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The University of Southampton
nC2 An Enterprise Consultancy Unit

Friction testing on ice

Published: 30 January 2017
skeleton bob

Dr Nicola Symonds and PhD student Miss Agata Tomaszewska travelled to Austria to use a large ice testing tribometer.

Bob skeleton is a Winter Olympic sport, in which an athlete slides head first down an icy track reaching speeds up to 40 m/s. The race times of the top five athletes in international competitions often vary by less than one second. The two metal runners are the only part of the sled in contact with the ice during sliding. The runners are manufactured from a specific grade of steel, supplied and monitored by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. Many runner designs are currently available on the market, and their selection depends on environmental conditions and the abilities of the athlete. The friction between the runners and ice corresponds to around 40% of the total energy loss during a descent. Therefore, a small modification to the runner design or its setup can have a significant effect on the performance of the athlete. Currently, there is a limited source of experimental data regarding the friction of bob skeleton runners (or even steel) on ice at high sliding speeds. The effects of sliding speed and load on the coefficient of friction have been measured using a novel, full scale linear tribometer. Better understanding of the runner/ice friction at high speeds will enable legal modifications to the runner design and improve runner race setup enhancing the overall sport performance.

The testing took place at the Technologiezentrum Ski- Alpinsport GmbH in Innsbruck, Austria, where they have a long indoor track which may be filled with ice or snow. The rig allows samples to slid under load and speed against ice in a temperature and humidity control environment.  Nicola and Agata spent three days at the state of the art facilities recording coefficient of friction data – and enjoying some very nice restaurants in the area.

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