Some thoughts and takeaways from #SAC16

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The 2016 Asia-Pacific Sports Analytics Conference took place recently at the NAB Village. Its only the second time this conference is held and I have to say it has done really well. The numbers prove it – 865 attendees (according to the Whova app), 33 sessions that ran concurrently in 3 different rooms, 45 Speakers (all experts in their fields) representing 57 organisations, and 12 startups that pitched their innovative ideas/products/services.  There was even a waitlist 2 weeks before the event. This goes to show the growing booming popularity of data analytics, and the potential impact it could have on the different aspects of sports.

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You know it’s a serious conference when it has its own coffee cup

Unfortunately, as with any great conference where there are sessions running at the same time, people would be torn between 2 (or possibly 3) presentations they are keen to attend. Fortunately, from what I heard, videos of all the sessions will be uploaded in a few weeks and we will be able to catch up with every single one that we missed. Just keep a lookout on the conference website here. In the meantime, here are some of my takeaways from the few sessions I managed to attend.

Smart equipment:

Professor Tino Fuss presented some of the research and development that was going on at RMIT including a smart cricket ball, a smart soccer boot and smart compression garment. With the advancement of inertia sensing microtechnology and novel pressure sensing technology, sensors can be placed unobtrusively on the athlete and equipment, measuring a range of parameters at much higher magnitudes. No doubt that the sensor data that’s acquired has to be analysed to solve a problem or confirm a hypothesis. That’s where analytics play an important role. But applying the appropriate sensor technology does open up opportunities to analyse new parameters like the sweet-spot on a soccer boot that increases the chance of a goal.

Wearable tech for rehab:

Shireen Mansoori is a doctor in physical therapy who applies wearable technology in her practice with elite athletes. She presented a model where she combined physiotherapy and data analytics for athlete optimisation. She uses Catapult units for monitoring an athlete’s Player Load & Hi Deceleration efforts to find trends that lead to injury. But she also uses other wearable tracking devices such as the Misfit shine on the athletes, health/wellness monitoring apps, and an athlete sleep screening questionnaire to monitor an athlete’s sleep and daily activities. Having other forms of data paints a much clearer picture of what an athlete is going through, and allows her to find out why the athlete is recovering faster or performing below expectations.

Video analysis & Artificial intelligence:

In cases where it is still obtrusive to place sensors on athletes (for example in swimming competitions); or where wearable sensors can’t provide specific activity/events information (for example attack, pass or steal events in hockey), sports analysts turn to video analysis/coding. However, much of the video analysis work involves a sports scientist (or two) manually tagging/coding every event during the competition. Stuart Morgan, sports analyst at AIS, talked about developing computer vision algorithms to  detect patterns and features and somehow automate the tagging. But this approach (human engineered method) has lots of limitations including it being non-transferrable and not very adaptable (for use in different sports). So AIS is collaborating with researchers at La Trobe Uni to apply deep learning (using Convolutional Neural Networks) to process the video images and work out whats happening. The advantage of deep learning is that it’s adaptable and it automatically creates new features. It still has some way to go as it’s not error free and users can’t really tell what logic led to the decisions.

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Stuart Morgan talking about AI in sports analytics

From elite to grassroots:

Most of the stuff mentioned above happens in the professional/elite athlete space. However there is also an increased trend of sports tech/analytics companies developing products for athletes and coaches who participate in their local leagues. Hudl‘s video analysis software was first developed for professional teams. But today, their software caters to high school teams and their requirements. They have developed mobile apps that allows video recording and editing directly from the coaches’ mobile device, and there’s even a platform for sharing videos and facilitating talent identification.

Athlete tracking wearables have also moved in the same direction. Startup companies like Essential GPS and Sports Performance Tracking have developed more affordable tracking solutions so that teams with lower budgets can also track and monitor their players. Although it seems to be purely GPS data (without motion data), and only post game/training analysis (not real-time), it is still a good start. Or maybe a simplified, cost reduced system is all that is required?

From the startup community:

So there were 12 startups showcased in the conference. Other than the 2 mentioned above, there were 4 other startups that have built hardware in areas of performance tracking, drone racing, rehabilitation, and custom protective gear. The others were mainly software based, providing services and platforms in media, news, sales, marketing, VR and team management. They have all developed solutions hoping to fill a gap identified in the sports industry. Personally I am just amazed at some of the novelty and innovation they have come up with; and as this blog post says it, they are all innovators.

Bottom line:

I think what sums up this conference for me is that sports analytics is all about adapting and innovating. Everyone in their own ways are trying to fix a problem (or come up with a better solution) or improve work flow or even create new opportunities (e.g. esports and fantasy league). But the process is never a straight line from point A to B. The solutions need to be adapting over and over (almost like deep learning). Sometimes there needs to be collaborations and sometimes the end solution needs to be a combination of solutions. Whichever the case, iterate the process as quickly as possible till an optimum outcome is reached.

The”one-size-fits-all” solution doesn’t work very well anymore and mass customisation is becoming the norm. As mentioned by John Eren MP and Laura Anderson during their welcome addresses, we are slowly moving away from economies of scale and towards economies of scope.

