23 Aug 2004
Laser scanning optimises the aerodynamic profile of track bikes racing around the Olympic velodrome in Athens.
Sports engineers in the UK equipped with a 3D laser scanner are honing the aerodynamic profile of Great Britain's Olympic track cycling team. With Olympic records tumbling and a tally of two gold medals and one silver, the research group appears to have hit upon a winning formula.
Part funded by a DTI grant, Sheffield University's Sports Engineering Research Group (SERG) set up the facility back in 2003 as part of a national program to give the UK elite sports industry access to advanced R&D facilities.
The group use a 3D scanning system, known as 'ModelMaker', to digitize sports equipment and athletes into a high resolution surface map. Based around a 5 mW class IIIa laser, the system supplied by 3D Scanners UK uses a 70 mm scan line to generate more than 23 000 points per second spaced at 50 micron intervals.
Guided by hand, the operator moves the scanner head over the target in a manner similar to spray-painting. "The system can render the surface in real-time," David Curtis of SERG told Optics.org. "You can see where you've missed points and quickly go back and rescan."
Working on the principle of laser stripe triangulation, a camera set at an angle to the target surface logs variations in height by detecting changes in the shape of the scan line. From a cycling perspective, the scanner provides an elegant way of integrating the rider and the bike into an aerodynamic model.
With gold medals riding on a fraction of a second's advantage, optimising the aerodynamic performance of the bike and rider is essential. "The split is around 66% rider, 34% bike," explained Curtis. "Because it is very hard to alter a rider's physical shape, the team's focus is on getting a rider into a position that optimizes biomechanical performance as well as being aerodynamic."