The Future of Surfing – Sensors in the Board Record Everything

ROS Surfboard
Mario Azurza's surfboard records everything that happens to it, and it talks through ROS.

Ok, check it, braugh, you ever caught like a bitchin’ wave but didn’t like totally know how to like explain exactly how totally bitchin’ it was? Now’s your chance, dude! …Ok, I’m going to stop that now and just tell you about the most amazing surfboard in existence. Internationally known Spanish surf company Pukas teamed up with Spain’s research giant Tecnalia to create a board that records everything that happens to it out on the waves. Think of it as surfing’s equivalent of a jet plane’s blackbox. SurfSens, as the project is called, uses a wide array of sensors – accelerometers, strain gauges, compass, GPS, etc. – to make scientific measurements while a surfer is twisting and shredding. How do they take all this amazing data and translate it into something they can use? The Robot Operating System. That’s right, SurfSens uses ROS to visualize and process their data – open source robotics just broke into professional sports. Watch world renowned surfer Aritz Aranburu and others try out SurfSens in the amazing video below. This technology could not only help Pukas design better boards, it could change the way surfers review their skills, and judges score their competitions. All that, and ROS is still just warming up.

Pukas and Tecnalia have completed phase one of SurfSens – the construction and testing of the board loaded with 650 grams of electronics. In the video below you can see how despite SurfSens’ elaborate recording capabilities the board doesn’t impair Aranburu’s surfing in any way:

The second phase of the project will involve analyzing data from various surfers to understand what measurements are actually worth considering. SurfSens records variables like foot position – something that clearly should have an impact on surfing performance. But will the flex and torsion on the board prove likewise important? It will take a lot more data collection, and much more analysis for Pukas and Tecnalia to figure things out. Lucky they don’t have a shortage of willing test subjects. Already famous surfers Aritz Aranburu, Hodei Collazo, Kepa Acero and Mario Azurza have given the new equipment a whirl. According to Pukas, other professional competitors like Tiago Pires, Joan Duru, Tim Boal and Eneko Acero are lined up to get their turn on the device.

When a surfer challenges the waves, an embedded computer (an IGEPv2) records the data from the board’s sensors to a flash memory stick. When the surfer returns, the data is transferred to a PC via WiFi connection. That’s when the magic begins. As you’ll see in the video of SurfSens’ analytical systems below, ROS visualization software allows that myriad streams of data to be seamlessly integrated into a computer display that gives engineers a clear understanding of the forces on the board:

It will take time for Pukas and Tecnalia to make sense of everything you saw in the video, but when they do it could open a lot of doors. Pukas plans on using the information to help them build better surfboards. Surfers hope it will give them an edge in understanding how they can improve their performance. As mentioned in the first video, it’s possible SurfSens could also be used as a way to quantify the difference between various surfing performance during a competition. The NFL has its instant replay cameras, Tennis has Hawkeye, surfing could have SurfSens.

Taking a broader view, this project is another example of the power of open source development. Not only did ROS accelerate the process of making SurfSens ready for testing, it continues to provide opportunities for improvements in the future. When someone develops a new analytical tool for ROS, SurfSens should be able to incorporate it fairly easily. That’s amazing, and a great reason for other scientific projects to adopt open source platforms.

We’re used to seeing ROS work its open source magic with robots, especially Willow Garage’s PR2. Now it seems the operating system is enjoying some tangentially related success. They hosted a great hacking competition for the Kinect 3D sensor. SurfSens is using ROS for professional sports testing. Apparently when you create an adaptable, free, and well-maintained resource like ROS, the applications come to you. Who knows what other unexpected developments will arrive in the near future. Whatever they are, I promise not to start any more articles with horrendous renditions of stereotypical dialects.

But like endings are like totally fair game, okay bro? Get urself stoked 4 it! PEACE!

ROS Surfboard - Collazo
Hodei Collazo tears it up on the waves.
ROS Surfboard - Aranburu
Aritz Aranburu shows off what the board can handle.

[image credit: Pukas]

[sources: ROS, Pukas]

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