Rio Tinto Innovation Project @ Imperial College

Yesterday I took a trip to London to join a group of design and engineering students at Imperial College. This was day two of my work there having also attended on Tuesday last week. So why was I there?

Rio Tinto is one of the Olympic and Paralympic sponsors for London 2012. They are a mining company who are providing the metal for the medals at this year’s games.

Linked to this, Rio Tinto are funding a 5 year partnership with the college. The idea is to inspire the students to design, build and implement innovations in the equipment used within Paralympic sports and promote healthy lifestyles for people with disabilities. The ultimate aim is to see something designed at the college used at the Rio Games in 2016. To find out more click here.

My role, alongside three other Para-athletes, was to provide the students with some insight into disability sport and the type of issues that can arise. We were also there to give feedback on any ideas they had and help them to develop that idea into something that could work in a real world situation.

Day one involved the students being split into groups and spending half an hour with each of the four athletes. It was a ‘discovery session’ or fact finding mission for the students. They needed to come away with a project idea, information to help them start the planning/design process and perhaps a list of things they needed to look into further.

To help generate some discussion points I took my swim tether, run tether, blackout glasses and the Matrix Tandem. The latter was a real focal point!

I was really impressed with the initial thoughts the students had, which were wide ranging from the very high-tech to very simple, but potentially effective concepts. They also asked many relevant and sometimes searching questions about my eyesight, working with a guide, the equipment we use in training and competition and also my work as a Physiotherapist.

Day two was about the students bringing back any ideas they had developed since the first session to get further, more specific, feedback. Some had taken an idea I had suggested and progressed it further, others had come up with their own totally unique concept. I also had quite a lot of fun playing with some of the initial prototypes some groups had mocked up too!

Whilst I am not sure I should reveal the exact details of the students projects (as someone might steal the idea!) they are linked to things like improving sensory feedback, enabling the athlete to be as independent as possible, limiting the effect a strong guide could have and making certain sports easier to play with a visual impairment or other disability.

Over-all I was very impressed by the students and the way they went about this task. It’s also been a fantastic experience for me personally and has really got me thinking about innovations we could make to help improve competition performance – something I often do anyway!  Hopefully I will get the chance to see (and maybe use!) some of the equipment when it is developed into a fully working prototype or even the finished article…


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