A group of British engineers have created the UK's first computerised indoor trainer for racing wheelchairs, offering British wheelchair racers the most advanced indoor training system for the sport to date. The trainer is on display at this year's Farnborough International Airshow in an exhibit which showcases BAE Systems' eight year technology partnership with UK Sport.
The team designed a device known as the WATT System (Wheelchair Athlete Test and Training System) which allows wheelchair racers to replicate any training sessions they would receive outdoors, just as effectively indoors - meaning that training quality and schedules are never compromised by the weather.
Originally conceptualised via Computer Aided Design, the system consists of an adjustable frame that holds the athlete’s chair in place, and two electric motor brakes - adapted from the Tacx virtual reality bike trainer - that rest against the rear wheels. The WATT System’s motor brakes can create differing levels of resistance on the wheels; helping to accurately simulate different road and course environments.
The in-built bespoke software - created to fit the needs of British Athletics - allows athletes to simulate courses from anywhere in the world, and via the accompanying screen they can visualize the road ahead, with the motor brakes offering a varied work-out for athletes.
In future, this technology could also be augmented by adding in Virtual Reality (VR) technology, to create a truly immersive training experience. This would allow athletes to use the system to both familiarise themselves with competition areas they will be facing ahead of time.
In addition the WATT system allows athletes to record their performance, measure improvements over time and compare their race times to those of other athletes via online leaderboards - even letting them predict their performance over a course to be raced in the future. The screen can also be used to display workout data via BAE Systems’ own bespoke software, showing the speed of the athletes as well as the level of power pushing down on the wheels - helping athletes to refine their pushing technique.
Henry White, BAE Systems UK Sport Technology Partnership Lead, said: “The new WATT System is a ground-breaking advancement in wheelchair racing, and a product that we’re proud to be able to offer athletes. There are a number of problems that they face training in poor weather conditions, but with this new system they’ll be able to complete whatever training they need and access courses from all over the world, from wherever they are.”
Simon Timson, Director of Performance at UK Sport, said “BAE Systems’ expertise has proved invaluable to our athletes’ success over the past eight years, and this project is another fantastic example of how they can help our athletes maximise every precious second in training to find the winning edge over their rivals.”