VIDEO: TalkBU Live – Shoeless and Sausages

Professor Stephen Heppell’s talk Shoeless and Sausages: Making Learning Better was the first in the Talk BU Live series.

It received a great reception from the audience in Dylan’s Bar, with entertaining insights and ideas around incorporating technology into learning.

The talk provided an insight into what the future has to offer the world of education and how children can benefit when educators keep up with the ever-evolving worlds of education and technology,

Speaking about his Talk BU experience, Stephen said: “For me, watching everyone’s faces as we dashed playfully from the design of school toilets and chairs, to levels of light and CO2, it was rather like watching the sun come out.

“A roomful of smiling faces, lit up by BU research, felt pretty good!”

TalkBU Live is a monthly, on-campus event at Dylan’s Bar featuring a short talk by BU staff or students, followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

The event aims to get staff and students thinking and talking about topics beyond their degree subjects and schools, with talks on a wide variety of different subjects.


Post-match analysis & technology – Match of the Day turns 50

By Shelley Broomfield and Andrew Callaway, Lecturers in Performance Analysis

22nd August marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Match of the Day, a show that brings top class football to the masses. Over the last 50 years the show has changed a lot, but one way in which it continues to evolve is through the way it analyses performance.

Research has shown that Physical Education students can recall around 42% of sporting actions in a football match, and experienced coaches can recall around 60% of a football match (Franks and Miller 1986; Laird and Waters 2008). This shows that even experienced coaches are not recalling 40% of what happens in a match, often focusing on key events such as penalties or fouls, and their recall can even be incorrect in cases where decisions go against their team. For regular Match of the Day fans this may not come as much of a surprise, as coaches of teams disagree on the malice in a tackle or the validity of a penalty.

These studies amongst many others into the need for enhancing coach recall demonstrate the value of objective observations to allow for critical, meaningful, feedback to the coach and ultimately the players. These objective observations have been used in team and racket sports for many decades but more recently have come to be known as Performance Analysis – and have migrated to other sports too.
Performance analysis is the investigation of sporting performance, with the aim being to develop an understanding of sports that can inform decision-making, enhance performance and inform the coaching process, through the means of objective data collection and feedback.
Within football, we have seen this used to great effect to improve the tactics employed by teams. An example where this can be clearly seen is through penalty kicks. In this instance a goal keeper can be shown a picture of a goal mouth with markings showing where the player most often kicks the ball. The goal keeper can use this information to help the decision making process as to which direction he is going to dive. As can be seen in Figure 1, the player kicks most often to their bottom right, so if in doubt, this is the direction the goal keeper will dive.

Goal keeping analysis

Figure 1.

Recent news reports have shown that Premier League managers are taking these methods seriously. New Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has even had cameras installed at the clubs training ground to analyse and catalogue performance during training sessions.

Performance analysis is frequently seen during Match of the Day post-match discussion. We watch Gary Lineker in conversation with several experts, often past professional footballers and or managers, deciding whether the game was good or bad. This is a format that Match of the Day has used over a number of years. Even as recently as the 90’s this discussion was supported by video evidence from the game. However, this was limited to slow-motion video replay from minimal video angle choices. This meant the discussions around topics such as, “was a player off side?”, were often met with a lack of evidence from the video available and therefore the answer often remained inconclusive.

Move on two decades and technology has developed beyond the imagination of Match of the Day commentators from the 90’s and earlier. Match statistics are now rolling across the screen with regularity allowing spectators to clearly see the strengths and weaknesses of the teams playing. With multiple camera angles, no area of the pitch is out of the viewers or commentators reach. These camera angles are used to great effect in the post-match discussions where questions such as, “was a player off side?”, are now easily answerable with on-video graphics such as lines, circles and highlights to evidence the argument, as can be seen in the clip below.

This use of technology on easily accessible television programmes such as Match of the Day makes the average spectator an arm-chair performance analyst. Using this information, the average Joe working a 9-5 desk job can also be a Premiership football team manager in their own fantasy football league. Assuming Match of the Day keeps up with the technological advances available they will be securing their place in the hearts and homes of football spectators for another 50 years.

Explainer: how to win a Tour de France sprint

By Bryce Dyer, Senior Lecturer in Product Design

The final dash to the line in a Tour de France sprint finish may appear to the bystander to be a mess of bodies trying to cram into the width of a road, but there is a high degree of strategy involved. It takes tactics, positioning and, ultimately, power.

The perfect sprint

In a perfect race, the best execution of a sprint win does not always come down to one rider. It is often the result of the work of teammates too. The back story to a winning sprint may have started hours before the finish line is in sight.

