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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Computer Hangs Ten on Surfboard

Computers have crept into every part of our lives, from business to pleasure. Just look at what's happening to surfing.

Several mechanical engineering students at the University of California, San Diego, have installed a computer on a surfboard to study its design. Right now, we know more about how to make environmentally friendly surfboards out of soy, than why some sticks work better than others.

Those who do surf, know it has something to do with a board's flex, a quality of board stiffness that makes its feel springy in the water. But this quality has never been scientifically measured.

So, the UC-San Diego students have installed eight sensors and a small, watertight computer to document surfboard flex. The sensors are fixed to the bottom of the board, and are designed to measure "bend," that is, the speed of the water moving beneath the board.

The water velocity data is captured by the onboard computer and then transmitted wirelessly to a laptop on shore.

The computer itself tends to draw attention from other surfers. You can't really blame them considering that the device is in a watertight case the shape of a medium-sized box of chocolates that glows blue.

Dan Ferguson, one of the students working on this project, said in a press release that other surfers would ask, "What’s on your board? What is that?”

“We’d have to tell them it’s a microprocessor connected to velocity sensors, and they would kind of nod and paddle away. It created a minor stir,” he said.

Now these researchers have moved on to see how surfboards change shape when people ride them. They will also measure how surfers feel about their riding experiences with their boards as time goes on.

Photo: Benjamin Thompson surfs the data-collecting surfboard. The onboard computer is visible at the front of the board. Credit: UC San Diego

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