Interactive Sonification of Hand Induced Water Flow of Elite Swimmers

Elite swimmers will attend a hands-on workshop at Bielefeld University, where they will train to optimize their swimming technique with sound

Bielefeld researchers are supporting swimmers to improve their performance by listening to the flow due to self-induced actions in the water. At a hands-on workshop from 24-25 September 2015, organizers Dr. Bodo E. Ungerechts, Dr. Thomas Hermann, and Dr. Daniel Cesarini will introduce for the first time an experiment on how elite swimmers can interactively use sound effects based on displaced water flow. During the practical component, which will executed at Bielefeld University’s pool, the researchers will examine how Germany’s Elite swimmers from the year 2015 individually generate their propulsion in water. These swimmers are currently preparing for the 2016 Olympic Games. Following this, the findings will be evaluated and the latest research results will be presented. The research team is funded by the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University.

A swimmer does the breast stroke in the pool at Bielefeld University wearing gloves that turn his hand movements into sounds under water. Photo: CITEC / Bielefeld University. “Sonification is a method of converting data about movement into sounds. These acoustic signals help people to optimize their pattern of motion. One example of sonification is the Geiger counter,” explains Dr. Bodo Ungerechts, an expert in the biomechanics of movement in water. “By being able to hear their own movements generated in water, swimmers can improve the quality of their motion by way of the so-called “feel for water motion”. The swimmer are not only able to feel how the water moves but through sound can also listen too. “By making normally silent effects audible, more areas in the brain are activated than when simply introspectively self-observing,” explains Ungerechts.

Depending on the flow, the water’s drag on the swimmer’s skin is perceived differently. The drag created by the flow of the water spread out in waves, similar to sound waves. For this reason, the researchers came up with the idea of converting effects of actions in water into sound. The team strongly believes that if a swimmer not only feels but also hears how the water moves, he will be better able to control his actions. Additionally, swim coaches will be able to hear their swimmers’ “sounds,” which they can evaluate and use to give them direct advice for improvement.

“In order to make hand actions in water audible, the scientific studies demand expertise in a number of different fields of research, including material sciences, fluid dynamics, sonification, and cognitive science for movement,” says Ungerechts. To implement this project, researchers from many disciplinary backgrounds are working together: CITEC scientist Dr. Thomas Hermann heads the research group “Ambient Intelligence,” which investigates the so-called sonification of processes and medical data, among other topics. Dr. Bodo Ungerechts is a member of the research group “Neurocognition and Movement – Biomechanics” and focuses on how to improve swimming technique. Italian engineer Dr. Daniel Cesarini, from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, is primarily responsible for the technical implementation of sonification in real-time.

While swimming, a swimmer’s hands change the flow of the water. After the altered flow of water is recorded the data are converted into functional sounds with the help of Sonification, which are then transmitted in real time to the swimmer wearing headphones. The researchers are using the sonication of hand-water interaction for two main purposes. First, the sonification of a swimmer’s technique should help the swimmer to improve his performance. In addition, this approach can also be used in Neuro-Aquatherapy, where researchers report that handicapped people, for example, become calmer after a therapy session in the water for a certain period of time. Now researchers must test to see if this after-effect can be extended by having people listen to the unique sounds of their movements without actually being in water.

For media representatives: Representatives of the media have the opportunity to conduct interviews and take photographs as well as videos on Thursday, 24 August from 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm.

Bodo Ungerechts presents his research in a video available on youtube:

Bielefeld University
Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science
Research Group Neurocognition and Movement – Biomechanik
Telephone: 0521 106-6562 (via Dr. Malte Strathmeier)