Jack Bauer in tears after the agonising stage 15 finish
Yoan Valat/EPA

During the stage, riders who have little chance in the finale will try their luck to beat the pack by being part of a “breakaway” – they jump clear of the peloton and then hope to outrun the others to the line. But if any team wants the stage to end in a mass sprint, it will check the speed of this breakaway and typically calculate how quickly the riders in it could be reeled in. Catch them too soon and new attacks may go clear (meaning more work for the interested teams to chase down), leave it too late and the breakaway wins. In stage 15, this approach got tested when New Zealand rider Jack Bauer spent all day in the breakaway. He finally was caught just 20 metres from the finish line by the sprinters. The sport can sometimes be very cruel.

Commentators typically suggest that on flat terrain, the ideal controllable gap is roughly one minute per 10 kilometres between a breakaway and the chasing pack. Towards the end of a stage, the interested teams supply riders to power into the wind and slowly close this gap down. The breakaway should then hopefully be caught with a handful of kilometres left to go.

At this point, the sprint-orientated teams deploy what is known as a leadout “train”. This train is made up of as many riders as possible from the same team. Each team member on the front then rides at a maximum effort before peeling off. The team’s designated sprinter is at the back of this train and is intentionally sheltered by the efforts of those riding in front to save his energy. It has been demonstrated that with four cyclists riding in a line, a rider positioned four men back only has to produce 64% of the power of the rider at the very front.

Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw execute the perfect lead out and sprint on the Champs Elysee in 2009
Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

If the leadout pace is high, the racing will be fast enough to discourage any late attacks from other riders. When viewing overhead TV footage, if the speed is high, the head of the main pack will have a pointed arrowhead-like shape to it. If the speed is at its highest though, you’ll see the peloton instead strung out into a very long, thin line. This is hard work for everyone but actually provides a safer and more controllable path for the riders through the final kilometres.

The penultimate rider in a sprint train is referred to as the leadout. This person puts in the last effort to position the sprinter sheltering behind. Ideally, the sprinter is then finally only exposed at the front with around 200 metres to go. When this happens, a winning sprinter like Mark Cavendish will cover this final portion in around 11 seconds.


If a sprinter doesn’t have the use of a leadout train – which does happen – he can “freelance”. This makes the opposition teams do the work before the sprinter leapfrogs around the group, hopefully ending up directly behind another sprinter with enough time to beat him to the finish line. In this case, a sprinter from one team effectively becomes the leadout for another.

On some occasions, no single team is able to control the final run to the line at all. From the air, the shape of the peleton in this case becomes broad at the front and spread across the full width of the road. When this happens, the chances of crashes are higher as rival leadout trains jostle for position and riders leap from wheel to wheel looking for shelter.

First week desperation

The first stage of this year’s Tour de France was unusual as it was likely going to result in a bunch sprint. The first rider past the post would not only get a stage win for their team but would also get to wear the yellow jersey as overall leader. With such a prestigious prize on the line, this meant more riders were involved and willing to take the risks, ramping up the chances for a crash.

Crashes normally occur when riders touch the wheels of other riders around them or lose control of their bicycles. In stage one this year, aggression played a part as Mark Cavendish and Australian Simon Gerrans battled to follow the wheel of Slovakian sprinter Peter Sagan. Sometimes riders realise they have nowhere to go and have to delay their sprint or wait for a gap to open up. Some opt for more punchy tactics though, using shoulders, elbows or heads to force gaps to open up between them and other riders. In stage one, Cavendish was boxed in, tried to force his way out and took both men down.

One of the most dramatic examples of a sprint crash is the first stage in the 1994 event when a policeman who was manning the finish straight barriers decided to lean out to take a photo of the finish.

Video The 1994 crash

But he underestimated both how fast and how close the riders were to him. Belgian Wilfried Nelissen (who had his head down) crashed into him and was thrown nearly 50 metres down the road with multiple broken bones. Another competitor, Frenchman Laurent Jalabert took the crash full-force in the face and his bicycle was destroyed in the impact.

Ultimately the perfect sprinter is a rider who expends as little energy as possible on the day, is deposited by others in the right place at the right time and has the ability to make fast judgement calls as the shape of the peloton changes around them. Marcel Kittel and his Giant Shimano team have shown everyone else how it’s done so far in 2014, but the prestige sprint stage on the Champs Élysées this weekend will give his rivals (Cavendish excepted) a final chance to put the theory into practice.

The Conversation

Bryce Dyer does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

From one man and his bike to the hi-tech peleton: the changing face of the Tour de France

By Bryce Dyer, Senior Lecturer in Product Design, Faculty of Science & Technology

The Tour de France is one of the most iconic and physically demanding sporting events in the world. Held annually since 1903, it has evolved from a simple test of endurance and speed to a festival of technology and innovation as teams fight to find the edge that will take them over mountains, high speed straights and cobbled roads ahead of their rivals.

