A swimming pool lane divider which absorbs the waves churned up by swimmers has been judged the winning entry in a prestigious competition.
By Jacqueline Ali
BBC News Online
Padraig Murphy's Space Saving Lane Divider was unanimously voted as winner of the annual £10,000 Student Design Engineer awards.
The separator has a unique flexibility which enables it to absorb waves at a variety of different angles.
It could be an effective aid for swimmers training for future Olympics.
Swimming lane dividers are not just designed to prevent wayward swimmers from bumping into one another.
By absorbing the "rough water" churned up by the motions of swimming, they enable a more efficient swim.
Those found in many British pools are far from perfect.
Comprising a series of plastic balls that rotate on their axis, these heavy contraptions are awkward to both set up and remove after use.
They must be wound on to heavy steel drums after each use - a strenuous and time-consuming process for the lifeguards involved.
The drums themselves are expensive, and take up lots of space.
It was Mr Murphy's sister, herself a lifeguard, who brought these shortcomings to his attention - and inspired him to think about an alternative.
The design fell into place after a series of conversations he had with lifeguards, professional swimmers and pool managers.
"Its function is to absorb wave energy as it moves between lanes," Mr Murphy told BBC News Online. "But I wanted it to have an elastically deformable structure - so it is easy to use and recover."
The separator is composed of what Padraig calls "living hinges" - small, flexible sections of plastic, comparable to the strips that attach toothpaste or shampoo lids to their containers.
The result is a lane separator with a unique ability to expand and contract longitudinally.
This feature allows for absorption of a greater number of waves of different angles.
From its 25m length, the separator can be compressed to 3m.
Comprised entirely of polypropylene, the material is environmentally sustainable too.
The overall result: maximum efficiency with minumum effort.
The 'wow factor'
The competition was sponsored by the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB), as part of their Engineering in the Olympics campaign.
Judge Alan Clark, chief executive of the ETB, said the standard of entries in the competition had been extremely high, but that Mr Murphy's entry really had the "wow factor".
"First and foremost, we were impressed by its simplicity," Mr Clark told BBC News Online. "It was so obvious - that's what made it so exciting. We all wished we had thought of it."
Other shortlisted entries included a false start machine, a climbing hook and a blood sugar monitor.
Padraig hopes his design will one day assist competitive swimmers in their training.
He intends to develop the prototype of his design in the near future.
No doubt music to the ears of the competition judges.
"Engineering is the backbone of sport," said Mr Clark. "To all of the entrants in the competition, we have just one message - don't stop now."
The competition was organised by Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).