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August, 29th 2011

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Another person for a smarter planet

Alexander AminiAmidst moving to a new country, starting a new school, making new friends, and digging into an intensive scientific research project, Alexander Amini still had time for tennis. Generally two hours a day, several days a week.

“I started playing tennis before I can remember,” Amini said. “I’ve always had a tennis racquet in my hand.”

Amini’s love of tennis served him well when he decided to enter Ireland’s national high school science competition–the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE)–upon moving to Dublin from New York state with his family last fall.

He enrolled in Castleknock College, a private boys high school, and devoted himself to writing software that can identify a tennis player’s strokes based on data transmitted from wireless sensors worn on the body.

“In my project I was able to automatically detect 13 different tennis strokes with an average accuracy of 95 percent,” Amini said. “For four of those strokes, the accuracy was above 99 percent.”

Last January, after four months of hard work, Amini won top prize out of a field of 513 entries and was named BT Young Scientist and Technologist 2011. In September, he will represent Ireland at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Helsinki, Finland.

A high-tech, low-cost coaching tool

Amini’s solution essentially learns how a player performs all the major racquet swings and then, going forward, automatically identifies any shot the player hits. Using sensors attached to the arm, leg and chest, it detects patterns and subtle variations in movement and can differentiate between even the most closely related strokes.

Players get feedback indicating the accuracy and consistency of their strokes. The solution can also compare an individual’s strokes against those of a more experienced player, as a tool for improving technique.

“My ultimate goal is to provide real-time feedback that can be used to help coach a person while he’s on the court,” Amini said. “A player would know the feedback from his prior stroke before he hit the next ball and could make adjustments accordingly.”

Grab your racquet–and strap on a smartphone

Amini has already taken two years of college-level computer programming classes and hopes to study computer science and continue his research in college. He is especially excited about exploring new ways to capture data, as the size of sensors continues to decrease and the power of smartphones dramatically increases.

“Eventually, all of the hardware and software to capture and analyze movement data and provide feedback to a player could just be part of a smart personal device, such as an iPhone or Android,” Amini said. “Players could then simply strap the device to themselves when they play and the built-in sensors would collect data about their movement and transmit it for analysis and feedback.”

Amini foresees his technology applied to other sports and used to help patients undergoing physical rehabilitation as well.

“For a stroke or accident victim who needs to learn to walk again, you could use my solution to analyze the patient’s walk and compare it to that of a healthy person to gauge the patient’s progress,” Amini said.

Young scientist, big ambitions

Alexander AminiAmini, who was still 15 when he developed Tennis Data Sensor Analysis and won the BTYSTE competition, often worked on his project before and after school and all day long on weekends. During holiday break last December, he put in 14 hour days and even worked on Christmas.

“It was really easy for me to work so hard because tennis is something I love so much,” he said. “The project really wasn’t work for me. I had fun doing it.”

Amini heads into the future with great enthusiasm about what lies before him. He has already begun the process to patent his solution.

“I really feel this could be something big,” he said. “It makes me very excited to think that I may make such a difference in the world. It makes me work all that much harder.”

Tennis Sensor Data Analysis is an award winning project by 16-year-old Alexander Amini that tracks and analyzes a tennis player’s movement and automatically identifies and evaluates each stroke the player hits. The player wears sensors on his body that wirelessly transmit real-time movement data to a program that can detect up to 13 different racquet swings and provide feedback to help players improve their technique. The system can be adapted for other sports and potentially help patients undergoing physical rehabilitation. See Alexander explain in this short video.

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