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Science

Engineering Marvel of the Winter Olympics: A Broom (nytimes.com) 88

Andrew Flemming and Geoff Fowler, both 29, along with their friend and business partner, Will Hamilton, 37, were pouring their creative energies into a high-tech training device the likes of which the sporting world had never seen. They were building a better broom. From a report: Not just any broom, but one that they thought could be essential to the sport of curling, which relies on the best broom handling out there as teams strategically cajole a polished granite rock across a sheet of ice. They wound up calling it the SmartBroom, and in a sport that can come across as vaguely primordial, their piece of 21st-century gadgetry could play a role in determining who wins gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Each SmartBroom has four sensors in the broom head that relay data to a small display unit. Hamilton took one for a spin down the ice, and the data was instantaneous -- line graphs along with a slew of numbers that showed his force in pounds and his stroke rate in hertz. Hamilton also pointed to a figure that he described as his "sweeping performance index," or S.P.I., a metric that combines power and speed in one easy-to-digest figure. Patrick Janssen, a world-class curler from Canada, has consistently registered an S.P.I. in the 2,800 range. The numbers by themselves might not mean much, Flemming said, but subtle changes in technique can lead to big differences in the quality of each stroke. And now curlers have that information at their disposal. They can experiment to see which stroke works best for them.

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Engineering Marvel of the Winter Olympics: A Broom

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  • What is the Olympics rules on tools like this?

    • My guess this stuff is irrelevant for the game at the actual olympics, except having pretty numbers and graphs for the viewers on TV.
      However it will probably totally change training in the sport.
      If you have two kinds of brooms, both handle the same, but one is smart and the other not. You use the smart one to train and learn your best techniques, you use the dumbe on when in competition. Just using this wonderbroom in competition won't do anything anyways.

    • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @02:58PM (#56090697) Homepage Journal

      I bought a bicycle computer and one of the features is to track pedal cadence (pedal rpm). I went from a cadence of 45-60 and after getting the computer changed to a cadence of 85-95 and it completely changed how I bicycled. Completely different way to ride a bike, engages muscles differently etc.
       
      This is basically the same as a pedal cadence meter on a bike. Some (very expensive) cycle computers will also calculate torque applied to left and right pedals allowing you to figure out if you favor one leg.
       
      Once you watch the computer for a few weeks you can judge in your head what your cadence is within ~7 rpm for me at least. I haven't used the torque meters (they're ~$800-3000 but the price is coming down) but I would imagine I could improve my torque to closer to 50:50 L:R. Right now I bet it's closer to like 35:65 as I favor the right leg.
       
      I'm sure after a few seasons with a "trainer broom" you'll be able to calculate this within X percent of ideal. Once they figure out the ideal situation given ice temp, broom temp and broom surface, etc.

      • by nuckfuts ( 690967 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @04:27PM (#56091199)

        Once they figure out the ideal situation given ice temp, broom temp and broom surface, etc.

        That's the fun part of curling. There is tremendous variation in ice texture and "speed" at different times and on different sheets. And it changes continuously throughout each game as the ice is swept and worn by rocks. There will never be an ideal situation. It's up to the skip to "read" the ice and call the sweepers on and off accordingly.

      • by rsborg ( 111459 )

        Which bike computer would you recommend?

    • It doesn't have to be used in the games themselves. It just has to allow you to enhance your technique to be effective.
  • ... I hoped for of a broom [http://www.ebay.com/bhp/harry-potter-broom?rmvSB=true] that would match the 1984 stunt [https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/jet-packs-in-flight-and-fiction/15/].

  • by magzteel ( 5013587 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @02:50PM (#56090655)

    Watching them sweeping furiously is pretty funny though.

    I want to see competitive vacuum cleaning in the summer games.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Its harder to see NFL as a sport....
      whats that - 13 minutes of ACTUAL play over 3 hours?

      WOW!

      • Its harder to see NFL as a sport....
        whats that - 13 minutes of ACTUAL play over 3 hours?

        WOW!

        I wouldn't last 15 seconds. They'd be carting me off the field after one play.

        The NFL does have too many breaks though. That's why I watch it on NFL Red Zone.
        No commercials, no time outs. Sometimes the screen is split between multiple games.
        It's awesome.

      • ...compared to zero minutes of actual play over 3 hours for curling?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Competitive waiting. Coming soon!

      Little do they know I trained with one of, no, THE absolute best trainer ever : hl2.exe

      • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

        Competitive waiting. Coming soon!

        Little do they know I trained with one of, no, THE absolute best trainer ever : hl2.exe

        For hardcore wait training, most professionals are waiting for Half Life 3.

