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Nothing is more mobile than the human body and more so when it plays sport. As we all want to get fitter and live longer, scientists are using computers and mobile internet communications technologies to help patients heal, athletes prepare for competitions, stream live video of sporting fixtures to mobile phones, and even let sports fans get involved in the game in ways not previously possible.

Who, when, where?

Where would TV sports pundits be without the ability to draw rapid, colourful and often conflicting computer overlays on football pitches to prove their points? Cricket’s third umpire uses the accuracy of video playback, and tennis has the computerised line judge. As the level of competition gets higher, the need to accurately apply the rules becomes more important, and computers don’t support any particular side.

GOAL! Computer technology will continue to shift the goal posts.

Get the right moves

For an elite athlete, all that keeps them from a world record-beating throw or sprint or jump can be some small error in the way they approach their critical moves. Computers can give coaches the sorts of exact details needed to help improve the athletes’ style. Motion capture systems, as used in the movies, allow computers to record the positions of the joints in the human body as it jumps around. After attaching small reflective patches all over the body, a multitude of cameras can track the patches’ positions in 3D space. This moment-by-moment information is combined with clever devices called force plates, which measure the weight distribution of the body as it stands and moves. Together the technology allows a real scientific approach to setting out training plans and getting the best from the best.

GOAL! Move like you mean it.

the mesh of a football goal

Shape up and ship out

An athlete’s body shape can be critical in achieving peak performance. Body scanners are computer controlled devices that can scan the body all around and produce detailed vital statistics. This information can be used to create equipment custom-built to help individual athletes, like body-hugging suits to reduce water resistance in swimming, or the right enclosure for the rider in a canoeing event. A good fit makes for a better performance. Designs can then be simulated on computers to see how well they work in theory, but on the day it’s the athletes that win. The computer science is only there to help.

GOAL! Every little helps.

Have a go?

Major sporting events get people interested in sports. Computer scientists have developed virtual reality systems that let ordinary folk try out new sports in a safe environment. Rather than skiing a dangerous run in the Alps, wannabe skiers can try it out by slipping into a ski simulator. After strapping on the real skis, computer-controlled measurement systems allow the skier’s body movements to be translated into a realistic, realtime video of their ski run projected onto the screen on front of them. The skis can push back too, under computer control – if you slide over bumps on the virtual ground, you feel them. This use of computers to produce realistic physical sensations through devices attached to the body is called haptics, and the next generation of computer games might just have devices that shake you around a bit.

GOAL! Get involved, have a go.

Work that body, inside and out

Mobile devices can monitor the ways our body is reacting to what we’re doing. Devices can record and transmit your heart rate and body temperature, indicate your level of physical activity and read your body position, your respiration rate, and even in some cases, body fluid levels. There are even devices that can check if you’ve been taking your medicine. These devices are built into pills, and activate when swallowed. Via a bandage-like skin patch, they can send information from your other body monitors to your doctor, saying what you have taken, and when and how your body is reacting. Collecting information from an individual patient can help in their care, but also being able to collect this information from a vast number of different patients can help ensure the medicines are doing what they should.

GOAL! Personal medicine in the future will contain a big dose of computer science.