SwimAR Design Journey

Idea to product

Quick update from Mark, one of the Imagination Factory designers of SwimAR, on the progress with SwimAR. We are pool testing with coaches, swimmers and triathletes this month (February).  

How did we move from flash of inspiration to our final designs ready for manufacture? We've put together a whistle stop tour of the SwimAR design journey.

The inspiration for SwimAR originally came whilst co-founder of The Imagination Factory, Julian Swan, was training for a triathlon in 2010. Frustrated by the lack of real-time data while swimming compared with the track or bike, he started to develop ideas to solve his problem. 

Tech Underwater

Finding an appropriate technology to present data in a swimmer’s field of view without obscuring vision was the first challenge. Two options we investigated were projectors and miniature displays:

• projecting the information on to the pool floor using miniature LCD projectors, like those in digital projection clocks and key rings
• using a miniature display like Google Glass

The projector technologies were not powerful enough to display clearly underwater, nor reliable enough in different depths of pool, different lighting conditions or usable in open water. Miniature displays required re-focusing and partially obstructed the field of view.

Sony arrives on the scene

In 2016 at the Wearable Technology Show we were introduced to the Sony SmartEyeGlass, which used holographic waveguides to create a bright, clear display without any obstruction and realised we had found our technology solution.

With a feasible technology found, we moved on to thinking about how the module could be attached to a pair of goggles in a way that was comfortable, waterproof and secure whilst swimming. 

We made a few block models in our workshop and tested them in the pool (yes we got some funny looks). They were evaluated for their security on the goggles and the ease of attaching and removing them.

Making a model

Next, we had to look at designs that could accommodate the Sony display unit and all the other electronics needed.

By 2016, The Imagination Factory had its own 3D printer and many more iterations of the SwimAR block model could be printed inhouse, in response to tester’s feedback. We were aiming for it to be as low profile and comfortable as possible. 

Block testing

We recruited more swimmers and printed models for them to test them in the pool (more strange looks and questions). This time they were evaluated for their appearance on the face (it looked bulky), comfort on the goggles (it rubbed the nose on some) and whether they caused any noticeable drag (surprisingly it didn’t).

More block model testing

Five personalised, models were printed for our early testers Johan Sundqvist, open water swimmer (above right in Tanzania), Nici Cahusac, triathlete (above centre, Guildford), Olya Veramchuk, triathlete in New York, Spencer Williams, under 18 swimmer (above left, London) and Peter Stewart, triathlete in London.

These models were tested in a the full range of training scenarios and from these amazing people we learnt so much more to make SwimAR as comfortable and unobtrusive to the swimming stroke as possible.

Showcased at exhibitions

From what we learnt about hydrodynamics and visibility through the viewing window, we went away and sketched visual designs and branding concepts for SwimAR. This work refined the form of the eyepiece and resulted in the blue and white visual model that we exhibited at Innovate UK 2017. This model also starred in our first promo video.

Sharing ideas for the display with swimmers

Alongside 3D design, we also needed to look at different ways to display the real-time data, so we quizzed swimmers, coaches and triathletes to find out what was most important to them.

We wanted to be certain it was easy to read and unobtrusive during training. Prior to any coding and programming, we showed these ideas to swimmers as paper prototypes, walking them through the set-up process. 

Testing the display on dry land

Late in the summer of 2017, we took some of what we developed through the paper prototyping and implemented it, using a Raspberry Pi developer kit. We built a basic version of the software that displays the data. This software and 3D printed housings, made in our ‘fab lab’, became the dry-land test rig that we displayed at InnovateUK 2017 (below). 

As you can see from these happy faces, the swimming and triathlon visitors to our stand at the show were impressed with the clarity of the screen and the difference this could make to so many swimmers in training. This was a big breakthrough for us too.


The success of this first electronic prototype meant we were only one step away from getting this version of SwimAR on the goggles of testers in the pool – it just needed waterproofing! 

After weeks of trying different materials to seal the unit and dunking in buckets of water, we arrived at a watertight solution.

Pool testing

Swimmers and coaches were excited to test out SwimAR for themselves so we scheduled pool testing around London. We wanted to know, from unbiased testers, if SwimAR lived up to our expectations for athletes in training mode. But first the inventor, Julian Swan gets to try it out for the first time (video, right).


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