This smart saddle could help alert equestrian falls

Por Horse TV
NEWS | Lifestyle

A group of researchers have developed a prototype ‘smart saddle’ that could potentially help equestrians improve their biomechanics and alert others when a rider takes a fall. 

Professional equestrians make advanced riding manoeuvres such as jumps, spins and piaffes. Although they might make it look effortless, good riding requires balance and subtle cues to the horse. These are given through the rider’s posture, the way he seats and the legs position. However, what could happen if we have the technology that detects when and informs you about when to jump?

So far, big data and analysis are becoming important in competitive sports because they can provide real-time information on athletes’ performance and fitness. However, as most of these systems are powered by batteries, they are often bulky and not very flexible. Nonetheless, a group of researchers have been testing out a viable solution for equestrian competitors. 

The innovation of TENGs

Ding Nan, Baodong Chen, Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues decided to adapt TENGs to a smart saddle. Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) are small, lightweight and flexible, and they can convert mechanical energy into electricity. They are being tested for various applications: harvesting energy from ocean waves, charging cell phones through walking… 

Besides powering themselves, TENGs convert mechanical stimuli into electrical signals. This includes pressure, touch or motion. The researchers made a thin, flexible, disk-shaped TENG that flattens when depressed and rebounds when the pressure is removed. This means that, under pressure, the internal layers of the TENG will transfer electrons from one electrode to another, generating a current. When the pressure is no longer there, this current is released. 

Researchers placed seven TENGs on the top surface of a saddle. They wanted to detect differences in pressure in various regions of the seat. When analysing results, electrical signals revealed human motion and whether the rider was leaning forward, sitting in an upright position or leaning backwards. Moreover, the smart saddle could detect when the rider was posting (standing up and sitting down). 

You will find insightful: Rider nutrition tips to stay on top of the equestrian game

Critical data for emergencies

The smart saddle can detect when a rider falls off, and quickly transmit a wireless signal to alert others. This is a safety feature that could allow injured riders to get quick treatment, and is especially important for those riding alone. The smart saddle has a response time of 16 milliseconds, and someday could provide real-time statistical data and fall detection, researchers say. 

According to them, this could take traditional equestrian sports to an advanced state, as it can not only promote the development of triboelectric nanogenerators in micro-biomechanical energy, but also expand the application of self-powered systems to intelligent sport monitoring and assisting. 

Further equestrian initiatives

The smart saddle could revolutionise equestrian sports for good, and so could some of the other technologies being tested nowadays. For instance, robotic technology is already replacing repetitive tasks, greatly reducing labor costs. In the horse industry, robots have the ability to lift a horse in a careful manner, controlling weight distribution and reducing the risk of hurting them. 

A form of equine lift was designed through the collaboration between the University of Saskatchewan and a machinery company called RMD Engineering. 

Moreover, augmented reality (AR) is being used to combine real-world visuals with information created from external data. These are provided by digital information that interprets light frequencies that are not visible to the human eye. For example, equine thermography uses cameras that detect infrared waves on the horse’s body surface. 

With this information, we can detect issues with the horses’ backs, ligaments and tendons, muscles, bones and nerves even weeks before the animal shows signs of pain or injury. This will enable the opportunity to treat the animal before he suffers. 

Likewise, virtual reality (VR) is being used by veterinarians and those training to work with horses. With it, complicated or rare surgeries can be practised in a classroom, minimising risk to students, technicians and teachers. Although this technology is expensive, VR has the ability to reduce other costs such as time and energy, as well as save an animal from invasive procedures for the purpose of learning and training. 

Related article: Standardised rider helmets don’t adjust properly to falls