When ANU engineering honours student Tess Henman got a placement at the AIS, she thought she’d be “tagging along”. Instead, the 22-year-old has been working on a project that could help change the game for Australia’s wheelchair athletes and aspiring Paralympians.
In National Careers Week, May 17-23, Tess also represents the future of Australian sports engineering and an AIS commitment to increase professional development opportunities for women in sport.
“Sport’s made up a huge part of my life, and obviously I’m studying engineering. So sports engineering has always been a dream to combine those two passions,” Tess, from Canberra, says.
“In my class at ANU, there’s probably about 80 percent males to 20 percent females. So it’s really important to have females doing things like this to inspire the younger ones to study not only engineering but other STEM-related courses.”
Tess’ project at the AIS is creating a parametric model for wheelchair racing gloves. Using key hand measurements and 3D printing technology, it aims to give aspiring young athletes greater access to customised race gloves, which are usually reserved for the world’s elite Paralympians.
“The idea is that you’ll be able to put in some key hand measurements from the athlete, the model will automatically regenerate, get sent to the 3D printer, and then you’ll be able to ship a perfectly customised pair of gloves out to the athlete,” Tess says.
“This just gives those younger athletes that same customisation that the elite athletes sort of have access to, which is awesome, especially if they’re transitioning from soft racing gloves for the first time.
“It’s definitely rewarding knowing that young athletes could be using the products that I’m designing and that could help them in the sport, make it more enjoyable for them. Make them, race better.”
AIS-based Paralympian Jake Lappin said it was a great project to support emerging wheelchair racers.
“Race gloves are second to the chair the most important part,” Lappin says. “The gloves are essentially your shoes they’re what you’re running with really.
“Every able-bodied kid can just buy shoes and run. It’s a bit harder to get the right gloves. And I think that’ll be a huge benefit for the kids getting into sport and feeling a little better within their own bodies.”
Tess says its has been an incredible learning opportunity working with the AIS Applied Technology and Innovation team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
“When I got the placement here at the AIS, I thought I’d just be tagging along with the other engineers and having a look at what they’re doing and giving a bit of a helping hand where I could. But I was actually given my own project, which was awesome.”
“t’s just been amazing watching what the sports engineers do, especially the lead up to Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, and just the way that they can improve the performance of athletes and make them more confident in the discipline across the board. It’s pretty inspiring.”