaboration will improve British athletes' performance on world stage

Scientists are developing a range of miniaturised wearable and track-side sensors, computer modelling tools and smart training devices to help British athletes improve their performance on the world stage, as part of a new 8.5 million project that will be officially launched tomorrow (28 October 2009).

The Elite Sport Performance Research in Training with Pervasive Sensing (ESPRIT) project is funded by the EPSRC and is led by Imperial College London in partnership with UK Sport and supported by Queen Mary University of London and Loughborough University. It involves researchers from the three universities working alongside British athletes via UK Sport's Research and Innovation programme.

The researchers are devising miniature wearable sensors that will monitor different aspects of athletes' physiological performance, in order to monitor and optimise training for competitive performance. The sensors will include wireless wearable nodes to measure biochemical information, heart rate, EEG, ECG, muscle activity, joint speed and contact forces. Athletes will be able to use this information to understand how they are progressing and developing with their training.

The team is also developing small track-side sensors, for detailed monitoring of an athlete's body movements and location, and of interactions between a team during training.

Sports scientists can currently monitor athletes' performance through controlled experiments in a laboratory setting or, increasingly, via commercially available technologies that can be used in the 'field'. However, the devices used for this are often large and either not suitable for use in the field, or able to measure only one aspect of an athlete's or team's performance. Consequently, the data collected is not realistic enough for sports scientists and coaches to understand how athletes are performing in a training or competition environment.

The new wireless 'pervasive' sensing technologies that the ESPRIT team is developing will extract continuous information under normal training and competition environments, giving coaches far more accurate and regular feedback about their athlete's performance than is currently possible. The researchers will be working with the high performance sports community, with the ultimate aim of creating a competitive advantage for elite athletes.

Professor Guang-Zhong Yang from Imperial College London, who is the principal investigator and programme director of ESPRIT, says: "We expect that the ESPRIT project will make innovative leaps in biosensor design and allow us to look in really fine detail at the physiological changes that happen to an athlete during training and competition. This means that athletes and their coaches will be able to gain an unprecedented understanding of their performance and use this to develop a crucial competitive edge. The project will also give scientists new insights into how people's bodies work, in order to help them to design devices that improve the health and wellbeing of the general population."

For their first project, the ESPRIT team has created prototype networks of miniature video camera sensors, called Vision Sensor Networks (VSNs), which coaches can use to monitor an athlete's movements and assess their strategies while training. The scientists are already trialling the VSNs with athletes training for Britain's summer and winter Olympic sports.

The vision of ESPRIT is to position the UK at the forefront of pervasive sensing in elite sports and to promote its wider application in public life-long health, wellbeing and healthcare. The programme represents a unique synergy of leading UK research efforts in body sensor networks (BSN), biosensor design, and sport performance monitoring and equipment design.

Dr Scott Drawer, co-chair of ESPRIT and Head of Research and Innovation at UK Sport, adds:

"At the highest level of elite sport, we know that medals are won and lost within the tiniest margins. Our job at UK Sport is to ensure our athletes reach the start line knowing they are the best prepared and best equipped in the world.

"We are delighted to be working with leading experts on this exciting project, which we hope will not only benefit British athletes in the build up to our home Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, but also revolutionise our approach to, and application of, science, medicine and engineering in sport for years to come."


Contact: Colin Smith
Imperial College London

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