The basic premise of the tour has generally remained the same since 1913 – the rider who covers the route in the least accumulated time across all of the stages wins. But the route is changed by the organisers every year, which means that unique demands are placed on the riders, the teams and their resources.

This year’s tour is divided into 21 stages covering a total of 3,656km. There are nine flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages, one 54km time trial and two rest days. As a result of all these different conditions, an awful lot of specialised equipment is needed. In early tours, the same bike was used for the whole race but these days, a different one is chosen based on the different demands of the stage, its gearing and wheels tailored to the terrain.

Cobble horror

Perhaps the most intriguing test for the teams this year will come on stage five when the riders face some perilous sections of cobbled roads. The tour riders, who generally weigh between 60kg and 80kg, will be subjected to massive levels of impact and vibrations as they pass over these surfaces.

To add to their misery, these cobbled roads have been in place for decades so they are not flat. Wear, breakage and subsidence makes them uneven, to put it mildly. To maximise speed and control, the best riders often ride in the middle or “crown” of these sections. With space at a premium though, experienced riders might also choose to ride in the dirt gutter between the cobbles and the grass banks at the sides of the road which has often been worn smooth.

This decision becomes critical in wet weather in particular, when riding on even the slightest camber can be extremely dangerous at these speeds. Punctures, loss of control and crashes are common and injuries can be severe.

Many of the riders looking to do well in a race like the tour will not typically ride on these kind of surfaces in other events because they are suited to heavier, stronger riders rather than those built for mountainous terrain. There are a small number of early season races in the spring that do feature these kind of surfaces such as the notorious Paris-Roubaix – known as the “Hell of the North” – which give a flavour of what riders can expect.


To ride these cobbled stages, bicycle frames may use a different geometry when compared to those used on tarmac or asphalt. These bikes may be longer in length to help smooth the ride. Riders will also often use extra padded bar tape and wider tyres to absorb the vibrations and sometimes extra brake levers are added to help them stop quickly in the peloton.

Higher ground

During the hilly and mountain stages, when the race passes through both the Alps and the Pyrenees, the teams will send their riders out on the lightest bikes possible. The lighter a bike is, the faster it will go uphill. A professional rider may be able to generate and sustain 6.4 watts of power per kilogram on a typical alpine climb whereas a recreational rider may only be able to achieve half of that ratio. As a result, the bike’s weight will be as close to the regulation minimum of 6.8kg as possible and lightweight wheels will be used to minimise the impact of rotating mass which could slow a bike’s acceleration when a rider wishes to attack others when on a climb.

Time trial tech

Stage 20 this year will showcase the real importance of cycling aerodynamics. This relatively flat individual time trial will see the riders trying to generate maximum power while minimising aerodynamic drag. Put simply, the more aerodynamic you are, the faster you will go (or the more energy you can save) for the same power.

Bradley Wiggins on a time trial.
Waterboyzoo, CC BY-NC

The bicycles used for this are highly specialised, with filled-in disc rear wheels and low drag frames. The riders themselves will assume a riding style that makes them look a lot like a downhill skier with their arms angled directly in front of their chest and torso to minimise their frontal area. They’ll use aerobars and wear a teardrop shaped helmet to reach speeds that can average 50km an hour.

Staying in touch on level ground

One of the more controversial new technologies in professional cycling has been the use of team radios to relay orders and information during the race. The organisers have even experimented with removing the riders’ earpieces in an effort to add more drama to the racing.

It is true that radio technology is often used to influence the result. Flat terrain typically results in a mass sprint but sometimes a small group of riders will break away at an early point in a stage and try to hold onto the lead until its end. However, these early escapes are rarely successful because the team cars and the riders following the breakaway can calculate the distance between the breakaway group and the “peloton” and then use radio transmitters to determine how fast they need to move to control or close the gap. It’s very hard for the breakaway group, typically containing just a few cyclists, to overcome the horsepower of 200 chasing riders armed with precise knowledge of the wherabouts of their quarry.

Do it yourself

Technology is a major part of the tour these days but that has not always been the case. In the early editions of the event over a hundred years ago, the riders were very much expected to compete alone and be self-sufficient.

Eugène Christophe

When the forks of Eugène Christophe’s bike snapped mid-race in 1913, he had to visit a local blacksmith and then re-weld them himself. It was later discovered that Christophe had enlisted the help of a local boy to pump the bellows for the forge and as a result, he was later penalised for receiving outside assistance.

