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At this year’s Olympic Games, military tech helped Britain take home 65 medals -- more for the country than it has won in a century.
Drone research assisted the Royal Yachting Association at the 2012 Olympics. Techniques used to develop tanks and fighter jets gave the Tae Kwon Do team a leg up. Will it also help at the 2012 Paralympics, which opened Wednesday night in London?
Defense giant BAE Systems invested more than $2.25 million in a tech partnership, lending the expertise of their best engineers to give more than 20 British teams and 140 athletes and coaches access to innovations originally meant for defense and security.
Simulation, mathematical modeling, aerodynamics, structural and mechanical engineering and hydrodynamic and materials science all combined to give the athletes an extra edge.
Drone technology hits high seas
Research into unmanned air vehicles (UAVs, more commonly called drones) undertaken by the company was applied to assist the Royal Yachting Association (RYA).
The predictive modeling software typically used in the robot planes was instead used to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts at the Olympic sailing locations Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbor.
Tanks and Tae Kwon Do
The same techniques BAE used to develop tanks and fighter jets were used to give the Tae Kwon Do team an advantage.
BAE Systems analyzed the special socks and scoring vests the team’s martial artists use for electronic scoring. The material in them? The same equipment designed to test impact resistance in composite materials that might go into the company’s military vehicles.
The socks are electronic: When they strike sensors in the vest they provide a coded signal. With this system, British athletes modified their training to maximize scores.
And access to the best in defense engineering seems to have worked: Jade Jones took home Britain’s first gold medal in Tae Kwon Do on Aug. 9.
Fighter jet wind tunnel for wheelchair racers
The enormous wind tunnel at BAE’s Military Air and Information site near Bristol is ordinarily used for testing the aerodynamics of combat planes like the Eurofighter Typhoon at speeds exceeding Mach 2.
But cycling and wheelchair racing are sports that depend on technology.
In preparation for this year’s Paralympics -- which physicist Stephen Hawking helped kick off at Olympic Stadium in London Wednesday evening for 4,200 athletes from more than 160 nations -- in tests simulating racing speeds of more than 30 mph, British wheelchair racers used the tunnel to study how air interacts with them as they move around the track.
The computational fluid dynamics data from these tests were used to explain to the athletes how their body position affected their aerodynamics and therefore speed.
Athletes could then take the feedback and alter seating positions and chair posture tactics to improve their overall performance.
Battlefield identification technology, which is used to distinguish friend from foe on the front lines, was utilized to help the country’s paracyclists improve their speed as well.
The system was tested in the Manchester Velodrome in advance of the Olympic British Cycling event to be held there.
Bikes were equipped with retro-reflective tags and BAE installed a very sophisticated laser timing system in the Velodrome. Taken together, this system let coaches track the performance of up to 30 riders simultaneously -- down to the millisecond.
Lasers for pentatheletes
The Modern Pentathalon rules changed in the beginning of the 2011 season, and traditional air pistols were replaced with high-tech laser pistols that don’t leave any physical marks on their target.
Scoring became entirely electronic and pinpointing malfunctions in the guns became more difficult. To solve this new challenge, BAE Systems adapted laser systems originally used to protect aircraft from hostile attack.
They created ULTeMo laser pistols for Britain’s athletes to take to their competitions; it can measure the strength of a laser pulse and ensure it’s up to requirements.
To use it, an Olympian puts her pistol in ULTeMo and fires a single shot.
New wheelchair for track and long distance events
A new wheelchair for the Great Britian team was developed in secrecy and was launched in time for the Paralympics.
Developed in partnership with aerodynamic specialists TotalSim and wheelchair manufacturer DRAFT, the team will use it in track and long distance events.
To increase the speed of athletes, the new wheelchair is more aerodynamic, lighter, has improved rolling resistance in wheel alignment and tire pressure and has a stronger frame.
BAE engineers and scientists also worked on a number of projects for teams including canoeing, badminton, short-track speed skating, swimming and athletics.
The British paralympic team aims to hold onto second place in medals, which would require winning 102 medals. Exploiting some of the very best of British defense, security and aerospace expertise could provide a critical edge.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie