Although the Olympics is ostensibly about the athletes pitting themselves against each other sometimes the equipment they use can have an effect on results as well in sports where tenths of seconds and precise maneuverability count: this includes the bikes used in cycling, the swimsuits used in the pool and maybe most noticeably the horses ridden in the riding events.
In canoeing and kayaking most the athletes use fairly similar standard designed canoes or kayaks based on the best designs at the time and none will show up with a custom craft, except that the padding inside the canoe and kayak is often customized for the best fit.
This is where a 3D scanning service comes in then, at least for the Australians competing in the Canoe slalom and Kayak Slalom event. The event sees the canoeists paddle in a kneeling position, whereas kayaks are a slightly different design and the athletes are seated.
In a canoe especially the padding is where the contact between athlete and their craft occurs and if you watch the sport you will see that the craft looks like an extension of their bodies as they maneuver it with pinpoint accuracy along the falls and through slalom gates, sometimes forwards and sometimes turning to pass back through from down river.
Think then what would happen were an athletes knee to slip slightly: they may not get the turn of the canoe they want and could easily miss a gate or lose time. The more contact there is between the padding and the canoeist’s legs, both under and around them, the more control they have and the more force they can exert against the water knowing that.
Using a 3D scanning service the Australians are ensuring the perfect fit for their canoeists, and every time new padding is made. The Australian Institute of sport, tasked with about a dozen custom fit-outs as they are known, decided to use a 3D scanning service and bought in a Canadian, Sebastian Dubois, from the scanner company Creaform who turned up with the handheld and portable Revscan 3D scanner.
Each canoeists was fitted with markers and a digital model created of them in their favored paddling position after about an hour of scanning, a further two hours of using the 3D scanning service created a digital model of the canoe itself and the processed in Geomagic software before being moved to Solidworks CAD software where the models could be used to find the perfect design for the padding.
The padding could then be made to the exact dimensions originally measured using the 3D scanning service with no further fittings required with the athlete until the fit-out is finished and the padding installed in the canoe.
3D scanning services probably have a lot more potential within Olympic sports though and we are likely to see use of scanning and 3D printing across many more sports in Rio in 2016. Already ultra-light running shoes based on 3D scanning and printing are being developed and similar technology to that used by the Australian Institute of Sport could easily be used for saddles in cycling and riding and for bespoke seats in rowing too.