The use of new developments in cycling technology was frowned upon too. The tour’s organisers didn’t even allow the use of mechanical gear changing systems until 1913. Before this, a rider would have to stop, unbolt their rear wheel and flip it over so they could switch to a single cog mounted on the other side of the hub. In the event of a puncture, they rode with spare tyres looped around their torsos.

Battling bodies and brains

Technology is now, of course, a fundamental part of riding the tour. And it stretches far beyond the bicycles themselves. Preparations for the race will have begun long before the start and the clothing riders wear, the bicycles they ride and the nutrition they take are finely honed products that can take months or even years to develop.

When they’re not actually riding, recovery technology is used to prepare them for the next stage. Riders will have massages, wear compression clothing and take ice baths to help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. The key principle here is that winners are not always the strongest but those who possibly tire the least over the three weeks.

Each team of riders is supported by doctors, mechanics, physiologists, coaches and operational management. There are multiple team cars and buses which house their equipment and spares. They become, in effect, a mobile business and garage for the duration of the race.

Professional bike racing has been referred to as “chess on wheels” as the smartest rider and team, not the strongest, often win. We’ll find out if this is the case this year from July 5.

The Conversation

Bryce Dyer does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Highlights from BU’s Festival of Design and Innovation


A range of gadgets and technological advances designed to make an impact on society were showcased during Bournemouth University’s Festival of Design and Innovation.

The exhibition showcased the work of final year Design, Engineering and Creative Technology students.

This year, displays included a tunnel boring machine for laying cable, an atmospheric respirator, a trailer for use with hovercrafts and a product for treating jaundice in babies.

As part of their projects, students were encouraged to think about market needs, functionality, engineering, sustainability and style when creating their products.

Final year Music and Audio Technology student, Asha Blatherwick, spoke about her product, known as the SenseEgg.

“It’s basically an egg shaped device with loads of sensors that wirelessly communicates with the computer and is aimed at children with special needs. The idea is to provide them with another way to interact with music, rather than just using traditional instruments.

When asked about her inspiration for the creation, Asha said, “I did my placement in a special needs school so I think my inspiration came from that. I wanted to find a way to make it easier for students and teachers to communicate. The Festival has provided a good platform for lots of different people to see the product and interact with it.”

Alongside technology like the SenseEgg, were games reminiscent of Pokémon. Static Games Gameplay Programmer, Ryan Pinfield, spoke of his team’s contribution to the Festival – Mendel’s Farm.

“I’m part of a team of seven Games Technology students on our placement year at BU. We are a new company, just started in July 2013, which makes video games and is also client based as well.

“Our game is a resource management game that puts the player in charge of a failing farm. Their task is to keep the farm afloat, but there is a twist in that the animals can breathe fire or have other such mutant powers.

“As you progress through the levels, you unlock more mutations. We’ve been working on it for a year now and it is constantly updating. Hopefully the game will be released by the end of the year and we are looking forward to people’s responses.”

Speaking about the festival and the opportunity it provides students like Asha and Ryan, Professor Jim Roach, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, said, “The Festival of Design and Innovation is where education meets industry and commerce, providing a showcase for our students’ skills in design and innovation. We take great pride in the quality of the project work and the ability of our students to employ the latest technology in the design of solutions to real problems.

“Many of the projects are the direct result of industrial collaboration, a successful placement year or are linked to one of our research centres. It is great to see our students working on a huge range of exciting, innovative and creative projects.”

Why revolutionising dementia technology deserves your Longitude Prize vote

By Anthea Innes, Director, Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI)

The Longitude Prize is a challenge that offers £10m in prize money to help solve one of the greatest issues of our time. The public chooses the cause through a public vote and if a project then goes onto succeed, it wins the prize. Among the six categories this year, three cover health: paralysis, antibiotics and dementia. And it is the last of these that I think should get your vote.

The dementia challenge is to develop intelligent, yet affordable technologies that revolutionise care for people with dementia enabling them to live truly independent lives. The aim is to help people with dementia to live longer and better lives in their own homes.

Dementia is a public health challenge acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as well as by many individual county’s governments, including the UK with the launch of the Dementia Challenge. Dementia costs the UK more than stroke, heart disease and cancer put together, yet is has not been afforded the same research funding. While more has been made of it of late, it wasn’t until recently that it received much public attention.

Recent campaigns by Alzheimer Associations across the world have led to increased attention to the need to not only educate people about the signs and symptoms of dementia, the potential risk reduction strategies that we can employ, but also the need to approach the support of those living with dementia now in a more positive and proactive manner.

The creation of the BUDI orchestra is one way we have created the opportunity for people with dementia to learn (or relearn) musical instruments providing support to those living with dementia and their family carers. Music and singing has a positive effect in people with dementia, with music more ably recalled when there are memory problems, and here people not only come together to sing, but to play instruments and perform to the general public.

