BY JACK PARKINSON
Canada’s national sport is hockey to most, and lacrosse to the government. But if recent advances in the science of curling are any indication, the slippery sport may be much more prominent in the coming years.
The existence of a new “smart broom,” developed by Conestoga students Brandon Davies and Aaron Schryver in conjunction with their coach Glenn Paulley, demonstrates that curling has a lot more depth than most people think.
The idea for a curling broom that provides feedback to the brusher had been discussed by the Wilfrid Laurier University curling team for about two years, Paulley said, before he took the idea to his students at Conestoga in early 2013. Davies and Schryver liked the idea and decided to use it for their capstone projects in their software engineering technology program.
The students worked on the broom, and even enrolled it in a local engineering competition called the 4 by 4 Challenge. The Challenge is a four-day event that takes place over the spring break. Competitors are given those four days to make something from scratch, and their creations are then judged by a panel.
By the end of the four days Davies and Schryver had a functional curling broom that, using an accelerometer, could measure the stroke rate of the brusher and upload that data in real time to a smartphone. This data is converted into a graph, which a savvy coach can use to gauge a brusher’s performance.
It might not sound like much, but that broom took first place at the 4 by 4 Challenge. Paulley said despite the broom’s seemingly humble capabilities, it is breaking ground in curling.
“The difference a brusher makes to a stone can be up to eight feet,” he said. Traditionally in curling brushing has not received much attention because of the lack of feedback to both the athlete and the coach.
“It’s extremely difficult to tell, watching a person, if they are doing a good job.”
After the competition Davies and Schryver continued working on the brush, and were invited to the Canadian Polytechnic Show and Conference in Calgary. The show is similar to the 4 by 4 Challenge but pits 30 universities and colleges from across Canada against each other. The two students and Paulley went to Calgary to compete. Paulley said the team learned a lot about design and construction, even if they did not place.
Since then, Schryver graduated from his program in late 2013 and decided not to continue working on the broom. Davies has continued and has equipped it with a pressure sensor, but that feature is only at the proof of concept stage.
Paulley said a market does exist for the broom and other technology like it. According to an article in the Waterloo Region Record in February 2013, the broom was received positively by local coaches and players. Curling is a slow-paced sport, but not one against progress.
“It’s a game-changer,” Paulley said.
There are many factors that affect brushing when a stone is pushed down the ice – frost on the ice’s surface, the work of the other brusher, the rotation of the stone and the stone’s area of contact with the ice, just to name a few. Smart brushes give coaches and athletes a new way to approach curling, and allows them to put numbers to the sport.
The curlers Paulley coaches at Wilfrid Laurier University, for instance, use a combination of the broom data and slow motion video to determine exactly what stroke a brusher got wrong or right. Something as small as bad footwork or posture can have a huge effect.
There are already commercial brooms that provide feedback on the market, though the price point is a bit steep. The PT2 Smart Broom, used by the WLU team and made by Waterloo-based Canadian Curling Tools Ltd., retails for $3,000. That broom measures the force of a stroke and displays the information on a small screen attached to the handle.
The price could drop as technology becomes more accessible. It is important to remember that data like this was, just a few years ago, available only to Olympic-level athletes. By 2018, smart brooms could be as easy to get as a pedometer or heart monitor.