A top-secret gadget developed at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering has enhanced the training of the country's best skiers in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The Sensor for the Training of Elite Athletes, or STEALTH, is a GPS/GLONASS-based system that helps alpine skiers perfect their technique and route or line selection, to get down a slope in the fastest, most efficient manner.
"We are the only one who has this technology in the world," revealed Gerard Lachapelle, Canada Research Chair/iCORE Chair in Wireless Connection, and head of the Position, Location and Navigation Group at the Schulich School of Engineering.
Lachapelle, along with graduate students Richard Ong and Aiden Morrison, designed STEALTH.
STEALTH is a partnership between the Schulich School of Engineering, Alpine Canada Alpin and Own the Podium, a winter sport technical program designed to help Canada become the No. 1 nation in total medal count at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
STEALTH has been in the works for three years. The Canadian men's alpine ski team have been training with it since 2007.
The agreement with Own the Podium expired, and STEALTH went public with the project last Thursday.
The system includes a small sensor worn on a skier's belt which tracks the speed and position of the athlete down the mountain. When the run is played back later on a monitor -- using STEALTH's Alpine GNSS Graphics software -- coaches and skiers are able to evaluate where they can find more speed on the course.
"When the system works well, the type of continuous data they get is very valuable for them, that's not an issue. With traditional methods they use time coding systems so they can only measure at certain points, but this is continuous so they can get a much more refined measurement of performance of skis and skiers," said Lachapelle.
The unit is only 280 grams, but the weight is still an issue. Morrison is considering ways to reduce the weight.
The biggest challenge is convincing the coaches and the skiers that trying new technology is worthwhile, said Ong.
"Some of the skiers and coaches are pretty averse to trying new things," he said.
STEALTH is exclusively for the Canadian ski team, but the research group is thinking about making it commercial.
"It's a very limited market," said Lachapelle.
"It's a matter of looking at other implications, and other sports where it could be useful."
Lachapelle has other projects to assist the ski team that are still under wraps.
He said the research team was always afraid that someone around the world would beat them to it. He noted that even if other countries reproduced STEALTH before the Olympics, it would now be too late.
"It's not something you suddenly have, and instantly improve. It requires a great deal of testing and training. It's very incremental," he said.
Lachapelle stressed that a 100th of a second or a centimetre or two could make all the difference in international competition.
This past weekend, Canadian skier Manuel Osborne-Paradis won the opening World Cup Super G at Lake Louise.
Austrians Benjamin Raich and Michael Walchhofer were second and third, while Canadians Erik Guay and Robbie Dixon placed fourth and fifth.
It was believed to be the first time Canada has put three men into the top five of a World Cup Super G event.
"We have a good team," commented Lachappelle. "Canada has an excellent chance to do very well [at the Olympics]."