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Starting signal for athletes with sensory disability

June 15, 2011
Elhuyar Fundazioa
A new system alerts racers about the race start through visual signals -- enabling reaction time equal to other participants.

Competing in races is the life of a runner. But, for sportspeople with sensory impairments, any race is one of obstacles. Tecnalia is working intensely on eliminating these obstacles.

The system involves a series of wireless-interconnected devices in order to facilitate the starts in time trials for persons with sensory disabilities and thus enable the athlete to have a reaction time equal to his or her competitors.

This is a pioneering system, developed by Tecnalia with the help of the Basque companies Enkoa and Leabai and of the Gipuzkoan Federation for Adapted Sports. Therefore, Tecnalia also collaborated with experts in Adapted Athletics, such as the trainer Valentín Rocandio and Casimiro Ondo, the athlete with hearing and visual impairment.

The project

This project arose from the difficulties that had been detected in hearing-impaired persons when taking part in Open competitions, which are those in which disabled persons compete with people without disabilities. In these competitions, an athlete with auditory disability perceives the judge's start signal from the vibratory movements produced in the ground by the sound from the starting gun, from the visual perception of the explosion produced by the pistol and from the trainer who, on hearing the start order, touches the back of the athlete. All this involves reaction times which can give disadvantage in starting to the disabled runner.

Tecnalia has eliminated this problem with a system capable of automatically distinguishing between the starting signal and a false start, the latter signalled by two consecutive shots, and telling the athlete by means of visual signals. This device aims to minimise the athlete's start time, and thus contribute to improving their competition times and achieve the minimum standards demanded in world championships and, thereby, in the Paralympic Games.

The principal innovation of the system is its capacity to have the disabled athlete perceives the sound of the starting signal at the same time as the rest of the athletes do through hearing. It involves a device with lights placed at the starting line; in front of the athlete and which the athlete's own trainer triggers using wireless technology. In this way, when the start judge announces the start with "on your marks," the coach activates a red light; and when she or he says "get ready," the light goes yellow; and finally, the system automatically perceives the sound of the start signal and the light turns green.

This device was used for the first time on  June 11 at the Meeting in Basauri (in the Basque province of Bizkaia).

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Elhuyar Fundazioa. "Starting signal for athletes with sensory disability." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2011. <>.
Elhuyar Fundazioa. (2011, June 15). Starting signal for athletes with sensory disability. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 30, 2017 from
Elhuyar Fundazioa. "Starting signal for athletes with sensory disability." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 30, 2017).