Technology already helping

Technology offers many potential opportunities for those living with dementia to live better, for longer and more independently. For example devices that support people with dementia to go out and about in their communities independently giving themselves and their families reassurance that they can be found using satnav technology to locate them, or a panic button if they need help. Other devices such as those that autocut gas supplies on cookers enable people with dementia to cook for longer. And memory devices that are activated when a person with dementia is about to leave the house reminding them to take their keys, purse or other items are also innovative and promote independence.

Equally people who work in a range of public settings, like shops, banks, buses, trains, leisure centres, as well as traditional health and social care settings like hospitals can all learn to adapt and improve their communication skills to enable people with dementia to live more active lives.

This is a critical aspect to consider as people with dementia require those around them to be aware that they might need a little longer to process information, that they may ask the same question again, that they may not understand complex questions and find it easier to have a complex question broken down into bite sized chunks. For example, rather than a supermarket worker saying “that’s £20 please, have you got a club card, and did you use any of your own bags, or did you only use ours?”, they could break the sentence into four chunks and wait for the response after each before moving on the next question.

Lives can be made better now

Small things can make a huge difference to people with dementia and their families as our recent footage from those living with dementia in Dorset demonstrates. Those with dementia and their family clearly articulate that it is possible to live well with dementia and to overcome or compensate for some of the difficulties dementia creates.

An estimated 135m people worldwide will have dementia by 2050. While scientists look for ways of curing or stopping the disease in its tracks – something that remains a considerable way away – it’s clear that supporting and improving the lives of those living with dementia now is just as important.

The need to include people with dementia in society at large is evident in promoting well-being and quality of life. It also offers us the opportunity to promote inter-generational engagement to help future generations understand about dementia, recognise the signs and symptoms and to reduce the fear and stigma that is often evident in general discourse that surrounds dementia.

Dementia is often presented as a health issue; although it can be dealt with in this way it is perhaps more fruitful to consider dementia as a social issue, a societal challenge that affects us all. One in three people over 65 will develop dementia and one in three people will know a person with dementia as a neighbour, friend or family member. Therefore dementia does already touch many, and this will grow as our population ages and people live for longer. Dementia is a true worldwide challenge and definitely deserving of the longitude vote.

The Conversation

Anthea Innes receives funding from a range of sources for her research including the NIHR, Bournemouth University, NHS Wessex, Bournemouth Borough Council, NHS Dorset, Brendon Care, Guild Care, Gracewell, TLC PLC, EU Erasmus Mundus, Alzheimer Society and NHS South of England.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Ship Building project utilises ancient building technologies


A project in underway to recreate a sunken shipwreck using the techniques that would have been used by the original builders.

The project, called ShipWrEx, hopes to provide understanding of the development of ancient ship-building techniques through hands on discovery, with the team reconstructing part of the ship’s hull using different methods.

The hull’s design is based on a shipwreck found of the coast of Sicily, which dates back to around 500 B.C.

Paola Palma, Programme Leader for the MSc Maritime Archaeology course, and Project Leader, said, “This boat is extremely important as it shows two different shipbuilding technologies, the ‘laced hull’ technology and the ‘mortise and tenons’ technology. Usually, boats of this period only showed the laced hull technology and boats of a later period showed the mortise and tenons technology. This boat is very important as it shows both techniques used on the same ship. There is no manual so we are going to learn by doing!”

To understand why shipbuilders used both techniques to create the ship, the team from Bournemouth University set to work to recreate part of the ship, to better understand why both techniques were used, and which one is better.

Paola continued, “It’s extremely difficult to do it [build the ship] properly, in a fast way. Back then, shipbuilders were doing this every day so would have done it in a very fast fashion. We are experimenting so that we can further appreciate the archaeological remains that we find, and how these ships were built.”

The project is taking place at The Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) in Cranborne – with members of the ATC also taking part in the project. Other participants in the project include current BU students and staff members, keen to improve their knowledge by taking part.

Bertram Beanland, a student at BU studying BA Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology, is working as part of the team recreating the hull.  He said, “Bournemouth University is known for its hands on courses. We get a lot more hands on experience. [With this project] already we have found that there are three different techniques we could use to drill a hole in wood using traditional techniques, and all three methods look the same at the end. We have found that the quickest way to drill the hole is by going in through the edge, and we think it is definitely the technique they would have used. But it has taken us three tries to get it right. We wouldn’t have realised that through reading a book, we had to be hands on. You get real respect for ancient ship builders because everything has taken so long to do.”

Bertram is just one of a number of students taking part in the project – with undergraduate and postgraduate students from a variety of courses involved.

