Entertainment, Hardware

Skiing with computers

Winter is almost upon us and time to start thinking "snow". While living in the French Alps, Richard Kirby, then an engineer and product manager for Hewlett Packard, took his expertise to the slopes. Because of Kirby?s melding of science and sports, serious skiers can improve their racing form by attaching a small computer to their skis. The marriage of computers and snow led to the vLink Racing Computer which has been used by elite US ski team members during training to analyze their line.

vLink Racing Computer - State of the Arc
vLink Racing Computer – Long story short: optical telemetry for improving your ski performance

An optical lens is mounted in a shuttle on the ski to capture images of the snow at every angle. A remote unit around the skier?s neck receives data in a wireless transmission. Optical navigation technology enables the system to take thousands of images, measuring the movement of the skis with extreme precision. Ear buds provide real-time, audio feedback which allows the skier to adjust their stance immediately, rather than viewing after-the-fact videos of their performance.

The system relies on optical navigation technology, now familiar in computer mice, and patented by Hewlett-Packard in 1992. vLink consists of specialized optics and sophisticated software, and is itself, a patented system.

The sequential surface images provided by the shuttle?s lens are used to mathematically determine direction and magnitude of movement. In the one second a racing skier takes to make a turn ? edge transition to edge transition ? the system delivers 6500 images to calculate forward and sideways displacement relative to the axis of the ski. Lateral ski displacement slows a racer down. vLink helps the skier to refine their movements by analyzing whether they are carving or drifting. Carving is making a turn on the edge of your skis, as opposed to skidding across the snow, and is controlled by transferring body weight over the skis.

Typically mounted on the inside edge of each ski, vLink measures the lateral displacement of the inside edge of the outside ski when that edge is down. It can, however, be reversed to provide information from the outside edge as well.

After leaving the slopes, skiers can review statistics about their run on the remote unit?s LCD display, including how fast and how far they traveled. Run comparisons using the unit?s calculation of averages helps the skier evaluate their progress.

Jesse Hunt, US Ski Team Alpine Director, has said: "The ability to measure ski speed, among other components, at a given point while skiing provides a window into the subtleties of our sport."

A permanent adhesive attaches mounts for the shuttle to the ski, and is rated to withstand 800 pounds of force. The mounts work on most FIS legal racing skis. Powered by one AA and three AAA lithium cell batteries, the entire system goes for $749.