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Swimsight

Enabling visually impaired swimmers to train independently.

  • The Swimsight system

  • A very brief overview of the product proposal and development process.

    A very brief overview of the product proposal and development process.

  • Product packaging

  • An exploded view of one of the side modules

  • A snapshot of the design and prototyping process.

  • Testing the functional computer vision prototype with the haptic navigation system on a scale model.

What it does

Swimsight enables the visually impaired to train independently. The head-mounted computer vision system calculates the user’s position in the lane and proximity to the wall. Corrections are then fed back to the user via an intuitive haptic navigation system.


Your inspiration

According to Britishblindsport.org, 70% of blind individuals did not participate in sport within the last month, with 60% attributing this issue to a lack of provision. Many visually impaired and blind individuals require assistance from a tapper (someone who taps the swimmer to indicate the end of the lane) in order to safely use a public swimming pool. However, it was evident from research that hiring a tapper is fraught with challenges; from endless searches to costly fees, let alone the implications of human error. The aim was to design a device that could offer a greater level of reliability, independence and convenience to the user.


How it works

Much like autonomous vehicles, the device uses computer vision cameras to track lane lines and calculate the user’s position. The five cameras are strategically placed to ensure that measurements are taken at regular intervals, no matter the user’s stroke length. A key innovation is the addition of an inertial measurement unit that enables the device to compensate for head movement; corrections are fed back to the user via an intuitive haptic navigation system. Two haptic motors are used to guide the swimmer in a straight line, a third alerts them when they need to turn.


Design process

The design process began with research into the user, task and environment. From interviews with a visually impaired swimmer to empathy modelling in a pool with blackout goggles, a range of techniques were used to gain a thorough understanding of the problem. A wide range of potential solutions were quickly explored and their pros and cons evaluated. Using a decision matrix, the concept that offered the greatest promise was selected and detailed development could begin. Prototyping was used to test the effectiveness of the proposed system and to establish a proof of concept. Once the electronics were resolved, the next step was to design an ergonomic housing that was easy to mount and did not create significant drag in the water. As different shaped goggles perform differently on a range of head shapes, the device was intentionally designed to retrofit onto a pair of goggles of the user’s choosing to ensure a comfortable fit. 3D printing was used to help quickly iterate the form and refine user interactions. The design was optimised for manufacturing and the cost per unit calculated in order to assure commercial viability.


How it is different

Visually impaired swimmers often need to hire ‘tappers’ in order to train safely. ‘Tappers’ are individuals who stand at the end of a lane and hit the visually impaired swimmer using an improvised rod, alerting them when to turn. The current tapping system is not standardised and evidently presents several issues for blind swimmers. Others have attempted to solve the problem, for example, using remote-controlled alerts, transmitted to a vibrating cap. However, this requires the intervention of a poolside assistant to observe the swimmer. Swimsight removes the need for a poolside assistant entirely, dramatically cutting costs and offering greater independence to the user. Furthermore, unlike any other solution on the market, this design also keeps the blind swimmer in a straight line rather than forcing them to rely on the lane rope. The device also holds utility for sighted swimmers learning backstroke or to tumble turn, thus, increasing the market opportunity.


Future plans

Both the haptic navigation and computer vision prototypes have demonstrated effectiveness independently out of the water. However, due to the lockdown, testing in a pool could not be completed and so the next step is to waterproof the current prototype and refine its performance in the water. Once the prototype has been calibrated for the pool, the next step is to conduct tests with visually impaired swimmers from the British Para-Swimming team who were interviewed during the research phase. Once any insights have been resolved, the next step would be to seek funding in order to bring the device to market.


Awards


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