It is hoped that the project will continue so that the team can recreate the entire ship – and eventually sail it in water. Paola concludes, “For the moment we are building a portion of the boat, but one day we hope to take a completed boat out sailing.”

Blue mind charts our link with water, but what about Twitter streams and net surfing?

By Sue Thomas, Visiting Fellow, The Media School

Riding the digital wave.

“Water makes you happier, more connected and better at what you do,” says Wallace J Nichols, a marine biologist and wild water advocate based at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. On 11-12 June 2014 he is sharing this philosophy with a small invited audience at the 4th Blue Mind Summit, held this year at the wild coastal location of Bedruthan Steps in Cornwall.

Green is the colour usually associated with environmental well-being. Trees, parks, and verdant landscapes of all kinds, are advocated by urban planners seeking to improve public health. But, until recently, less attention has been paid to “blue” areas such as beaches, lakes, rivers and the ocean. But study of the impact of blue space on human health and well-being is growing, and it lies behind Nichols’ BLUEMIND research project. The concept of Blue Mind, Nichols says, is about the “human-ocean connection”, an emotional bond whose roots may in the future be charted by neuroscientists.

Researchers of all hues are interested in blue.
Wjklos, CC BY

This kind of research is attracting marine biologists, conservationists, artists, urban planners – indeed, anyone interested in the relationship between humanity and our watery planet. One of the UK research groups hosting the Cornwall event, the interdisciplinary Blue Gym project at the University of Exeter Medical School, has been investigating the psychological and physical health benefits of exposure to natural water environments. They have found, for example, that the stress levels of people living in coastal communities may be lower than normal simply because they spend more of their leisure time near, or even in, the sea.

Some have looked for physical explanations, for example there has been research into the role and abundance of negative ions – atoms with more than the usual number of electrons – in increasing serotonin levels and improving mood where air and water collide. But not all of us live near water, so how can we get a similar fix?

Although the real experience can never be matched, you might at least have access to some of the benefits of being near water by simply looking at it on your computer, tablet or phone. This impact of digital nature is something I’ve been exploring.

In his new book, Nichols also explains the benefits of simply looking at images of seas, lakes and rivers. For example, he describes an experiment at Plymouth University in 2010 where 40 adults were asked to rate pictures of different natural and urban environments. The researchers found that any picture containing water triggered higher ratings for positive mood, preference and perceived restorativeness, than those images with no water, no matter whether they were shown in a natural landscape or an urban setting. Other experiments have supported these findings.

Dude, it’s a metaphor.
Duncan Rawlinson, CC BY-NC

There seems little doubt that connotations of water, whether visual, aural or even text-based, can make us feel better. The relationship between computers and the blue mind first appeared in 1992 when net pioneer Jean Armour Polly was commissioned to write an article introducing the internet to her fellow librarians. The net was then already more than 20 years old, but few people had heard of it and she was unsure how to describe her online experiences. “I needed something that would evoke a sense of randomness, chaos, and even danger. I wanted something fishy, net-like, nautical,” she wrote later.

As Polly cast around for the right metaphor, her eye fell on the mousepad beneath her hand. Designed by Steve Cisler at the Apple Library User’s Group in Cupertino, California, it featured a picture of a surfer. For Polly, a land-locked librarian in Syracuse, New York, with no connections to surf culture and not even a keen swimmer, it made perfect sense. “Eureka”, she said, “I had my metaphor.”

The resulting article, “Surfing the Internet”, marked the first published use of the term and appeared in the Wilson Library Bulletin in June 1992.

There has since been competition for who really did say it first, including from Mark McCahill, an American programmer, who also apparently used the phrase that very same year, and from Tom Mandel, a San Franciscan futurist and a surfer himself.

Landlocked but still surfing.
Jared, CC BY

No matter who started it, the notion of surfing the internet has been picked up worldwide by people who have never mounted a board, perhaps never even seen a beach, yet their imaginations are fired by the idea of carefree riding in a sea of information.

It is not the only example of watery metaphor to be found in cyberspace. We swim in our Twitter streams, dive into torrent files, float on data clouds. Waterfalls, babbling brooks, and the ubiquitous ocean views can be found on many desktops and home screens. Try, for example, installing Beach Live Wallpaper on your mobile. “This wallpaper brings the sunny beach to you,” says the blurb. “The waves in summer time break on the shore right on your phone.” And relax. You have brought the blue mind into your digital life.

The Conversation

Sue Thomas does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Cyberparks will be intelligent spaces embedded with sensors and computers

By Sue Thomas, Visiting Fellow, The Media School

Virtually healthy.
Ed Yourdon, CC BY-NC-SA

Visit any urban park on a sunny day and you’ll see people relaxing with newspapers, books and, of course, phones and tablets. The digital has become part of our outdoor lives and that trend is set to continue. But there is another trend to take into consideration – the fact that many of us really prefer to stay inside.

