A student from Product Design Engineering, a course run jointly between Glasgow School of Art and the University of Glasgow took home first prize in The Royal Academy of Engineering’s recent Poster Competition in Principles of Engineering Design.

Allan Sinclair, a graduating 5th year MEng student, created a virtual tennis game which enables the visually impaired to compete with sighted players. Incorporating an auditory representation of real tennis with accurate feedback of shot quality and accelerometers to detect motion, the tennis sensation pro ™ gives all the aural and tactile feedback of real tennis and allows blind users the opportunity to play competitively against sighted players.

With the Department of Computer Science, gesture recognition software was developed that allows the system to distinguish the players shot types (e.g. high forehand). This uses the principle that all tennis strokes (or indeed any actions) have individual signature acceleration profiles which distinguishing them from each other.

While the working prototype currently makes use of conventional stereo sound to describe the balls position, the product was ultimately designed around a new development in sound processing called spatial audio. This provides the user with three-dimensional audio feedback and a more captivating experience.

To gain accurate shot feedback a real tennis racquet was instrumented with load cells and accelerometers and the vibration response analyzed. A mechanical system was then developed to replicate the feel of different shot types, making the experience to feel like real tennis.

The project was initiated by two blind journalists who had the ambition to play real tennis. They were involved throughout the early design phase and had input into the overall concept and direction of the project. The product is currently in the prototype stage with valuable feedback being gained from a visit to a local visually impaired school. Allan is now looking for interested parties to take the project on further.

The competition involved 22 universities which are currently part of The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Visiting Professors in Engineering Design for Sustainable Development or Visiting Professors in Principles of Engineering Design schemes.

David Foxley of The Royal Academy of Engineering and organizer of the competition says,
“Allan’s design is a remarkable achievement that has recognized a real need and has developed not only the concept of a tennis game for the visually impaired, but has also produced a working prototype that is ready for commercial development.”

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. The Academy’s Visiting Professors in Principles of Engineering Design initiative was started in 1989 and is active in 46 UK universities. Admission to the scheme has been by competitive bidding upon an invitation from The Academy. Engineering design encompasses those activities which intelligently associate useful, economic, reliable and appropriate ideas with technology to define an engineering project, product, process or system to satisfy a market need. The good engineering designer is therefore a key link in the industrial environment. There has been a national failure over many years to recognise fully the importance of engineering design, which has in turn contributed to a serious loss of international competitiveness. Recognising the importance of rectifying this national weakness, The Royal Academy of Engineering considered carefully what initiatives it might take during the 1990s which would quickly address the heart of the problem. The Academy’s answer has taken the form of a scheme of Visiting Professors in Principles of Engineering Design. This enables distinguished, senior engineers in business to work with their academic colleagues to provide a bridge for undergraduates from education to industry. Their role is to demonstrate and transmit to students and staff that design is the integrating theme in all the engineering disciplines within the university.
  3. The Academy’s Visiting Professors in Engineering Design for Sustainable Development scheme was launched in 1998. Sustainable Development can be defined as, ‘development that meets the needs of the present generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The Academy sees that the challenge for engineers is to provide engineering solutions that will achieve such an aim. The purpose of this scheme is to develop teaching materials, based on case studies, which will enhance both the understanding and the practice of teaching Sustainable Development. Convincing case studies can only be developed by leading edge industrial practitioners working as Visiting Professors in unison with experienced teachers, making this scheme a very close partnership between industry and academia.

For more information please contact

Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering