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, stated: "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 United Kingdom at the forefront of pervasive sensing in elite sports and to promote its wider application in public life-long health, wellbeing and health care. 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, added: "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."
ESPRIT is a 5-year research project funded through EPSRC's Programme Grants Scheme, which provides a flexible mechanism to provide funding to world-leading research groups to address significant major research challenges. The ESPRIT programme is supported by both government research institutions and leading industrial partners in sports.
UK Sport is the strategic lead body for high performance sport in the United Kingdom. It invests Exchequer and National Lottery funds in Britain's best Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes to maximise their chances of success on the world stage. UK Sport also leads the campaign to bring strategically important sporting events to UK shores; works with National Governing Bodies and other partner organisations to help them build positive working relationships with International Federations and other international bodies; and currently acts as National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO) for the United Kingdom.
EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing more than GBP 850 million a year in a broad range of subjects - from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.
Loughborough is one of the country's leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement. Loughborough is the UK's premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country's leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country's largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.
Queen Mary, University of London is one of the UK's leading research-focused higher education institutions with some 15.000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. Amongst the largest of the colleges of the University of London, Queen Mary's 3000 staff deliver world class degree programmes and research across 21 academic departments and institutes, within three sectors: Science and Engineering; Humanities, Social Sciences and Laws; and the School of Medicine and Dentistry. The College has a strong international reputation, with around 20 percent of students coming from over 100 countries. Queen Mary has an annual turnover of GBP 220 million, research income worth GBP 61 million, and generates employment and output worth GBP 600 million to the UK economy each year.
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 13.000 students and 6000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health in the United Kingdom and globally, tackle climate change and develop clean and sustainable sources of energy.