BAE Systems’ secret weapons give British Olympic team the edge

Posted on 2 Aug 2012 by Tim Brown

Defence, aerospace and security company, BAE Systems, has adapted military technology to assist the British Olympic team to reach their full potential at the London 2012 Games.

BAE Systems has helped the British Olympic Cycling Team to find increased levels of speed, strength and endurance by installing a sophisticated performance monitoring system at the Manchester Velodrome, the base of the British Team’s training.

Military precision lasers, normally used to identify friend or foe on the battlefield, have played a key role in the British Cycling Team’s build up to the London 2012 Olympic games and their success in international competition in recent years.

The laser timing technology has provided an entirely new approach to performance monitoring in cycling, improving on a previous break-beam system which was unable to differentiate between individual cyclists racing around the track at the same time.

The new system allows up to 30 riders to race each other simultaneously while coaches track each individual cyclist’s second-by-second performance in real time. The laser works by reading a personalised code from a retro reflective tag attached to each bike, which can capture individual timings with millisecond accuracy.

Dave Brailsford, Performance Director at British Cycling described the technology as “a major step forward in training” for the team ahead of the Olympics. “Cycling is a sport that relies a lot on technology,” he said “The bikes are part of it, but the day-to-day training is just as technical, and it is therefore important that it can be analysed and measured objectively.”

The system is one of several developments coming out of BAE Systems’ £1.5 million Technology Partnership with UK Sport, which sees high-tech defence technology and thinking applied to the areas of sports development where it is needed the most.

Kelvin Davies, BAE Systems Project Leader of the UK Sport Technology Partnership said the ability to harness their engineering skills in the support of British athletes was a source of pride at BAE Systems. “The new performance system demonstrates the essential role of engineering in helping our athletes to achieve those fractional improvements, which are often key to sporting success.”

The BAE Systems team has also created a mobile laser pistol evaluation device called ‘ULTeMo’, adapting technology usually used to protect aircraft from hostile attack. Olympic athletes competing in the modern pentathalon can take the device to competitions to help with last minute checks on their equipment. To use this system athletes simply align the pistol in the device and fire a single shot. The ULTeMo device immediately gives an indication how well the laser is performing, measuring the strength of the laser pulse.

Pentathlon GB’s Performance Director has decided to make the evaluation device available to all pentathletes competing in major competitions, no matter which country they are representing. “We would not be interested in winning a medal just because someone else’s laser equipment did not work properly on the day: that would be a step too far in my view.”

Since 2008, BAE Systems has already helped around 20 elite sports teams and 140 individual athletes and their coaches, including the taekwondo, track cycling, skeleton bobsled, sailing, short track speed skating, athletics, canoeing (slalom and sprint), badminton, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair racing, swimming, modern pentathlon and shooting teams.