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Group photo after welcome address. From John Eren Mp’s facebook page (link)

Anyway, congrats again to PSCL and KPMG for another successful event and thanks for reading!

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Versus Fitness: Developing A Smart Gym

VersusOver a year ago, I wrote a post about developing with the Kinect and how I was working on a project that revolved around it. Fast forward to today, the project is now an officially launched gym that is also known as Versus Fitness.

What is Versus Fitness?

Versus is a system that has gamified fitness. By utilising different sensors and technologies, it is able to measure 3D motion, pressure, force, acceleration and power output of over 200 different gym exercises (and counting). With each proper repetition (or rep) that is executed, the user not only gets the rep counted by the system, a score is given based on the above measured parameters, and the score is scaled based on the user’s weight and height. In that way, 2 people of different weight and height doing the same workout can compete against each other on almost equal terms (Hence the name Versus). In case the term “wearable technology” comes to mind, no, there is nothing that the users need to wear to get their exercise tracked (maybe except a heart rate monitor, but that is purely optional). Just check out the video below.

How I got involved?

I started working on the Versus Fitness gym since late 2013 and it was purely by coincidence. Someone who knew Brad Bond (the founder of Versus Fitness) was at the RMIT Sports Engineering Lab on one of those Uni open days and he saw a novel sensor technology that would suit Versus. After a series of meetings and discussions, a research contract was set up to further develop that technology for Versus. This was partly funded by the Victorian Technology Development Voucher. At the same time, they were also looking for an additional team member to work on motion tracking algorithms. That’s where I came into the picture. Long story short I was offered a contract role on the Versus project which was partly funded by the Enterprise Connect – Researchers in Business grant (this has been replaced by the Entrepreneurs Infrastructure Programme). Kudos to Aaron Belbasis who was a key connector/initiator who brought everyone together and who was also one of the key researcher who helped develop the novel sensor tech. There’s a bit more details about the RMIT-Versus collaboration here.

What Tech are we talking about here?

One of the sensor technologies came from the research collaboration mentioned earlier. The team at RMIT calls it a “sensor-less sensing platform”. The closest thing would be Force Sensitive Resistors (FSR) like the ones from Tekscan. If you had a proper look at the video above, you will see the “sensor-less sensing platform” used in the floor exercises and some of the running exercises. Basically its a sensor that measures pressure.

There are other sensors that were developed or customised for tracking motion and a number of them are available off the shelf or at least purchasable online. In fact some of the sensors (like load cells and accelerometers) are similar ones typically used in the manufacturing, or automotive industry. A lot of custom fittings, enclosures and mechanisms were designed for the sensors before they could be installed in the gym. Majority of the design were done in-house and prototyped with the help of a MakerBot replicator.

But what really made the sensors (tracking system) worked effectively are the smart algorithms that processes all the sensor data and accurately identifies when each person is performing the exercise properly and evaluates how well he/she has done it. Initially when designing the algorithms for tracking each type of exercise, it all seemed pretty straightforward; but as things progressed, it turned out there were quite a few more considerations – e.g. filtering out “incorrect” movement data that resembled an actual rep, or profiling movement data from users of different abilities (or fitness level) etc.

Perception & Reality

Another important part of the system is the “gaming interface” or the “gaming control centre”. It is the personal trainer’s assistant. It relays to the users what exercises to do, records their performance, stores the performance data in a database, reminds the user how well they did previously (their Personal Best), manages the equipment (to some extent), and ensures that every exercise station is in sync so that the workout runs smoothly. That allows trainers to focus on one of the things they do best: scream at motivate people.

So with the combination of the sensors, smart algorithms and the gaming interface, this means: real-time tracking, with feedback of the users’ performance (score) or technique delivered right after each completed rep, and an overall quantified workout so users know how well they fare compared to their previous workouts (and with other users).

Future Developments?

The very first Versus Fitness gym is based in Moorabbin and that has seven different exercise stations (as seen in the video above). One could call that the full Versus experience. There are a number of possible developments in the pipeline. One is the development of new exercise stations to increase the type of exercises that can be tracked. Also, there are possible opportunities to customise the system for the elite or professional athletes, or even rehabilitation applications. Something that is definitely in the works is a “multi-station” concept – a single exercise station that has several sensor solutions allowing tracking of a few different types of exercises (e.g. dumbbell, kettlebell & floor exercises). This significantly reduces the footprint of the equipment and would suit small gym spaces. In fact this is currently on trial in a gym somewhere in Australia, and depending on how things go, you might start finding the VS logo in many more places!

Of Racing Suits and Aerodynamics

Wind Tunnel tests with custom designed mannequins and different Under Armour speed skating suit prototypes.

In many sports that involve high speed movements, drag or air resistance is probably one of their biggest enemy in achieving their peak performance. One winter sport that faces this challenge is speed skating, and turns out altitude plays a big part as well – the higher the skating venue is, the less air resistance there is (more about that in this article). Also the effect of drag on the skater’s speed and performance is pretty significant and the suit that the skaters wear could have an impact on the colour of the medal they get.