        • by XXongo ( 3986865 )

          Competitive waiting. Coming soon! Little do they know I trained with one of, no, THE absolute best trainer ever : hl2.exe

          For hardcore wait training, most professionals are waiting for Half Life 3.

          Amateurs. I'm still waiting for my flying car.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Watching them sweeping furiously is pretty funny though.

      I want to see competitive vacuum cleaning in the summer games.

      For the winter olympics, I want to see competitive snow shoveling. Given that's my primary outdoor winter activity, I would find it both engaging and entertaining.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      The feminists will hate this, but curling is one of my wife's favorite sports to watch on TV precisely because of the sweeping.
  • >> Yada yada Olympics yada yada

    Is there a filter to screen out useless PR-driven articles about the Olympics?

    This kind of stuff is is only a step above the Olympics commercials Coke and McDonalds crap out every two years (as if any athlete would get near those brands except to collect the check).
    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      Yeah, who wants to read about people using technology to get better at what they do? We need more bitcoin articles!

    • >> Yada yada Olympics yada yada

      Is there a filter to screen out useless PR-driven articles about the Olympics?

      This kind of stuff is is only a step above the Olympics commercials Coke and McDonalds crap out every two years (as if any athlete would get near those brands except to collect the check).

      This is literally a story about hobbyists hacking together hardware and software to make a training device now used by national teams.

      I think it handily qualifies as "News for Nerds".

    • (as if any athlete would get near those brands except to collect the check).

      Ah the irony; Olympic grade athletes are the only people with the caloric burn rate to eat that stuff and not show it.

  • by ThomasBHardy ( 827616 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @02:59PM (#56090703)

    You get what you measure.

    This index score is only relevant is it can only be achieved by skilled, proper sweeping. Otherwise you are just having people train to get a high score, not to sweep properly to win. Someone with an alternative method might score very poorly on the index but do well for rock control.

    • You get what you measure.

      This index score is only relevant is it can only be achieved by skilled, proper sweeping. Otherwise you are just having people train to get a high score, not to sweep properly to win. Someone with an alternative method might score very poorly on the index but do well for rock control.

      Agreed, are they measuring pressure? Energy transferred into the ice? Do they account for the area the broom covers (no point sweeping outside the path of the rock)? You might be able to sweep harder if your broom is farther away from the rock, but that tradeoff might not be worth it.

      I've tried my own controlled experiments with sweeping in the past and it's really hard to actually figure out what works, there's a huge variance from shot-to-shot, and even if you throw the exact same path the surface still c

    • You have a point. But I hardly think that an athlete will use a measuring device like this to define ultimate success. Rather, s/he will use it to see how to improve technique and win games.

      Consider IQ tests. They don't really measure intelligence. They just measure how good you are at taking IQ tests. But there is a useful correlation between IQ tests and intelligence. Nevertheless, one must remember there is more than one kind of intelligence. Wayne Gretzky might score average on an IQ test, but put him o

  • The latest tech will instrument that thing in your hand to analyze how well you are stroking off; big data indeed!

    Reminds me of that Bluetooth enabled device for women...

  • by Big Bipper ( 1120937 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @03:32PM (#56090905)
    Sport used to be something you played just for fun. Now only those competitors whose sponsors have the deepest pockets stand a chance. Sport should not require kids practicing 12 hours a day from age 6 to be competitive, and then in some sports be over the hill by their early 20s. Kids should be allowed to play sports for fun, not to become some short term corporate or national asset. Parents who permit or force their kids into such training regimens should be strung up for abuse. The Olympics haven't been about sport for a hundred years and this is just a another sign of that.
    • You're not wrong, but on the other hand, sport is the new space when it comes to technological spinoffs.

    • And for the winter Olympics it's even worse. At least in the summer Olympics any poor kid in the savanna can run and run and run to train. There aren't any of those sports in the winter... Good luck having a shot in hell at competing if you didn't grow up fabulously wealthy vacationing at ski resorts and spending hefty sums at training facilities from a young age. I mean unless you want to make a great movie... Then the Cool Runnings method works great!

    • Sport used to be something you played just for fun.

      The Olympics has never been about fun. It's about personal glory and national pride.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      Sport used to be something you played just for fun. Now only those competitors whose sponsors have the deepest pockets stand a chance.

      That's not completely true. Despite Under Armour spending millions of dollars on the 2014 US speed skating team suits. The skates were similarly highly engineered. And yet, they failed to win a single medal. Several other countries with (I assume) lower budgets won medals. Initial blame was on the equipment but it turns out that a better skater will win despite a competitor using cutting edge technology.

