Every athlete at the top of their game deserves a moment to bask in glory. What humans rarely give praise to however is the pedigree of Terminator-like technology operating behind the scenes to pave this path to victory.
Here at D’Marge, we love anything to do with sports and groundbreaking technology. The one place you wouldn’t expect to see the two cross paths? The 2016 Paralympics. And yet here we are, staring down the barrel of what could well be the future of humanoid technology.
Not only are some of these designs helping to break records, but they’re also helping to change the future of how humans could survive. This is a rare glimpse into the future of technology, today.
Lex Gillette’s Nike Eye Mask
Think back to your school athletics carnival and those cold mornings spent lumbering towards a sand pit, leaping with everything you have, landing a mere 2 metres in front of you and then finding out you’d committed a foul anyway. Now imagine having to do that blind.
Lex Gillette is the current world record holder in the class T-11 visually impaired long jump, two-time world champ and two-time gold medallist, putting him at the very pinnacle of what a visually impaired athlete can do.
In order to mark this, Nike have come out with a revolutionary new eye mask, bringing an entire new level of style to a bit of equipment that has always been pretty ordinary. All visually impaired athletes have to wear eye masks to completely block out their eyesight, but Gillette wasn’t happy with the traditional ones on offer.
Nike’s new offering not only looks superhero-esque, but it’s functional in helping Gillette protect his eyes from sand that flies up from the pit. They’re fully tactile and sublimated with prints from Nike’s most popular sneaker ranges, and have the phrase “No Fear” marked in braille on the inside of the glasses.
Team USA’s BMW Wheelchairs
Team USA seems to be getting all the coolest toys to play with.
Designed exclusively for America’s finest wheelchair racers, these wheelchairs are designed to be incredibly stiff, incredibly stable and, most importantly, incredibly fast for those running in pretty much every wheelchair race this Paralympics.
In order to achieve this, BMW have utilised about as much carbon fibre as it’s possible to put on a wheelchair, replacing the standard aluminium material which is far less rigid.
While it won’t look all that different to most wheelchairs at the games, these new chairs boast 15% less aerodynamic drag and much better handling as a result of the more rigid carbon fibre wheels.
Each wheelchair is also 3D mapped to the shape of the individual athlete that will be using it, and comes with custom gloves.
Ossur’s Cheetah Blades
First made famous (controversially so) by Oscar Pistorius, Ossur’s Cheetah range is nonetheless pretty incredible.
Almost entirely made from Carbon Fibre, the blades bring a whole new level of explosiveness and responsiveness to running on prosthetics, which allowed Pistorius to ply his trade with able-bodied athletes at the 2012 Paralympics.
Nike have also come into the fold here, exclusively developing a spike pad for the Cheetah blade that offers incredible traction from the beginning of the stride, right through to the end.
Entirely detachable, the spikes have also shaved vast amounts of time that Paralympians would normally spend gluing spikes onto their blades.
Derek Derenalagi’s Discus & Javelin Frame
Another innovation that was unveiled back in London, this frame brought massive amounts of control and stability to Paralympic discus and javelin throwers.
The rules of the discus event allow athletes to use any chair or stool they require to help their lower bodies generate the power needed to throw the discus, so long as it can be set up in less than a minute.
Developed by British Charity Remap, it was first put into use by Derek Derenalagi, a soldier who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan. The frame allows Derenalagi to comfortably sit in it, attached by two seat belts, and rotate enough to achieve truly Olympic distances when throwing the discus.
Andrew Mullen’s Starting Blocks
Swimming without any arms is probably hard enough for most people to comprehend, but backstroke might be even harder.
This is not least because, as anyone who’s ever done backstroke will tell you, you need something to grab onto so you can launch yourself at the start of a race. Until this year, Paralympic swimmers would normally bite onto a towel held in front of them by their coaches, but no more.
Students at the Imperial College London worked with British backstroke competitor (who happens to be the world championship silver medallist and European record holder) Andrew Mullen to create an entirely new system of grips, developed from horse riding stirrups with a rein and carabiner attached.
The grips allow Mullen to properly prop himself against the side of the pool, potentially shaving off swathes of time through a more explosive race start.
It might not be a wheelchair developed in a wind tunnel from F1 technology, but sometimes the little things make all the difference.