Water from the Sky

August 26, 2016

This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.

 

Hydrating an entire team during a game is a critical aspect of keeping players healthy and performing at their best. When students in the Design, Thinking, Engineering, and Innovation class at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego studied the issue earlier this year, they saw an opportunity to approach it in a new way.

“Everything is focused on hydrating the players on the sidelines,” says Matt Abbondanzio, MFA, Director of Design and Innovation at La Jolla. “However, through conversations with football players, for example, we discovered that there wasn’t enough time between downs for the athletes on the field to get to the sidelines, take a drink, and be back for the next play. As a result, they were running the biggest risk for dehydration. Athletes from other sports expressed similar concerns, so our goal was to figure out how to address this issue.”

The solution involved mounting a water bottle on a drone and attaching a clipped hose to it that players could drink from. Called the “Hydrone,” it was created last year by three students in Abbondanzio’s class who were working to improve team hydration through a partnership with CamelBak, an outdoor equipment company known for its hydration projects.

“We wanted to come up with a low-cost prototype that addressed the problems with team hydration,” Abbondanzio says. “The students suggested using a drone, and I realized they were on to something.”

The group purchased a basic drone from eBay and set about designing a way for it to deliver water. They created a custom mounting system and a unique water bottle that is vented at the bottom to allow air to enter it naturally. The clipped hose dangles down from the bottle, allowing gravity to push the water through the hose when the clip is opened. As a safety precaution, the hose detaches if it’s pulled too hard to prevent the drone from crashing onto an athlete’s head.

For now, the Hydrone can only provide water to one player at a time, and it’s controlled by a user on the sidelines. But Abbondanzio’s students haven’t given up on perfecting the project just because their class is over. Future goals include creating an automated system that allows players to call the drone to them using a device on their wrist and attaching multiple hoses to the water bottle so it can hydrate several players at once.

While still a prototype, the positive feedback the group has received indicates the current Hydrone design is an effective one. “We spoke to athletes from different sports throughout the design process, and many of them tested out the model we came up with,” Abbondanzio says. “The players said it took some time to get used to, but they thought it was a great idea.

“Any time you’re looking to innovate, the most important thing to do is think about the user’s needs,” he continues. “When we did that, we saw a gap in hydration strategy that needed to be filled. The Hydrone allows players on the field to quickly and easily get the fluids they need, and that’s something they couldn’t do before.”

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