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13 September 2007 PR 07/117

Computer models help raise the bar for sporting achievement

Computer models now under development at Loughborough University could enhance the design of sports equipment to help people of all abilities realise their sporting potential.

Robokick.jpg. Adding a kick to research – this specially designed kicking robot is used to test the computer models’ accuracy.

The models, more sophisticated and more specialised than others previously used in sports equipment design, produce unprecedented realistic simulations of how potential ball designs, for instance, will actually behave when in use.

This data can then be harnessed by sports equipment design teams to ensure that the final products they develop behave (e.g. bounce and spin) as required and, above all, with more consistency than ever before. This is vital if sportsmen and women are to optimise their skills, apply them with confidence and maximise their achievement.

The capabilities of these ground-breaking computer models, which are being developed by a team from the University’s Sports Technology Research Group, based in the Wolfson School of Mechancial and Manufacturing Engineering, are being described today (Thursday 13 September) at this year’s BA Festival of Science in York.

“The UK is at the forefront of sports-related engineering,” says Dr Andy Harland, who leads the team. “Our computer models can provide invaluable technical input to the sports equipment design process. For example, by enabling the real-world behaviour of different design options to be simulated with extreme accuracy, they can reduce the need to manufacture expensive prototypes and cut the time required to get improved equipment from the drawing-board to the shops.”

The basis of the models is provided by commercially available, industry-leading Abaqus software. The team take this software and then, by developing and adding complex algorithms*, enhance its ability to simulate mathematically the exact characteristics of a particular piece of sports equipment, of different playing surfaces and so on. The model can then show exactly what will happen when a ball, for instance, has a specified amount of force or spin applied to it, and how it will bounce and roll.

The underlying expertise has been developed with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Further funding targeted at specific objectives has been provided by adidas, the global sports equipment manufacturer. Key input has already been made to the design of the adidas +Teamgeist football used in last year’s World Cup in Germany. As well as other football projects, Andy’s team are currently working on models that will aid the design of next-generation running shoes which reduce the risk of injury.

The capabilities being developed could also allow designers to tune sports equipment more closely to the needs of the user, leading to increased participation in sport and therefore important health benefits across the population.

“There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that children and some adults are deterred from taking part in sport by ill fitting or badly designed equipment,” Dr Harland comments. “It’s ironic that a largely sedentary activity like developing computer models can make a real contribution to the quality of sporting performance and the enjoyment millions of people derive from physical activity.”


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Notes for editors:

  1. EPSRC funding has been provided under the auspices of Loughborough University’s Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre (IMCRC), a five-year initiative which began in 2006 and is receiving EPSRC funding of nearly £18M. The overall aim of the IMCRC is to undertake a wide variety of work in the fields of manufacturing, construction and product design.
  2. To develop computer models of the necessary sophistication, Andy and his team are harnessing a wide range of skills available at Loughborough University, including mechanical engineering, computer science, electronics, civil engineering and even psychology (the issue of how users perceive sports equipment is a hugely important one).
  3. Developed by Simulia, Abaqus is a suite of non-linear finite element analysis (FEA) computer programmes designed for use in tackling a wide range of mechanical, structural, civil, biomedical and other engineering challenges.
  4. *An algorithm is a computer programme that involves a logical sequence of steps designed to solve a particular problem and calculate an answer.
  5. This year’s BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) Festival of Science takes place in York from 9–15 September. Hosted by the University of York and the City of York, the overall theme is ‘Energy and Human Progress’. The event is one of the UK’s biggest science festivals and attracts around 400 of the best scientists and science communicators from home and abroad who reveal the latest developments in research to a general audience. For more information, visit http://www.the-ba.net
  6. Dr Andy Harland’s presentation on Thursday 13 September will form part of the ‘Achieving Gold with Engineering’ event organised by EPSRC.
  7. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £740 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/
  8. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research-intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2006 National Student Survey, the University gained a top five place, with nine out of Loughborough’s 23 departments topping their subject tables. Loughborough is also ranked in the top15 of UK universities in national league tables and was named winner of the 2006 THES award for the UK’s Best Student Experience. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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