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New tech allows swim coaches to communicate with athletes in real-time

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A Moldova-based start up has launched a new device that could revolutionise the way people train and learn to swim. 

One of the biggest challenges in swim coaching is the lack of real-time communication between the coach and the swimmer. SONR Inc. has developed a new wearable to help tackle the issue.

The device is the world’s smallest wearable underwater radio receiver and allows coaches to communicate with their team while they are in the water and offer feedback on their technique in real-time.

SONR is a compact disc-shaped radio receiver that can be placed anywhere on the swimmer’s head – under the swimming cap or on the swimmer’s goggles. The coach talks into a handheld transceiver (a walkie-talkie), allowing swimmers to hear the voice of their trainer in real-time even when their ears are underwater.

Using one walkie-talkie the coach can train teams of up to 30 swimmers, either communicating with the whole team, each individual swimmer or custom groups. The device also features a metronome which helps the swimmer develop a consistent pace.

SONR is a bone-conducting receiver, which means that sound is transmitted through the vibration of bones in the head rather than through the air.

“Naturally, we hear sound in two ways; through air conduction and through bone conduction,”  Dmitri Voloshin, founder of SONR Inc., told Health Tech World. “Air conduction is how we hear most of the time through our ears. Our drums convert sound waves into vibrations sending them to the cochlear.

“Bone conduction on the other hand is when those sound waves travel through bones in your jaw and skull, so they end up in exactly the same place.”

The device has an antibacterial coating, floats in water and complies with the IPX8 waterproof standard. In open water, its signal can be picked up from up to 300 metres away. SONR hopes its device will make open water swimming, a notoriously dangerous sport, safer for athletes by keeping them in constant communication with their coach on land.

“Thanks to its sleek and lightweight design, it is unsinkable. After just a few minutes of training, swimmers forget about the device,” Voloshin continued.

“Many people who have tested the product fall in love with [it] and can no longer imagine training without it.

“We hope that swimming can reach a new level as a sport in general. It is something that has long been necessary and desirable in this sport.”

Dmitri Voloshin is a professional swimmer and IronMan winner, who became known as a national freediving champion in his home country of Moldova. He has also swum a number of high-intensity open water races, including the gruelling OceanMan, an ultramarathon across the Strait of Gibraltar.

During his preparation for one of these competitions, he said he became frustrated with the lack of communication between him and his coach, who had to shout, make signs or wait for the Voloshin to finish his run before feeding back on his technique.

For Vocoshin, it meant he wasted a lot of precious training time repeating mistakes. He made it his mission to make the training process more efficient.

Voloshin said: “I was in a pool with my coach, and I was preparing for a marathon. During my training, I would hear only fragments of sentences over the sound of water. A thought arrived in my head; ‘what if we could have a device that would allow me to hear my coach’s voice even when my ears are underwater?’

“That was the moment that the idea behind SONR was born.”

The company is currently in the production stage and is taking pre-orders from various countries across the world including Ukraine, Russia, Portugal and the US. The Olympic Reserve School is one of the first professional institutions to trial the product.

A coach at the Olympic Reserve School, Evgheny Pasechnik, said: ”I love the fact that I can train my athletes in real-time and I don’t waste any energy on shouting or whistling. Now I can fully concentrate on their technique [which] is amazing.”

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