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Last Updated: Friday, 25 June, 2004, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Martial arts lands wireless blow
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Competitors in Tae Kwon Do tournament
Competitors try to land body blows to gain points
One of the most popular martial arts in the world is being brought into the 21st century using wireless technology.

Scientists at the Palo Alto Research Center in California have developed a system to measure the force of blows in the Korean sport of Tae Kwon Do.

It works by using wireless sensors in the gear worn by competitors.

"The fact it can work with the scoring system to improve a judge's performance is what we consider to be the novel aspect," said Dr Ed Chi.

Apply force

Tae Kwon Do is one of the most popular martial arts, officially practiced in 120 countries by more than 20 million people. It has its origins in the martial arts practised in Korea more than 2,000 years ago.

Competitors earn points for landing blows to a scoring region of an opponent.

Dr Ed Chi
The reality is that various kinds of technology have been introduced in a wide variety of sports and their degree of adoption can be controversial
Dr Ed Chi, Palo Alto Research Center
Traditionally this has been left up to three judges, who decide whether a blow was accurate and powerful enough to count as a point.

The team at the Palo Alto Research Center (Parc) in California have taken computing technology and adapted it to this ancient sport.

They have created a body protector, called a hogu, implanted with wireless pressure sensors using piezoelectric materials.

The piezoelectric sensors convert the force of a blow into an electrical signal which is transmitted to a laptop base station.

The hi-tech hogu is due to go on sale at the end of the year and is expected to cost about the same as a normal one.

Changing sports

The team have shown off the system in regional matches in the US, but have yet to demonstrate it at an international tournament.

"The system functions as an additional judge, rather than replacing them," Dr Chi told BBC News Online, although he could foresee potential problems.

Sparring World Cup women's team sabre Grand Prix of Fencing
The fencing world did not take to the wireless sensors
"Currently there is an inherent bias against punches as a scoring implement as most judges do not believe that punches deliver the same amount of force as a kick."

"With our system, we are able to establish how much force the punch was able to deliver and this could provoke controversy among judges if the punch was not scored."

The system could also be used for other martial arts or contact sports such as boxing.

But having technology accepted in a traditional sport like fencing have proved difficult.

The Parc team looked into adapting the wireless sensors for fencing, so that players would not have to be physically tethered.

"We were hoping that a wireless system would bring about a revolution to fencing," explained Dr Chi, who is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

"But we discovered that the fencing world would have to change its rules if it wanted to use new technology."

"The reality is that various kinds of technology have been introduced in a wide variety of sports and their degree of adoption can be controversial."

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