For elite cross-country skiers, the search for championship skis is a serious, scientific pursuit. Now, with personalised skis embedded with a microchip, information about the optimal wax zone is at the fingertips of any skier equipped with a smartphone and a simple app.
The Norwegian ski manufacturer Madshus has developed both the skis and the SmartSki app.
"Our vision is 'Gold medal skis for all'. Top athletes have large support teams to test and find the best skis. We want to give the average recreational skier the same possibilities," says Bjørn Ivar Austrem, Technical Director at Madshus and project manager of the gold medal ski project. Madshus has received considerable funding for its development efforts over the years under the Programme for User-driven Research-based Innovation (BIA) at the Research Council of Norway.
Individualisation is the key
"Although separate pairs of skis may appear identical, minute variations in production materials or processes can make them perform differently. The key to solving the gold medal ski challenge is to focus on the individual properties of each set of skis," says Mr Austrem. "We take detailed measurements for a wide range of weight differentials and store these details in a microchip embedded in the ski," he explains.
"This information is easy for shoppers looking for the right pair of skis to access. Then when you are ready to go skiing, you place your smartphone near the ski and use the SmartSki app to download the ski's data. Enter your height and weight to find exactly where to apply the grip wax," he continues. "If you are carrying a backpack, or a few extra kilos gained over the holidays, the app will help you to adjust the wax pocket accordingly."
The new SmartSki app also has built-in GPS functionality which makes it possible to log skiing activity, evaluate snow conditions and analyse training data.
Research for elite and recreational skiers alike
Madshus recently launched its "Madshus eMpower™" concept internationally. The first microchip-embedded skis will be commercially available in autumn 2014.
"We anticipate that elite and recreational skiers alike will use this new tool," Mr Austrem says, adding that embedded microchips are completely new in the ski manufacturing industry. He appreciates the support Madshus has received from the Research Council. "The research we have carried out in our BIA-funded projects has been critical to launching this concept," he states.
Improving the sales process
"The new app will also enable salespeople to match skis to customers more quickly and accurately. Buying skis today can be a long, drawn-out process: the skis' rigidity must be measured and the wax pockets manually marked on each individual ski."
"This information will now follow a set of skis throughout its lifetime. Retailers can download the data for each pair received and easily view the properties of the skis and the type of customer they are suited for. Our solution only requires salespeople to enter a customer's physical details into their system to determine whether suitable skis are in stock or available for order. This is also a big advantage for personnel with limited knowledge about skis," Mr Austrem points out.
The Research Council has been funding research projects at Madshus since 1996. The manufacturer carried out the BIA project "Intelligent skis -- smart factories " from 2006 to 2010. In 2011, it started a new project "Innovative services, product expansion and personalisation in the sport industry " with funding from the programme.
Support has also been obtained from the Research Council's SkatteFUNN Tax Incentive Scheme. A dynamic competence network has also emerged along the way. Important partners include the independent research foundation SINTEF, the technology enterprise RFIDlab and the software development company Tordival AS.
"Creating individually tailored skis has been Madshus' vision since 2006. We have invested heavily in digitalising production and incorporating smart automation in order to arrive where we are today. We are now able to follow the product through the entire value chain -- from factory to warehouse, from warehouse to retailer and from retailer to end-customer," says Gunnar Bjertnæs, senior adviser and former Technical Director at Madshus.
The development of a microchip-embedded ski paves the way for a wide range of further innovation. Ideas on how to further develop the concept are stacking up, say the Madshus representatives.
Mr Bjertnæs stresses the importance of the binding commitment that accompanies participation in a Research Council-funded project. "It helps to keep activity moving forward and has given us the opportunity to find partners we would otherwise not have found. The funding has made it possible to think in more visionary terms and has given us the confidence to pursue some of our more ambitious ideas."
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