How BMW’s self-driving car tech will give American swimmers a leg up in Rio

There are a growing number of fitness trackers for swimmers making a splash (pun firmly intended) in the marketplace, but very few as clever as the system BMW has developed in collaboration with the high performance team at USA Swimming. The official mobility partner of the U.S. Olympic Committee has created an incredibly clever motion tracking system designed to analyze a swimmer’s underwater dolphin kicks and provide quantitative performance data to coaches.

“Until now swimmers typically have had to depend on the coach’s eye to help them adjust their alignment, strokes, and kicks,” Peter Falt, director at BMW Designworks, tells Digital Trends. “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.”

It’s a shining example of how a technology developed for one field can be perfectly adapted for another.

Whereas most activity trackers work based on broad metrics like steps run or strokes made, BMW’s system is incredibly granular — and lets users dial in on specific movements in just the way that, dare we say it, BMW researchers might do with a new car in the R&D lab.

In fact, that’s not a bad comparison. In the same way that BMW uses LEDs on its cars, the automaker’s swimming tracking system attaches miniature lights to swimmers’ wrists, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, and toes. (Just to make things extra high-tech, the LED mounts are 3D printed because… well, of course they are.) With the lights in place to illuminate the underwater environment, an underwater camera then films the practicing athletes, and this footage is analyzed with the same computer vision algorithms BMW uses for identifying objects in the road, estimating parking distances, and the finer elements of active cruise control.

It’s a shining example of how a technology developed for one field can be perfectly adapted for another. They even call it the “tail light” system — replacing an earlier “headlight” iteration, which used “illuminated tattoos” in place of LEDs.

Falt says that one of the big challenges was coming up with a solution that wouldn’t impede the way that swimmers were able to perform in training. This is one reason the system makes reference to tail lights since, like the disappearing tail lights of a car, the ambition was to make something that would be lightweight and unobtrusive enough to disappear from the consciousness of swimmers.

After all, while a slowdown of milliseconds wouldn’t mean too much for you or I, when you’re dealing with Olympic athletes it suddenly becomes a whole lot more crucial. “[It] was important to ensure the training didn’t create a different feeling or result than would be experienced in real competition,” Falt says. “This is also why we ruled out body suits or more obvious potential solutions that would have been a lot easier.”

Ultimately the technology means that coaches can not plot not only regular measurements (such as time) over the course of many, many practices, but also compare this data to specific performance points: noting where some almost imperceptible change makes a considerable difference over the length of a race. As Falt notes, “we can use the tool to hone in on technique adjustments that work best for each individual swimmer.”

“Our hope is that the potential of its outcome can make a significant impact on the future generation of swimmers.”

So, once Team USA — fingers crossed — emerges victorious in Rio, gold medals held aloft, are we going to be able to get our hands (and shoulders and hips and knees and…) on this technology? After all, if we start now we may be in with a shot for Tokyo in 2020. “Right now, we’re just focused on Team USA,” Falt says. “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.”

Usually the idea that a company was so explicitly comparing humans to machines, as is happening with the car/swimmer analogy, would be taken as a slight against people. In this case, the fact that BMW is willing to use its cutting-edge automotive research to help people (who aren’t even behind the wheel of a car) is the ultimate compliment.

After all, we know BMW really loves its vehicles. We guess it feels the same about Team USA swimmers as well!

Cars

Don’t let the SUV bodies fool you, BMW’s X3 M and X4 M are bona fide M cars

BMW is launching the first M versions of its X3 and X4. The 2020 X3 M and X4 M Competition pack a new 503-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six and BMW’s usual array of performance tech.
Cars

Here’s why BMW mechanics now carry smartglasses in their tool chest

BMW technicians in the United States have started wearing smartglasses, and it's not because they're shooting alien ships between oil changes. They use augmented reality technology to access workshop manuals.
Product Review

The ZenFone 6 has a flippable camera and is unlike any other flagship phone

Asus is embracing the 2019 trend of not following any trends at all and instead going in its own direction. The ZenFone 6 has a motorized flip-around camera, a 5,000mAh battery, and an almost stock version of Android installed.
Gaming

E3 2019: All the games we expected to see, and some we didn’t

E3 2019 is the biggest gaming event of the year. It will be loaded with new game announcements and details. These are the games we expect to see at E3 2019, and the games we won't see.
Emerging Tech

Got $400 million to burn? The world’s largest airplane is up for sale

Stratolaunch, the world's largest airplane, is up for sale. All it'll cost you is $400 million dollars. The brainchild of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the plane was supposed to make space travel more accessible and affordable.
Emerging Tech

Ex astris, scientia: Star Trek logo spotted on the surface of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been boldly going to Mars and capturing images since 2005, and now it has spotted something where no man has gone before: a structure on the planet's surface which will look familiar to Trekkies.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Plant-based shoes and a ukulele learning aid

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Adobe develops tool to identify Photoshopped images of faces

With deepfake videos making headlines, and campaigns against the Photoshopping of models, people are more aware than ever of the digital manipulation of images. Now Adobe wants to give tools to users to let them spot faked images.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will pave the way for manned missions to Mars

Survival on Mars is a massive challenge for humanity. To cope with the highly variable temperatures, lack of oxygen and water, and high levels of radiation, the Mars 2020 rover will carry instruments to pave the way for human exploration.
Emerging Tech

Facebook builds virtual homes to train A.I. agents in realistic environments

Researchers at Facebook have created Habitat, which is a platform that enables rapid training for A.I. agents. They will receive thousands of hours of training in just a few minutes in the virtual homes.
Emerging Tech

Impossible Foods struggles to keep up with Impossible Burger demand

Red Robin and White Castle have reported Impossible Burger shortages, as it appears that Impossible Foods is struggling to keep up with demand. The company will be selling its meat-like patties in retail outlets within the year.
Emerging Tech

Pass the salt please: Table salt found on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Astronomers have spotted something unexpectedly familiar on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa -- sodium chloride, better known as table salt. This suggests the under-ice oceans on Europa are salty and similar to our oceans on Earth.
Emerging Tech

Hubble captures explosive galaxy, the site of three recent supernovae

Hubble's latest image is of the spiral galaxy NGC 4051 which is notable for having played host to a large number of supernovae: the first seen in 1983 (SN 1983I), the second in 2003 (SN 2003ie), and the most recent in 2010 (SN 2010br).
Emerging Tech

The grainy texture of Saturn’s rings reveals clues to their origins

New analysis of data from Cassini shows that Saturn's rings are not smooth, but rather are grainy in texture. Scientists believe that tiny moons within the rings cause materials to cluster and form clumps and straw-like patterns.