A project proposal for a self-care system that monitors a swimmer's form in the water and offers instant feedback.
In my DIY Health class we have been asked to design a system that allows us to “take stock of ourselves, set goals and act upon our health and lifestyle enabling systematic, ongoing analysis and progression towards goals”.
The project is meant to be speculative - the end result is a thoroughly designed and described system and a video of how the system would be used. We can imagine ourselves at a point in the near future if we like.
My goal is to design a device or system that can help me improve my swimming form by monitoring the position of my body in the water, offering feedback in real-time and facilitating analysis of my swimming form over a longer period of time.
I am really interested in the complexity of swimming as a physical activity; it's pretty startling that we're able to do it at all. When I swim front crawl I am trying to balance the movement of my hands, arms, body and legs to move through the water. When I'm swimming effectively, these things are in balance and become unconscious actions.
When I need to improve my swimming form, I have to become aware of a particular aspect of my swimming stroke to coax it in a different direction - I receive an instruction before I swim from a coach, I drill a particular aspect of my form, or (on very rare occasions) I look back on a piece of video.
The initial motivation behind this project is the opportunity, as I see it, to provide feedback to a swimmer in real time; connecting them to their physical movements in a natural, intimate way. By doing this, it's my hope that swimming becomes more efficient (expending less energy as I move through the water) and more natural (improving gradually while I'm in the water in a way that reduces the need to constantly drill individual aspects of my stroke).
Inspiration In my early research for this project I've looked at the ways in which fish and other sea creatures move through water and fluidly make adjustments to their speed and course; I like the idea that in some alternative evolutionary path humans could have retained a much closer connection to water - maybe we would have the capabilities to move through it in more fish-like ways, or maybe we'd be able to communicate or breathe in water. There may be natural systems that I can learn from as I do this project.
I've also been inspired by the writings of Jacques Cousteau; In The Silent World he describes his first use of the aqualung in such a beautiful way:
From this day forward we would swim across miles of country no man had known, free and level, with our flesh feeling what the fish scales know
In Cousteau's case, technology had literally allowed him to enhance his evolved, human capabilities. I have started to think about the goal of my system in a more lyrical sense - the system should make me feel more connected to the environment of the water and allow me to become more fish-like.
The key component of the system will probably be a wearable device, worn during swimming, which measures angles of rotation around a number of axes, and motion. The device will give me feedback in the form of vibration and/or sound to signal good form or a correction/action of some kind.
The second component of the system is a communications layer; essentially a way to get information from the wearable device to a computer. This could be done using a physical connection or a wireless link.
The third component of the system is a piece of software that allows me to configure the wearable device; setting new goals/parameters and analyze my previous swimming sessions. This could be a standalone piece of software, or it could be a web service. It might have a social component or it might not.
I want to design my system to monitor a small number of key physical components of the swim stroke so I am doing research into the biomechanics of swimming in both humans and animals.
I'm also mapping out how the system would work from end to end - from the moment I get up in the morning to go to the pool to the analysis after my swim, building a picture of my swimming form over months and years. It's an exciting challenge.
I'll write about the project as it progresses.