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Camera system designed in Peterborough to prevent rowing collisions

Union Leader Correspondent

December 16. 2012 6:18PM
The Hyndsight Vision Systems monitor mounted on a competitive rowing boat. COURTESY 

PETERBOROUGH - Melissa A. Thompson, who came to the pastime of rowing four years ago, is on the verge of modernizing the safety of the sport with new technology she developed.

Thompson is CEO of Hyndsight Vision Systems camera and monitor system for competitive rowing.

"The improved vision offered by the Hyndsight Systems provides a significant advance in safety. It really provides them with a tool that has never been available before," Thompson said. "If you are not a rower yourself you may think this is not such a big deal, but ask any rower out there and they will have the same reaction of 'OMG this is so badly needed. What took so long.'"

A year after Thompson started Hyndsight Vision Systems the Referee Committee of the United States Rowing Association at its annual convention Nov. 29 in Oklahoma City, Okla., reviewed and voted to approve the new Hyndsight Vision Systems camera and monitor for use in rowing competition.

"Nothing else has ever existed on the market. It's quite cutting edge and been extremely well received by the rowing community," she said.

The U.S. Rowing Association is recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the national governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. Its Referee Program and Referee Committee oversee the entire corps of national rowing referees providing recruitment, training, administration and management as well as maintaining and updating the U.S. Rules of Rowing.

John Wik, director of referee programs of the U.S. Rowing Association, said the Hyndsight camera system provides the rower with improved vision in front of the racing shell and has the ability to significantly improve the athlete's safety both at practice and at regattas.

"To my knowledge there has not been a forward-looking camera that has been dedicated to the rowing community," Wik said. "This is the first camera the committee has approved."

Cameras have been used by professional athletes and coaches in the past to record rowing performance to be reviewed afterward, Wik said.

"It was more of a filming of the athlete or the progress of the boat," Wik said. "This is a device that improves the vision of the athlete. . Rowers row backyards and the concern is that you always have to turn your head around to see backyards."

The Referee Committee looked very closely at the new technology to ensure that it didn't give rowing crews that have the new device an unfair advantage over crews that do not have it, Wik said.

After review the committee found it would significantly improve safety for crews, without necessarily adding a competitive advantage to the athlete or crew, Wik said.

"If there had been a competitive advantage the Referee Committee would have looked at it differently," he said. "The only thing I see it doing is adding this added level of safety."

The rules the committee sets apply to both the elite and professional athletes as well as to the less experienced high school and college novice athletes, he said.

So while a professional athlete may have the experience that increases their safety when rowing, allowing the Hyndsight camera for use in competition could have a bigger impact for the safety of the nonprofessional and novice rowers, he said.

Thompson, a 58-year-old Peterborough resident, was hit with the idea of using a camera and monitor for a rowers vision while working as a volunteer on a rescue boat at Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, Mass., in Oct. 2011.

"I was unemployed at the time and I didn't have anything else to do and I said 'I'm going to do this.'"

She has been volunteering at the Regatta for the past four years as a safety launch driver, getting rescue workers and EMTs to capsized boats in the Regatta and was struck with how the right technology could save rowers from these collisions and injuries.

"Rowing is the only sport where a competitor crosses the finish line going backwards," Thompson said. "Collisions have resulted in both injury and death in this increasingly popular sport."

The Regatta includes more than 2,000 boats and more than 9,000 rowers, she said.

It's easy for rowers to collide with other boats, capsize and need rescuing and medical attention, she said. "The number of collisions and accidents that occur in the water are quite significant. .The Hyndsight System provides the rower with a clear field of vision much like a back-up camera for your car."

But it's more than a simple camera and monitor, she said.

Many have thought of the idea before Thompson, but she is the first to actually take the steps to develop it, she said.

Among other traits of the patent pending Hyndsight Vision camera it is wireless and waterproof. The system also provides an encrypted Wi-Fi interface so multiple units can be on the water at the same time without interference.

"The development of the camera and monitor is much more complex than that of a car back-up system because of the glare off the water and the need to have accurate depth of field," Thompson said.

While even professional rowers struggle with the vision issues, the cameras and monitors will be especially helpful to rowers with limited movement, such as the elderly and handicapped.

In a short amount of time the company has come a long way, Thompson said.

The company already has 200 orders and distribution deals signed and pending in countries around the world.

"We also got a contract with the company Fluidesign. They make the Mercedes Benz's of boats and equipment," she said. "It's just unbelievable the positive response we are getting."

Hyndsight is currently taking bids from manufactures around the country, Thompson said. "We've got a product that is pretty much ready to go to market."

The camera and monitors will be made in the America, she said.

Thompson plans to keep company headquarters in her town of Peterborough, which would eventually create about 15 jobs in town, she said.

Rowing is traditionally known as an Ivy League sport, but its popularity has increased 33 percent over last two years, she said.

People who have enjoyed kayaking for years have discovered the sport, how much fun it is and what a better workout it is, she said.

"I am absolutely passionate about this sport. It's hard to describe. It's like ballet on water. It's just a very magical sport when it's done right," she said.

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