"Their attitude was, 'Here's what we're good at, so tell us what you need and how we can help you,'" Bryan Clay, American decathlete told Fortune. What came out of the research was the BMW Velocity Measurement System.
Coaches are able to use a special stereoscopic camera to track the athlete in motion--similar to how BMW's 7-Series detects pedestrians with its night vision camera--and instantly measure how much velocity the athlete has at every point during the jump. The major benefit to the BMW's Velocity Measurement System is that the coach can make a suggestion regarding form and technique based upon realtime data, and the correction can be instantly quantified against the previous jump. This significantly speeds up the training process, allowing coaches and athletes to make the minute adjustments that can be the difference between medaling and returning home empty-handed.
It's simple physics for the most part. Knowing the horizontal and vertical components for velocity give insight into how to lengthen the jump. Much of the horizontal velocity is gained from the running speed and, for the most part, doesn't change much during the jump; horizontal motion ends right when the athlete hits the sand. The key then, is to remain in the air as long as possible. To do that, the athlete needs to resist the force of gravity by jumping higher and extending airtime. But, if the vertical component is too great, it will take away from the horizontal distance traveled.
To balance these two components the athlete needs only to change the take-off angle. Easier said than done.. Luckily, the tech from BMW also measures that. Every time an athlete jumps, the angle is shown on screen so the athlete can make corrections if needed.
"As a decathlete, my reality is one in which centimeters and thousandths of a second are the difference between an Olympic gold medal and no medal," said Clay. "The feedback this tool is able to provide immediately, during a practice as opposed to days afterward, will enable me to make minor adjustments to my jumps that could equate to significant performance gains."
As BMW works with athletes to make them more efficient, they are also able to advance their safety systems in research vehicles.
"BMW stands for performance, efficiency and innovation. Drawing on these core values, our engineers have combined automotive engineering expertise with advanced technologies to develop a system that will drive athletic performance and provide real world benefits to elite athletes," said Dan Creed, Vice President, Marketing, BMW of North America. "We are thrilled to be making a meaningful contribution to Team USA beyond a financial commitment."
Ed. The athlete who appears in the video is Funmi Kemi Jimoh. The video has been updated to reflect this change.