It’s an uphill ride. The cyclists are pushing the pedals as hard as they can. The team is making good time so far, but it will very soon fall behind. The team leader’s pulse is rising, while his pedaling is slowing down. This is the point where lactic acid begins to form in the rider’s muscles, to be followed by a sharp decline in performance. Even before the leader notices his weakness, he receives radioed instructions to pull off. A teammate takes over until the front man has recovered. “Ambient Intelligence will make it possible to constantly monitor and enhance the performance of individual riders and whole teams,” believes Dr. Martin Becker of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Kaiserslautern. The new intelligent training system has already proved its worth in the laboratory. In a joint German-Hungarian research project entitled Bel- Ami, Becker and a team of scientists specializing in Ambient Intelligence at the University of Kaiserslautern have developed a network of sensors, computers and actuators to help racing cyclists optimize their performance. More than ten riders can train simultaneously: Each bicycle is fitted with equipment that constantly registers the forces acting on the pedals. Further significant factors are the rider’s pulse and pedaling frequency, the speed and the gradient. All these readings are collected in a processor on the bicycle and radioed to a central processing unit where they are analyzed. The computer delivers individual training recommendations to each rider: He can view them on a display mounted on the handlebars or listen to them over headphones. To enable the cyclists to retrieve information on demand while riding, the Hungarian research team is developing an adaptive component that recognizes voice commands even when they sound distorted due to physical exertion. Says Becker: “Our goal is to make the system so user-friendly that bikers can use it without being distracted.” Ambient Intelligence is due to go mobile in the next few months: “That will be the acid test for our system. Cycling presents a special challenge because the position of the subjects is constantly changing. They may even form sub-groups that are some distance apart,” the researcher explains. The scientists are still experimenting with sports students at present, but next year they plan to test the system with professional cyclists in the saddle.
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