Students from Imperial College London took over The Snow Centre Hemel Hempstead, on Sunday, to showcase products developed as part of the Rio Tinto Sports Innovation Challenge. …

Inspired by the legacy of London 2012 and this year’s Winter Games in Sochi, the students have created projects that provide solutions to real world engineering problems, developing equipment for para-athletes to use in their training and competition.

Disability SnowSports UK (DSUK) played a pivotal role in the development process of this year’s projects, providing advice and answering questions from the perspective of adaptive skiers. Sunday’s session provided an opportunity for the team from DSUK to examine the prototypes and provide vital feedback to the students, who have been working on these projects over the last 10 months.

Glimpse, a project developed for visually impaired skiers, is a communication device that gives independence to both skiers and snowboarders by providing relative position awareness via multi-sensorial feedback. Usually, these athletes would rely on verbal communication, provided by their guide skiing just metres ahead of them, with no means of independently gauging where objects are around them.

ParalympicsGB skier Millie Knight said of the project: “Having a helmet that helps you determine where objects are and where your guide is such an incredible idea. I’ve had the chance to test out the Glimpse and was amazed at how intuitive it is. I can see how it’d be even more beneficial for people who are completely blind.”

Additionally, projects have been created for sit-skiers that tackle two very different problems, firstly, the Gnar, an outrigger that enables mono-skiers to push themselves up unassisted after a fall, and Mimic which is an adaptive visual learning system designed to aid novice sit-skiers during lessons.

Prototypes that span a multitude of disciplines across disability sport were also on display, including Spine, a back support system that prevents the exacerbation of spinal injuries following a crash, and Bruise, a revolutionary injury detection suit for sports people with paraplegia.

Dr Ian Radcliffe, Project Leader of RTSIC at Imperial College London, commented: “The exhibition to the DSUK team is an important part of the design and development process. The feedback the students have been getting from everyone will be instrumental in focusing and guiding the ongoing development of these concepts.”

James Sterry, DSUK coach for Hemel Hempstead enthused: “The Rio Tinto Sports Innovation Challenge is a really great initiative and there are a number of projects that would really benefit the way we teach adaptive snowsports. The equipment we have now works well but there’s always need for improvement and for new innovations.”

Now moving into its fourth year, the Rio Tinto Sports Innovation Challenge is a collaboration between Rio Tinto and Imperial College London. The programme sees Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering and Innovation Design Engineering students take on the task of creating products to aid para-athletes in competition or training, with the overall aim of making a tangible contribution to Paralympic sport.

The next phase, beyond Rio 2016, will see the programme focus more on rehabilitation and grassroots sports.

Projects on display from the Rio Tinto Sports Innovation Challenge

Spine: Up to 25% of severe spinal cord injuries are caused after an accident has happened, therefore to reduce further injury it is imperative that patients are kept as still as possible. ‘Spine’ is a back support system which immobilises the back after an impact to reduce further injury. It uses pressure sensors and ultraviolet non-toxic curing resin to transform from a completely flexible to rigid structure in 10 seconds.

Bruise: Athletes with Paraplegia often suffer undiagnosed injuries in the parts of their body with reduced sensation, which can develop into performance hindering or even life threatening conditions. Bruise is a revolutionary injury detection suit, which uses a recyclable pressure-sensitive film to indicate the severity of injuries by changing colour upon impact. 

Glimpse:  Visually impaired skiers rely on verbal communication and have no means of independently gauging where objects are around them.  Glimpse is a communication device that gives independence to Paralympic skiers and snowboarders by providing relative position awareness via multi-sensorial feedback.

Gnar:  As a mono-skier, righting oneself after a fall can be extremely difficult and assistance is required to get back up. Gnar is an outrigger designed to provide skiers with unassisted recovery. The extending outrigger and two-handled push enables the mono-skier to get back up from the slope quickly.

Mimic: Learning to sit-ski can be a liberating experience for people with disabilities. Novice sit-skiers are usually taught by a standing instructor, following behind them for their own safety, meaning instructors are often limited to teaching through verbal input. Mimic is an adaptive visual learning system that provides a real-time visual demonstration of correct technique controlled by the instructor.