In 2009, the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey began collecting detailed information on the public’s use and enjoyment of the outdoors. It found that while half (54%) of the adult population normally visited open spaces in and around towns and cities, such as parks, canals and nature areas, coasts and beaches; or countryside areas such as farm and woodland, hills and rivers at least once a week, 10% of respondents stated they had not visited the great outdoors in the previous 12 months and 8% had made only one or two visits. The figures could be better. There is plenty of evidence to show that being out in nature is good for our physical and mental health.

So can we capitalise on our new-found love of the wired life to encourage more people to go outside? A new European research project called CyberPark aims to foster greater knowledge about the relationship between technology, communication and public spaces. Its main objective is to strengthen the dialogue between those already involved in creating public spaces and developing technology, and create new conversations designed to share knowledge, spark new ideas, and trigger new projects which capitalise on bringing nature and the digital closer together.

Hylozoic Ground.

It has great ambitions: a world of intelligent environments where sensors and computers are seamlessly embedded to enhance ordinary park activities, places where the landscape itself might respond to people moving through it. An indoors example of this might be Canadian architect Philip Beesley’s installation Hylozoic Ground, an immersive, interactive environment that moves and breathes around its viewers in which Beesley uses next-generation artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and interactive technology create an environment that is nearly alive.

Blended environments

In the past, the natural environment and digital domains were seen as distinctly different. But the growth of social media, wearable tech such as smartwatches, mobile connectivity – and that we now carry the internet in our pockets – are profoundly influencing the way we experience time, space, and other people. Soon, the rise of Google Glass and Oculus Rift, the virtual reality gaming headsets, will lead to even more blended environments.

The CyberParks idea grew from a project which started in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1984, when landscape architect Ina Šuklje and her colleagues won a competition to design a new park on brownfield land close to the city centre. Bureaucratic hold-ups meant that the project proceeded slowly, but they did create a series of popular outdoor multimedia reading portals under the theme “United Books of the World”. However, financial support dwindled and the portals could not be maintained. They fell into disrepair.

But when Lisbon-based landscape architect Carlos Smaniotto Costa visited the city in 2010, Šuklje’s experience ignited a new idea. The futuristic concept had been built before its time and was poorly supported by its funders. But now, in the second decade of the 21st century, the time was right to marshall the resources of the European community and learn how it might be done on a bigger scale. And so the idea of CyberParks was born.

Smaniotto Costa co-ordinated an application to the European Co-operation in Science and Technology(COST) fund, one of the longest-running European instruments supporting co-operation among scientists and researchers across Europe. It saw CyberPark as a promising transdisciplinary idea, and agreed to fund it. In April 2014 the team met for the first time at COST’s towering offices in Brussels. I was there too, invited to contribute my technobiophilia research to the discussions.

Digital breaks

A number of projects related to the CyberPark ethos have already appeared. In Paris, for example, Escale Numérique (which translates as Digital Break), was designed by Mathieu Lehanneur to stand at the Rond Point des Champs-Elysées. Inspired by the city’s 19th-century network of drinking fountains, it taps into an underground fibre optic network to provide a fountain of free wifi in a haven of quiet on a busy city street. Comprising a large touch screen protected by a sustainable green roof covered with plants and concrete swivel seats with mini tables and an electricity supply, it heralds the kind of thing that could be achieved on a larger scale.

Green wifi.
Mathieu Lehanneur

The CyberPark team want to go further. Researchers from 21 countries gathered round the table at our first meeting in Brussels. There were urban planners, anthropologists, digital media specialists, landscape architects and architects, engineers, computer scientists, geographers, interaction designers and psychologists. At break time, I asked around. Did anyone have a clear idea of what a cyberpark might actually be? Nobody did, but that was the point. We were there to find out, to embark together on a four-year adventure to discover the future of urban parks. But we all agreed on one thing – however digital it might get, the essence of the park is all about being outdoors, experiencing nature, and encountering other people.

“I just want to know,” said Thanos Vlastos, a professor of urban and transport planning at the National Technical University of Athens and self-confessed utopian, “how we get people to go outside?” It’s something that we plan to find out.

The Conversation

Sue Thomas does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Explainer: how do cyclists reach super fast speeds?

By Bryce Dyer, Senior Lecturer in Product Design, Faculty of Science & Technology

Even though spoked wheels and pneumatic tyres were invented in the 1880s, bicycle design hasn’t really changed a great deal in the time since – at least, at face value. However, look closer and around a hundred years of research or development has taken the humble bicycle from boneshaker to a speed machine.

