Digital relay baton enables remote crowd cheering of athletes

A prototype digital relay baton has been developed by computer scientists at Lancaster University to allow friends, family and other interested viewers to offer encouragement to weary athletes undertaking challenging events — such as long-distance charity fund-raising runs.

Sporty types, such as runners and cyclists, are used to digital fitness trackers and apps (such as Fitbit and Strava) that enable them to document their activities and allow them to share their exploits with others. However, so far they are predominantly used for performance analysis after the event.

The digital baton, which is detailed in a research paper ‘Embedding a Crowd inside a Relay Baton: A Case Study in a Non-Competitive Sporting Activity’, which will be presented this summer at the ‘CHI17’ conference, contains sensors which broadcast information such as location, speed and distance data to a webpage, allowing people to follow the action on their phone, tablet or PC.

In response to the information displayed, which can also include a live map and gradient profile showing upcoming hills, followers are able to click on a cheer button which makes the baton vibrate and also calls out the name of the person cheering so it can be heard by the athlete — spurring them on.

The baton was tested by a team from Lancaster University’s Running Club who ran the 170-mile ‘Way of the Roses’ long-distance route across England from Morecambe, Lancashire, to Bridlington, Yorkshire, in less than 24 hours. This event, in which 13 athletes took turns running five-mile legs, was challenging in physical terms, but also mentally due to periods of loneliness while running across isolated Pennine moorland and in the dark.

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