StarMetro Halifax: Halifax researcher developing technology to help canoe and kayak athletes reach the podium

A Halifax researcher has developed technology that could help propel Canadian paddlers to the podium at future summer Olympics.

Dalhousie University PhD student Josh Goreham is using sensors and the data they collect to help canoe and kayak athletes and coaches improve performance. The sensors are used to look at the movements of athletes and boats.

“The goal is to be able to take these sensors, understand body movement and then how that affects the boat movement,” said Goreham.

Goreham measures the movement using a combination of commercially available sensors and sensors he’s developed.

“With the sensors, what we do is we collect data from the boat and the person,” said Goreham.

“So when we get this information from the sensor, we’ll get lots of data. We’re trying to break that data down into its useful parts — so what’s essential to understand technique — and then hopefully over time just use one sensor on the boat.”

Canadian women’s canoe and kayak teams training for World Cup in Hungary May 18-20 will use Goreham’s technology while training in Halifax this week. It’ll also be used by all four men’s and women’s teams at the World Championships in Portugal in August and the Pan Am Games in Dartmouth in September.

“World champions, Olympic medalists like Mark de Jonge, they use (technology) every single day to understand not only their technique but also start to understand, are they going faster? Did they go six metres-per-second today and five-point-eight metres-per-second tomorrow? They want to know all that information so they can get better daily and track it,” Goreham said.

reham uses his own algorithms and code to convert the collected data to useful information, including how fast the boats are travelling, how many strokes are made per minute, along with other boat and athlete movements.

Currently, information collected by sensors has to be processed by coaches. This is a time-consuming process that can take up to a day as coaches have to download data to a computer then analyze it. Goreham said his method is also more efficient than relying on stopwatches to record stroke rate and speed.

“The goal of my research is to have that (information) in real-time so you can be following along in a motorboat with the coach,” he said.

For example, the coach travelling alongside the kayak or canoe could get information instantly on a tablet and relay that info to the athlete by radio. The long-term goal is to have this technology ready for use by athletes at the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Coaches could use the data as a tool to watch athletes over time. It could also be a tool for when coaches select athletes for a crew race and predict how the crew will work together.

“It’s a good opportunity to use data to pair up the athletes that work well together. So for example traditionally what you would do is you’d put a bunch of different athletes in a boat and you’d just have them race and hopefully one of the two boats would go fast,” said Goreham.

Goreham’s research is funded by two not-for-profit organizations: Own the Podium, a program focused on getting more medals for Canada at the Olympics and Mitacs, a company that connects different industries with researchers.

The PhD student at the Dalhousie faculty of health started working with the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic in 2013 and works with national athletes through Canoe Kayak Canada. This includes athletes training at Lake Banook in Dartmouth and Kearney Lake near Clayton Park.

“The real important thing is that this research is a process. The goal obviously: win medals in 2020, 2024,” Goreham said. “But it’s basically just using technology to better understand sport technique.”

By: Jonathan Briggins