The Intelligent Climbing Wall: Made Possible Thanks to Multi-Axis Sensors and QuantumX from HBM

MACLoC is the acronym for Multi-Axis Climbing Load Cells for performance analysis in sport climbing, a team of researchers and students from Turin and Milan Polytechnic Universities. Together with HBM, the project group developed the prototype for a new type of “intelligent” climbing wall, which has been registered with the European Patent Office. Combining multi-axis force transducers and a QuantumX data acquisition system, the wall provides climbers with real-time information on their contact forces and the center of their mass. These valuable insights into the mechanics of climbing allow rapid technical improvements in a highly complex and growing field of sports.

 

Problem

MACLoC aimed to gather insights into the mechanics of climbing in order to provide athletes with detailed feedback on their training progress and the technique being used. Force measurement on the holds needed to be accurate regardless of the force application point.

Solution

Grips on an ordinary climbing wall were fitted with multi-axis force transducers. Real-time data processing and live analysis capabilities were achieved by connecting these sensors with the QuantumX data acquisition system.

Results

With the help of HBM, MACLoC was able to develop an innovative climbing wall and data analysis system for faster and easier acquisition of professional and individual climbing techniques.

View of the multi-axis force transducer within the wall hold

The MACLoC research team

The measurement chain

Sports Climbing - A Challenge for Body and Mind

Indoor climbing is a sport that is currently trending worldwide, and for good reason; like most sports, climbing combines stamina and strength, both physical and emotional. As it happens to be, beginners today find it very tiring to master the right grips and techniques. In order to grasp the handles on climbing walls properly and to shift weight correctly, the combined efforts of an experienced trainer and endless attempts are necessary.

But what if a wall itself would be able to give the athlete individual feedback on their learning path? This “intelligent climbing wall” is the brainchild of the MACLoC research team at the Alta Scuola Politecnico in Turin and Milan. Supported by HBM and RGTech, the team has developed a climbing wall with multi-axis force transducers that are capable of identifying the climber's contact forces and calculating the center of their mass in real time. For this purpose, the multi-axis sensors were fitted with HBM strain gauges and connected to a MX840B module of the QuantumX data acquisition system from HBM.

The Role of the Force Transducer

A force sensor on each single hold that can measure the forces along the three spatial components, normalized with respect to the climber’s weight, can be the technological bridge between sport technique and body power. Especially the knowledge of the four applied forces allows plotting the position of the body’s center of mass along the path to monitor the correct distribution of load. A climbing path with 10-12-14 smart holds can be used to analyze the efficiency and the correctness of the climber’s movements.

This synthesis can be carried out substantially in two different ways: comparing the data of an amateur and a professional athlete in order to highlight the significant technical differences, or monitoring the improvements of a single climber to show which gesture or body coordination caused this improvement. As a matter of fact, different climbers on a given path will usually show a different behavior.

"Apart from the excellent service provided during the testing and the evaluation phase of the project, the large and versatile product offering was another reason to work with HBM for this particular application. They enabled us to find a complete solution for our project. We opted for strain gauges and the MX840B module of QuantumX to develop the prototype of the sensorized climbing wall."

Quote from Professor Raffaella Sesana from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace at Turin Polytechnic University. The partnership between HBM and the engineering team at Alta Scuola Politecnica has been lasting for more than three decades so far.

The Learning Curve

When professional athletes are observed, they tend to give the impression that they are not at all struggling to complete a climbing route. It can be expected that a more experienced climber will use less force in relation to his body mass compared to a beginner, and the former’s higher performance will not solely be a result of greater athletic capacity. Apart from a comparison between athletes, it should be noted that the same climber repeating a certain route several times will also evolve himself in the applied force on the wall, even after just a few hours of training.

This fact is surely not due to a miraculous immediate strength improvement, but rather due to better coordination and posture. While measuring the evolution of such performances, it can be expected that the force on the axes decreases with the number of repetitions up to a certain asymptote, such as charging a capacitor. While practicing, this can be seen as the learning curve of the climber on a specific route.

The Advantages of the Prototype

These two analysis modes combined can lead to many other interesting analyses: comparing the learning curve of different climbers, as well as knowing how experienced climbers execute the route and apply forces on climbing holds, could help trainers and trainees with the development of specific training programs to get better results in a shorter period of time. Despite the numerous advantages listed above, little has been done so far in this direction, mostly due to the cost of instrumenting a wall for the same purpose and also due to a certain “suspicious adversity” towards technology among conservative climbers.

Following the successful development of the prototype, the model has been registered for patent.

About MACLoC

MACLoC (Multi-Axis Climbing Load Cells) was a project at Alta Scuola Politecnica in the framework of the 12th edition of A&T- Automation and Testing Trade Fair in Turin, Italy. Led by professors Raffaella Sesana and Daniela Maffiodo (both DIMEAS, Turin Polytechnic University) as well as Alessandro Colombo (DEIB, Milan Polytechnic University), a group of 8 students developed a technology-based approach to climbing. The sport was chosen due to its growing popularity as well as its complexity. Measurement of the contact forces and calculation of the centre of mass helps with the understanding of the mechanics of climbing, thus allows a faster optimization of technique and training sessions.

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