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British athletes use virtual reality technology for home field advantage

Athlete on track wears VR headset
Our visualisation experts have been helping British athletes train by providing 360° and 3D simulations of course layouts ahead of major competitions.

Digital headset technologies are being used to integrate 3D video in new ways, aimed at providing a real benefit to a wide variety of summer sports including sailing, canoe slalom and triathlon and potentially winter sports such as bob sled, skeleton and ski slalom.

The new project is the latest development in an eight-year technology partnership between BAE Systems and UK Sport. Providing a playback of 3D recorded material collated by engineers and trainers ahead of competition, it adapts the technology to the requirements of the Olympians and Paralympians. The video playback can be viewed on smartphones as well as the latest headsets, giving athletes a fully immersive experience and allowing them to feel familiar in the environments in which they’ll be competing as well as understanding the undulations, twists and turns of a course layout ahead of competition. 

The project represents a significant advance from the currently used low quality 2D footage or still imagery; it utilises simulation techniques used to develop advanced military technologies and integrates it in to the world of elite sports training.

Simon Timson, Director of Performance, UK Sport said, “Familiarity and practice in the competition environment, whether real or virtual, breads confidence in athletes. The advantages of virtual training should not be underestimated in the pursuit of excellence. This adaptation of new technology allows us to digitally bottle that experience for elite athletes and help them perform at their best. Every extra benefit we can offer our athletes ahead of elite competition is significant, so this innovative application of 3D Video and Virtual Reality technology should provide an advantage in helping athletes familiarise themselves with new courses.”

Henry White, BAE Systems Technology Partnership Lead said: “Our solution adapts existing technology in a short time frame, and can be integrated into athletes’ training schedule quickly and seamlessly. Technologies that BAE Systems are developing for aircraft inspection and operator training have been utilized in an affordable manner, allowing roll-out across a large number of sports. The system will complement the comprehensive training and preparation by our athletes and give them the best possible opportunity for success.”

Brendan Purcell, Performance Director for British Triathlon said: “Having the support of a major technology business such as BAE Systems, is exciting and opens up new opportunities for us. We worked with them on this 3D video imaging project as part of our intelligent racing strategy, using content gathered at the Rio Test Event last summer.”

BAE Systems is UK Sport's Official Research & Innovation Partner, the eight year partnership has seen BAE Systems take on and solve some of UK Sports’ most challenging technical problems and apply technology usually reserved for the defence and security sector to help Britain’s athletes shave precious milliseconds off their performance. To date the partnership has benefited more than 30 different sports and 250 Olympic and Paralympic athletes since its conception in 2008. Recent projects to come from the partnership include an advanced cycling ergometer used to measure the power output of British cyclists as well as a cutting edge optical sensor to help BMX team in training.