"Lab-developed technology a boon to today's athletes"

Pascal Vuilliomenet, an EPFL project manager for sports innovation. © A. Herzog/EPFL

Pascal Vuilliomenet, an EPFL project manager for sports innovation. © A. Herzog/EPFL

At this year’s EPFL Information Days, Pascal Vuilliomenet, an EPFL project manager for sports innovation, gave would-be students a cross-disciplinary talk on the latest technological advancements in his field.

As in prior years, over 3,000 prospective students came from across Switzerland to attend EPFL’s Information Days and learn about the different degree programs available at the School. They also attended talks on technological advancements in promising fields like energy transition, medtech and data science, as part of a new feature added in 2016. The presentation on sports innovation was included for the first time this year.

How are technology and sports related?
Just like in biomedicine, where technology can enable doctors to carry out less invasive treatments, develop artificial tissue and prescribe personalized therapies, advancements in sporting equipment can enhance performance, aerodynamics, and ergonomics – allowing athletes to push the limits of their sport even further.

So will their exploits be human or technology-driven?
Modern technology can make poles more resistant, skis more flexible and tennis rackets lighter, meaning they are safer and easier for athletes to use. But the records that athletes set will remain a product of their individual or team performance, as they should.

What research areas are used in sports innovation?
Two prime examples are materials science, to develop components for skis, and microelectronics, to make sensors for studying the movements and mechanics of the human body. Research like this can help athletes to excel in their achievements. Computer science is also being increasingly used to model specific actions, generate real-time images of match statistics and analyze competitors’ performance.

Is EPFL involved in this research?
Sports professionals have a long history of teaming up with high-tech labs. EPFL was involved in the design and testing of yachts for the Alinghi team, which won the America’s Cup in 2003 and 2007. EPFL labs also took part in the Solar Impulse project where Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg – a former mechanical engineering student at EPFL – circled the world in a solar-powered aircraft.

It sounds like only high-level athletes can benefit from sports innovation.
No, not at all! Anyone who enjoys playing a sport can use the latest technology. Advancements initially developed for professional athletes are usually launched in the retail market later. For instance, you can now buy a bracelet to track your own performance or skis that are lighter and easier to maneuver. The advanced prosthetics developed for Paralympic athletes can also benefit other patients who need them.