New “smart saddle” has tech to improve horse riding skills

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The triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) on the saddle convert mechanical stimuli, such as pressure, touch or motion, into electrical signals.
The triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) on the saddle convert mechanical stimuli, such as pressure, touch or motion, into electrical signals. (Yutao, Jing et al)

A Chinese company has developed a “smart saddle” to help horse riders improve their biomechanics, and it can also transmit a wireless signal when a rider takes a fall, allowing an injured rider to be quickly found.

Researchers say that the self-powered smart saddle, which has a response time of 16 milliseconds, could someday provide real-time statistical data and fall detection to equestrians and their coaches.

Good riding requires balance and subtle cues to the horse, many of which are given through the rider’s posture, seat and legs. Skilled equestrians make advanced riding maneuvers look effortless. But less skilled riders can be a burden on their mounts. The smart saddle can reveal changes in the position of the rider, such as leaning forward or leaning backward.

Big data collection and analysis are becoming important components of many competitive sports because they provide real-time information on athletes’ performance and fitness.

But most systems are battery-powered, often making them bulky and inflexible. In contrast, small, lightweight triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), which convert mechanical energy into electricity, are being tested for a variety of applications, from harvesting the energy of ocean waves to charging cell phones through walking.

In addition to powering themselves, TENGs can convert mechanical stimuli, such as pressure, touch or motion, into electrical signals.

Ding Nan, Baodong Chen, Zhong Lin Wang and colleagues wanted to adapt TENGs to a smart saddle for challenging and potentially dangerous equestrian sports.

Researchers have developed a prototype 'smart saddle' that could help equestrians improve their biomechanics.
Researchers have developed a prototype ‘smart saddle’ that could help equestrians improve their biomechanics.

They made a thin, flexible, disk-shaped TENG that flattens when depressed and then rebounds when the pressure is removed. Under pressure, the internal layers of the TENG compress, transferring electrons from one electrode to another and generating a current, which stops when the pressure is released.

The team placed an array of seven TENGs on the top surface of a saddle so they could detect differences in pressure in various regions of the seat. Electrical signals from the array revealed whether a rider was posting, leaning forward, sitting in an upright position or leaning backward.

The research team had funding from the Natural Science Foundation of Beijing Municipality, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Key R&D Project from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission, the Inner Mongolia scientific and technological achievements transformation project and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region major science and technology program.

Yutao Hao, Jing Wen, Xiaobo Gao, Ding Nan, Juan Pan, Yuhan Yang, Baodong Chen, Zhong Lin Wang. Self-Rebound Cambered Triboelectric Nanogenerator Array for Self-Powered Sensing in Kinematic Analytics. ACS Nano, 2022; 16 (1): 1271 DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.1c09096

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