Chris Anderson and Rod Newhouse, both seniors in aeronautics and astronautics, are doing some in-line skating "road work" as they try to figure how to maximize the transfer of energy from the foot to the surface below.
The instrumentation fitted to the skates, running to each wheel separately, is wired to a laptop computer Mr. Anderson carries in a backpack as he skates. They are testing different wheels on asphalt and concrete and looking at how road surface and wheel hardness (some have plastic cores, some metal) affect rolling resistance.
There is an optical sensor on the front wheel of the wired skate and thermocouples mounted in the axle bolts to measure the temperature at the bearings. After Mr. Anderson has done some skating and heated the wheels, Mr. Newhouse shoots the skates with an infrared camera to see where energy is lost.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 20, 1996.