Computer science group develops software for Olympic swim team

They may not be the best athletes or have the biggest muscles, but some members of GW’s Computer Science Department could hold the keys to the gold medal for the U.S. Olympic swimming team.

Professor James Hahn, chair of the Computer Science Department, along with graduate students Samir Roy and Jean Honorio, have developed a software program that can capture a swimmer’s movement underwater in three dimensions. This software will allow swimmers and their coaches to closely observe every motion made underwater in order to improve strokes.

Hahn said the software was developed specifically for the U.S. Olympic swimming team because they have been the primary source of data and funding.

The group recently finished the delivery of the prototype and is now waiting for feedback from the U.S. Olympic swimming team to put the finishing touches on the final product.

“(This) software will take swimming video analysis to an entirely new level,” said Russell Mark, a biomechanics coordinator for the USA Swimming-National Team Division who has been working closely with the GW group, in an e-mail. “Software that is currently available is capable of performing (two-dimensional) video analysis (using video that can be taken with a regular video camera). (This) software takes that concept, and adds a third dimension that will give us … a much more powerful and telling video tool.”

Honorio said, “What we have done is to actually take a laser scan so we have a prototypical man and we then change his measurements to a particular man.”

The project began with Rajat Mittal, an associate professor of engineering and applied sciences, who was studying a different type of swimmer.

“Back in about 2003 I got a research project from the U.S. Navy to develop fish swimming, to understand the water flow around swimming,” he said.

After the Navy project was finished, Mittal approached the U.S. Olympic swimming team to see if they wanted to use his research on swimmers instead of fish.

“At that point I thought it would be useful to bring in professor Hahn because he has had experience with graphics.”

Roy said the group’s software could significantly improve a coach’s ability to perfect his swimmers’ every stroke. “When the coaches have this much more information they can come up with more faults that the swimmer has and eventually improve his stroke,” he said.

Mark noted the current problems in capturing swimmers on film.

“It is hard to visualize the entire big picture of a swimming stroke using (two-dimensional) video because there is movement in different planes at the same time,” he wrote. “I’m excited that (this) software will tie a lot of those motions together and be able to have a great impact on the sport.”

Although the software is only being used for the U.S. Olympic swimming team right now, it could be transferred to other sports in the future, Hahn said.

“We’ve been working with (GW’s) Department of Exercise Science and they are looking at analyzing tennis swings,” Hahn said. “It could actually go into other athletic activities.”

Mark, however, expressed some skepticism when it came to transferring the software to other sports.

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