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Creative Ways Technology and Sports Collided at the Rio Paralympics

2016 BMW Paralympic Team

Technology plays a role in everything from manufacturing and medicine to fashion and even farming. When people combine technology with unexpected ideas and problems, incredible innovations arise.

Just look at the technological advances made each year at the Paralympics, an Olympic equivalent for athletes with a range of physical disabilities, such as impaired muscle power, limb deficiency, or reduced range of movement.

While grit, skill, and consistent training are the keys to an athlete’s success, Paralympic technology provides incredible opportunities for individuals with a physical disability, letting them walk, run, or see like never before. Need proof? Check out these technological advances that were spotted at the Paralympics in Rio this September.

1. Smart Swimming Caps

In a sport where mere milliseconds stand between gold and silver, even the slightest delay can have serious implications. In the past, coaches tapped visually impaired swimmers with a rod-like tool to alert them of the impending wall. These taps had to be perfectly timed—at a specific distance from the wall at a specific part in the swimmer’s motion—to be effective, otherwise it slowed the swimmer and interrupted their flip turn.

Now the Samsung Blind Cap is ending the tapping process. With this special Bluetooth-enabled cap (thanks, Internet of Things), coaches can use a smartwatch or mobile device to alert swimmers that they are approaching the wall. A simple tap sends a vibration through the swimming cap, preparing the swimmer for a fast flip turn.

Check out the awesome innovation in action:

2. 3D-Printed Prosthetics

Autodesk partnered with German para-cycling champion Denise Schindler to create a 3D-printed prosthetic that would help her get the gold. While next-level prosthetics have been featured at many past Paralympics events, they are known for being slow and costly to develop. Autodesk, a multinational software corporation whose products we use in many of our 3D modeling and 3D printing courses, used new 3D printing technology to create these prosthetics quickly and for a fraction of the cost.

Denise Schindler Autodesk Prosthetics

Image courtesy of Reuters.

According to Schindler, who hopes to eventually make sports prostheses more accessible and affordable for all people, “Being able to develop a well-fitting prosthesis which doesn’t compromise on performance, in less time and for less money than traditional means, is a real breakthrough.”

At this year’s race, Schindler earned one silver and one bronze medal for her performance.

3. Ultra-Quick Racing Wheelchairs

Tatyana McFadden flew past the competition at Rio this year situated atop a super-slick, ultra-light racing wheelchair designed by BMW. She earned three gold medals and set a Paralympic record in the women’s T54 5,000-meter race.

Designworks, BMW’s global creative consultancy, designed McFadden’s racing wheelchair, along with those of her teammates (see main image), utilizing 3D modeling to create hyper-personalized racers for each competitor. According to Wired, the designers used 3D scans to understand where the racers faced the most drag, then made “custom molds of the athletes’ bodies to create personalized cockpits, leading to a more comfortable, more streamlined stance.”

BMW Racing Wheelchair

Image courtesy of designboom.

Every U.S. Paralympic athlete donned a unique racer (including personalized gloves and other gear) that was made to enhance his or her movement style. In addition, each of the racing wheelchairs embodied the aesthetics and engineering prowess BMW is known for, featuring aerodynamic design, a carbon fiber frame, a complete chassis redesign, and a customized fit. Talk about epic.

Technology & Your Interests

As the Rio Paralympics prove, empowering next-level athletes with the latest technology could change the future of sports. It also serves as a great reminder that technology is limitless, and the coolest innovations happen when people with real-world interests and problems make technology work in the context of their current passions and interests. Whether your child feels at home on the baseball field or spends every waking moment trying to connect to the Internet of Things, technology can be a part of their future. Start their tech pathway today.

Featured image courtesy of BMW.