      Sport is something that people should do for fun. Being a winner is icing on the cake, but cama

      • Sport is something that people should do for fun.

        Sport is something that people should do to fulfill personal goals. That goal might be "have fun". That goal might be to lose weight and build muscle. That goal might also be "be the best at this in the world". To each his own.

    • by eriks ( 31863 )

      100% agree. As a card-carrying Nerd, I would like to be able to *enjoy* geeking out about sports (it's funny how many sports fans don't necessarily see it that way) but I find most professional sports rather distasteful, for the same reasons you mention: they've taken all the fun out of them with big money, forcing kids into a militaristic training regime from age 3, and to a lesser extent: the "fans", which is short for fanatics, which pretty much sums up what some of them seem like to me. If I could, I

      • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

        Amateur sports are 'enjoyment' for the participants. Pro sports are enjoyment for the spectators - it is entertainment. Pro athletes are employees whose (well-paying) JOB is winning - of course they take it seriously.

        As for the training from an early age: you will find that characteristic in just about everyone who is at the very top of their field. Chances are excellent that a world-famous violinist has been at it from a very early age, does that prevent you from enjoying his concert? Same goes a ren

    • Sport used to be something you played just for fun. Now only those competitors whose sponsors have the deepest pockets stand a chance. Sport should not require kids practicing 12 hours a day from age 6 to be competitive, and then in some sports be over the hill by their early 20s. Kids should be allowed to play sports for fun, not to become some short term corporate or national asset. Parents who permit or force their kids into such training regimens should be strung up for abuse. The Olympics haven't been about sport for a hundred years and this is just a another sign of that.

      I agree... but it doesn't really apply to curling.

      First this broom is $3k, and $3k isn't much when you're talking elite sports.

      And second, curling still is an amateur sport. Almost all of the top players have full-time jobs and I suspect most of the top-20 teams spend more on equipment and travel than they make in winnings and sponsorship.

      And most elite curlers don't actually hit the elite level till their late 20's and they stay there into their late 30s. Up until a few years ago three of the best skips (m

      • the "Pinty's Grand slam of curling" offers over $2 million in prize money, and there are a ton of other cash spiels and tournaments. curling is extremely popular on TV in Canada, and these guys and girls are celebrities wherever they go.
        • the "Pinty's Grand slam of curling" offers over $2 million in prize money, and there are a ton of other cash spiels and tournaments. curling is extremely popular on TV in Canada, and these guys and girls are celebrities wherever they go.

          Total prize money over multiple events maybe, but the top earning team on the tour last year got $190k [worldcurl.com], Canadian. That's less than $50k a person when you divide by 4.

          The top skips might be minor celebrities but they still walk down the street in relative anonymity (which they probably prefer).

          There's a lot of curlers who've retired from top teams while they were still at the top of their game so they could focus on their non-curling careers.

    • This happens to any sport which gains mass appeal. Once popularity spikes, it can become profitable to be the best, and the deep pockets come out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, mass appeal and deep pockets set a metaphorical interdependent mouse trap. They feed off each other as long as they are allowed. If attendance starts to drop, the trap threatens to be sprung, taking the whole thing down with it.

      Profitably drives obsessive, competitive, and cutthroat behavior, just like businesses. All the while p
  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Thursday February 08, 2018 @03:54PM (#56091045)

    and the team that was losing broke out the old-time straw brooms. Not because they're better in any way, but because they tend to leave debris on the ice that might mess up subsequent shots, aka 'the other team'. It was a bit controversial and the sportscasters discussed the strategy, which is how I knew what was going on. I'm guessing those old brooms have now been outlawed.

    • and the team that was losing broke out the old-time straw brooms. Not because they're better in any way, but because they tend to leave debris on the ice that might mess up subsequent shots, aka 'the other team'. It was a bit controversial and the sportscasters discussed the strategy, which is how I knew what was going on. I'm guessing those old brooms have now been outlawed.

      Banned, after broomgate [curling.ca] they severely restricted what kind of brush head you're allowed to use in competitive events.

      The fabric is a specific colour, comes from a specific manufacturer, and the broom actually has to be signed by an official.

  • Make a toaster that can toast bread evenly, this current bunch of retards can't even make a toaster that toasts the whole slice from top to bottom, a 5 year old could explain what the solution to that problem is.

  • My ex-wife will definitely be interested in this! Wait... it's NOT for flying on? Nevermind...
  • Don't know about you but I find stories like this depressing. I imagine all Olympic athletes start as enthusiastic kids but to reach the top they have to become the equivalent of white mice, everything worked out for optimal performance by scientists. Sounds horrendous to be honest.

Keep up the good work! But please don't ask me to help.

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