In 1960, swimming became part of the programme of the Paralympic Games, and the technique used in the competitions has remained the same for the past 56 years. Swimming competitions for the blind do not differ much from those for athletes without disabilities, if not for two important aspects:
The athletes’ coaches, equipped with a special stick that ends with a sponge, give a pat on the back or on the swimmer’s head to warn him or her that it is time to execute the turn.
the blackened goggles
So that a visually impaired athlete can compete at the same level with a completely blind swimmer.
Recently, Cheil Spain and Samsung, technology partner for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, in collaboration with the Spanish Paralympic team, thought it was time to improve the race experience for blind and visually impaired swimmers with the help of the latest digital technologies. They have developed Blind Cap, a silicone swimming head cap with a vibrating component placed behind the swimmer’s neck.
The head cap connects via bluetooth to a wearable device similar to a watch, the coach can simply trigger the vibration at the touch of a button. When the athlete approaches the edge of the pool, the coach sends the signal that produces the vibration and the swimmer understands the he or she must start the turn.
“I have trained people with visual disabilities for more than 30 years,” explains José Luis Benito Vaquero, Swimming Technical Director for the Federación Española de Deportes para Ciegos, in the video introducing Blind Cap, “the system we had until now works fine, but it is really obsolete. I think that in the twenty-first century it is necessary to take advantage of the benefits that new technologies have to offer. This will improve the way we work with the athletes”.
Israel Oliver Peña, the Spanish swimmer competing at the 2012 London Paralympics, also believes that new technologies can help visually disabled athletes. “Many things are improving thanks to technology and if new technologies can be applied to various fields, why not to sport? New technologies are readily adopted in the workplace, in this case they will help improve athletes’ performance in a Paralympic sport and we would really welcome that”.
At the moment, the headset is just a prototype and it is not available for sale yet, but Samsung developers say it will be able to synchronize with most Android smartphones.
For blind and visually impaired swimmers, this could be a real breakthrough: the athletes and their coaches will be able to monitor and track their performance in the water, with no need for coaches to wait with a stick at the end of the pool.
The Paralympics this year we will not see the Blind Cap, but we can follow and support the swimmers that will compete in Rio. There are only seven days left before the opening cerimony and we can not help but rooting for all the participating athletes!
Do you like swimming or are you a competitive swimmer? What do you think of Blind Cap?
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Questo articolo è disponibile anche in: Italian