The basics

Karl von Drais in the days before lycra.

A modern bicycle is still made up of a double diamond shaped frame, two wheels with air-inflated tyres and a chain-based drivetrain – the mechanism through which the whole system runs. Though we’ve stuck to the basics, man and his machine have increased in speed from the 14.5 km per hour reportedly achieved by Karl von Drais in 1817 to a mind-blowing 55km in a Tour de France time trial nearly 200 years later.

The ability to improve speed on a bicycle comes down to two fundamental factors: you either increase the power that propels the rider forwards or you decrease the resistant forces that are holding that rider back.

The rider’s ability to produce power is generally down to their physiology and biomechanics. The resistant forces that slow a cyclist are mainly air resistance, total mass and any frictional losses, such as the drivetrain or the rolling resistance of the wheels against the ground. If every athlete has an equal chance of winning the challenge for engineers and scientists then is to focus on the technology the cyclist uses to obtain a competitive advantage.

The trouble with air

It has been demonstrated that once a cyclist travelling outdoors gets past speeds of 25 miles per hour, around 90% of the force holding them back will be air resistance. But the relationship between speed and air resistance is not a linear one. It can, for example, take twice as much human power to ride a bicycle at 30 miles an hour as it does at 20 miles an hour.

As a result, reducing air resistance has become a top priority in professional cycling technology in recent times. At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Team GB’s track riders were using bikes, helmets and clothing solely designed to help contribute to the optimisation of each rider’s aerodynamics. Team principal, David Brailsford, has referred to this process as the “aggregation of marginal gains”.

To achieve this, wind tunnels are now used by both professional and amateur athletes to analyse the aerodynamic drag, then work out how to get the rider and machine working together optimally. There is a complication in this process, though, in that the best aerodynamic solution is typically specific to every rider, so each needs to make individual choices about their helmet and bicycle and especially their riding position.

The second problem is that wind tunnels are few and far between and are by no means cheap to access. Thankfully, alternatives for those without an Olympic-sized budget are emerging. You can now use computational fluid dynamic software which can be, in essence, a virtual wind tunnel. This software allows an engineer to simulate a variety of air flow conditions on a new bicycle design, therefore cutting down the time and costs of prototyping and testing. There is now also published research which allows riders to assess their aerodynamics out in the field rather than in a wind tunnel.

Ermargerd! I love this helmet!
EPA/Ian Langsdon

Mark Cavendish famously won his Tour de France stages and world title in 2011 wearing a skin suit and an aerodynamic helmet while the majority of his competitors were still wearing baggier jerseys and heavily vented helmets. Team GB had realised that even though a rider may be sheltered by 200 others during a road stage, when Cavendish sprints for the finish line, he is alone in undisturbed air for around 200 metres at speeds well above 40 miles an hour. Every small advantage at this point converts into winning millimetres.

Tinkering with the tech

Racing bicycles themselves have been subject to a tremendous amount of aerodynamic refinement over the last five years. Braking systems have been positioned so as to be sheltered from the main airflow and gear cables are now run on the inside of the frame. Wheel designs have not only improved in reducing aerodynamic drag, but are now being optimised to provide benefits such as increased rider stability from crosswinds. Innovations like these have traditionally been directed towards making better bikes for either time trials or triathlons but is now spreading towards the road bikes used in mass start racing.

The mechanical properties of the racing bicycle have also evolved. Like computational fluid dynamic software, finite element analysis allows us to optimise the design of bike components to simulate the stresses and strains that they will face when in use. This has allowed us to develop composite frames that weigh as little as 800g but are still stiff enough to sprint for a stage win and comfortable enough to be ridden for five hours or more, day after day.

Even the humble gear derailleur, relatively unchanged in principle since its original invention in 1951 has lately begun to shape shift. The most advanced systems are now electronically powered and triggered. This has allowed for smooth gear changes requiring only thin wires and a small battery as opposed to having a frame design compromised by the limitations of needing cable runs for mechanically actuated gears.

All these improvements have enabled us to morph the humble bicycle into a speed machine without tampering with its basic design. So where does this all lead next? In competitive sport, the technology is typically regulated by its governing body. In the case of cycling, this means that the equipment is currently limited in both its size, nature and weight, so we are more likely to see more incremental improvements than a radical shift away from the bikes we use now.

The average leisure cyclist is not limited by such constraints allowing us to benefit from any level of innovation. For example, if you look at bicycle land-speed records, recumbent cycles – which are unique in the way they position the rider lying down – can move at far higher speeds than a conventional bicycle. And for enthusiastic amateurs, new bicycle designs are continuing to become lighter, faster and ultimately more efficient. Anything could happen.

The Conversation

Bryce Dyer does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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