Smart blade shows how figure skaters can save their joints

A smart blade looks to make figure-skating history

A device made to measure the forces behind the physics of everything from triple axels to simple crossovers could change the sport of figure skating once boot designers have access to the information it will provide on joint stress.

"Questions have been raised about boot design and how it affects a skater's impact forces, potentially causing injuries," says study co-author Professor Deborah King, from Ithaca College. "However, very little is known about the actual impact forces on ice during jumping and other figure skating skills."

In fact, this joint effort between researchers at Brigham Young University and Ithaca College will make history for it will provide quantifications that previously could not be accurately recorded without interfering with skaters' performance.

The blade is equipped with strain gauges, which researchers strategically placed on the stanchions -- where the blade attaches to the boot -- in the interest of capturing a maximum of impact.

A sensor called a Wheatstone bridge measures change in the strain gauge and a central control system calculates overall force imparted by the skater.

The entire unit weights just 142g and will not impede on the skater's performance, even during advanced moves, according to the researchers.

It's been tested to measure vertical loads and force curves although the researchers say they're still in the process of perfecting its ability to capture landing force measurements.

The development of sensor-equipped, wearable tracking devices for athletes has inspired a closer look at how the most gifted perform, notable evidence of which is found in a recent study at Southern Methodist University that suggests elite sprinters have a different gait from other high-performing athletes.

The same idea is also behind RunScribe, a wearable tracker that aims to provide a scientific portrait of the gaits of a diverse selection of runners that can be used as a tool to improve shoes and training in the interest of saving joints.

The new was published in the journal Measurement Science and Technology.