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Students bring together sports and smarts

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Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009

When smarts meets sports, technology such as the YinzCam, allowing Penguins fans to access different camera angles at Mellon Arena on their phones, is the result.

Now, the professor whose project was behind the YinzCam is giving Carnegie Mellon engineering students an even greater outlet to marry a passion for sports with invention.

Priya Narasimhan's unique Sports Technology course, a 15-week project course in which students use embedded and mobile-systems technology to enhance the sport of their choice, is wrapping up its first-ever semester.

And based on what her students demonstrated Wednesday on campus, Pittsburgh may soon be just as known for its sports-technology development as its sports teams.

"We're a sports city," said Narasimhan, who had never watched a football game until she arrived in Pittsburgh in 2001 but then fell in love with the Steelers. "Maybe (these students) are building the things that will be used five years out in the industry."

Students taking the course got to pick the sport and how they wanted to improve it, be it coaching, refereeing, fan experience, athlete performance or anything else that grabbed their interest.

"And this is the perfect city to do this course because our sports teams are willing to go to pilot with things," Narasimhan said. "So if there's something here that looks promising, we can go to one of our sports teams and say: 'Would you like to try this?'"

That may be the case with the Penguins and one project demonstrated yesterday. Using a bubble hockey table to illustrate, one group of students is developing a technology in which multiple camera angles mounted in a stadium or arena can allow fans to seamlessly view the game action no matter the position of the play.

"Fans have nosebleed seats, they can't really see what's going on in the game," said Sunny Atluri, who is working on the project. "We invented software that will take different feeds, find out the overlapping regions automatically and scroll between them with a smooth transition. ... Pretty much, it lets you be anywhere you want to be from your seat, that's our goal."

Other projects demonstrated yesterday were:

• Kinevision allows runners to see their stride through the use of six sensors attached to the arms and legs that transmit data to a computer, and students believe they could package and sell the product for about half the cost of comparable devices currently on the market.

• The GIGA golfing aid measures the strain of a golf club, with the idea that the maximum strain when a pro golfer swings occurs just before hitting the ball, while the maximum strain from an amateur is on the upswing.

• Tune is a program that automatically adapts the music a jogger is listening to according to pace and location.

• The Smart Tennis Racket uses sensors to measure where a player is hitting the ball for later evaluation of progress as players learn to hit the sweet spot more consistently.

• The Sports Agnostic Measurement Platform for Later Evaluation - or SAMPLE - is another measuring device, demonstrated yesterday on a hockey stick to track rotation, speed and other motion data of a slapshot.

There are 26 students in the first class, and Narasimhan hopes it will become a curriculum staple.

"I think there's been a lot of interest generated," she said, "and that we have generations of students coming out thinking about this as a career option."

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