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Fly fishing and golf devices, other inventions recognized by Tech Transfer

Every time Noel Perkins went fly fishing, he knew there was room for improvement. Something about the subtle motion of casting the rod wasn’t working quite right, so he decided to find out why.

Perkins, a mechanical engineering professor, thought he could use his professional skills to improve one of his favorite hobbies. He set out a couple of years ago to create a computer program that would simulate the motion when casting with a fly rod. Along the way, he came up with a device that could attach to the rod and measure its motion.

That device became an invention that Perkins hopes will affect sports ranging from fly fishing to golf, baseball and tennis.

“It actually started as kind of a fluke,” says Perkins, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “It was purely out of a selfish interest. I wanted to be much better at fly casting than I was.”

Prof. Noel Perkins practices his golf swing in the name of science. He has developed devices that measure the motion of a golf swing and the casting of a fly rod. His inventions and others are being honored by the Tech Transfer office at an event Friday. (Photos by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

His casting motion has improved significantly because of the device, and due to advice from renowned fly casting instructor Bruce Richards, who designs flyline for 3M’s Scientific Anglers division. He and Richards have worked to uncover how the device can be used to teach people to fly cast.

Perkins’ invention, along with several others, will be recognized at an invitation-only event Friday presented by the University’s Tech Transfer office. Perkins and others will demonstrate their creations, and nearly 500 people who have had invention disclosures, license agreements or patents in the past year will be honored.

“Our annual Inventor’s Reception will showcase the breadth and depth of invention at the University,” says Ken Nisbet, executive director of Tech Transfer. “We want to honor our inventors from this past year and encourage other inventors to continue our proud heritage of world-changing discoveries and tech transfer.”

In general, the goal of the office is to promote faculty inventions and find licensing agreements for those products, says marketing manager Mark Maynard. “We’re trying to get the benefits of U-M’s work out into the world,” he says.

Perkins and Tech Transfer filed a U.S. patent and are working to market the invention to companies. The device uses micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology, which is used in many other fields, including the measurement of vehicle motion in the automobile industry.

Detailed view of golf club electronics.

The heart of the fly casting device is a MEMS rate gyro, which measures how fast the fly fisher is rotating the flyrod while casting. A signal passes through an analog-to-digital converter, and information is displayed on a handheld personal computer.

The results of the test are displayed in a graph that looks like an EKG. In Perkins’ case, he learned that he was allowing the rod to creep when it should be still.

“I was doing something that was very easy to spot,” he says. “I don’t do that anymore.”

The device could help in a variety of sports, Perkins says. The fly-fishing device is the most advanced, but he also is working on a similar application for golf.

“The primary use of these devices will be for teaching athletes how to improve their game,” Perkins says. “They might also be useful to sports equipment designers who want to assess the merits and demerits of competing designs.”

The annual Inventor’s Reception will be at 4 p.m. Friday Oct. 11 in the Michigan League. Invitations were mailed to all inventors who contributed to a disclosure, a patent or a license agreement in fiscal year 2002, as well as guests from the community. To RSVP or inquire about the event, contact or the Office of Technology Transfer at (734) 763-0614.

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