So just before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, there was a bit of news about the revolutionary speed skating suit designed and made by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin. The “Mach 39” was supposed to be the fastest speed skating suit ever made. Unfortunately, instead of delivering medals (gold ones for that matter), the result was the US athletes performed below expectations. Now, this could be due to the suit OR if we break it down, could be due to a thousand other reasons (on top of the suit)..

There was a bit of history to the design of the suit, and the basic idea was: just as dimples on golf balls reduced aerodynamic drag, adding dimples on the suit would have the same effect. Of course, other than the dimple design, there were other considerations like textile selection and compression fitting design. Just have a look at the video below that describes what the designers and researchers looked at to reduce friction and improve aerodynamics of the suit. What’s really interesting is how they customised the mannequins to typical skating positions for wind tunnel tests. (Drag to 4:00 of the video to just see the custom mannequins)

Although the rational behind the design and testing all seems to make sense, I can’t help but have a few questions:

a. With so much movements during speed skating, is it really possible to estimate the drag based on wind tunnel experiments? I mean, there are a number of sports that do drag tests in wind tunnels; like skiing and cycling. But these sports have moments of competing when the athlete maintains a certain position for a short period; and those are the moments where having an optimum position (aerodynamically) could really reduce drag significantly. But speed skaters hardly stay in one position during competition (maybe except at the starting line). Then if that’s the case, would the wind tunnel results be fully applicable on the track?

b. Friction plays 2 roles: it slows you down and it gives you more grip/control. If there is too much friction, it impedes movement; but if there is minimal or close to no friction, the athlete might lose control. How then, do we strike a balance between them?

c. Is it possible to measure drag dynamically on the track? Well, a company called Alphamantis seems to have done that, but with cycling, and in a velodrome fitted with gate sensors. Some additional input parameters they require include the bike’s wheel circumference and also inputs from standard power meters and speed/cadence sensors. With the power meters, there is a calibration process before the actual aerotesting where they apply a model to calculate drag. For more details of the testing, you can read ths interesting blogpost by DCrainmaker.

I reckon it is possible (in theory) to develop a model for speedskating (similar to what Alphamantis did for cycling) to estimate drag on the ice skating track. The model might be slightly similar to this one in wheelchair racing: when the speedskater is pushing off (and at equilibrium), there are 4 different forces applied on the speedskater: 1) Reaction force, 2) Inertia, 3) Friction between the ice and skates, and 4) Drag force.

  1. Reaction force (or applied force) can be measured by instrumenting the skates with a shoe sole pressure sensor similar to this or this.
  2. Inertia can be determined by measuring the forward acceleration of the skater (using an inertia sensor or a suit of sensors), then multiplying that by the overall mass of the skater.
  3. Friction can be calculate based on the coefficient of friction of ice which is different for straights and curves according to this paper.
  4. Finally, since the sum of all these forces equals to zero, we can determine the drag force!

Xsens Concept Tests in Speedskating

Of course this model is very much simplified and some assumptions are made, but if more thought is put into it, this might just work.

Anyway, going back to the lacklustre results of the Under Armour Mach 39 suit, there could be so many reasons why the athletes didn’t perform during those races. Since US speedskating has extended the contract with UA, they obviously know that the suit wasn’t the main culprit. It did sound like the athletes weren’t really used to the new suit, so maybe it’s just a matter of ‘breaking-in’ the suits.

Thanks for reading and if you have any thoughts or suggestions on aerodynamics or drag tests, do leave some comments!

(Also posted in SportsTechnologyBlog.com)

Developing with Kinect sensors for fitness and health

microsoft_kinect_sensorThe Kinect sensor has been widely used (hacked/developed/applied) by many ever since the Xbox 360 was first released. A couple of years ago, a fellow sports engineer from SHU studied the feasibility of using the Kinect sensor as a biomechanical analysis tool. He concluded that although the Kinect was fairly accurate, it wasn’t good enough for serious analysis (You can read more in his blog post here). The main advantage of the Kinect was (and still is) it’s price compared to professional motion sensors, and the Microsoft SDK which allows developers to come up with interesting applications (Check out various kinect hacks here).

I recently started working on a project that utilises the Kinect sensor. The project is basically developing a fitness product/system that combines the use of various sensors for assessing gym exercises. It is a rather interesting and novel concept because not only does the product quantify different gym workouts, it has a gamification portion where each user is competing with another gym user at the same time. No, it’s not like online gaming. In fact, this system is not designed to be used at home, but rather in a gym setting where participants perform the workouts together and get scored at the end of each session. Think Nike+ Kinect Training but for many people physically at the same place and with smart gym equipment (Equipment with sensors and smart algorithms). I probably should not go into too much details to avoid spoilers, but do look out for it’s launch sometime this year!

Nike+ Kinect Assessment

Nike+ Kinect Assessment

Anyway, I had the opportunity to test out the Nike+ Kinect Training (NKT) and found that it has quite a well designed interface that helps the user perform workouts with proper techniques. For example, the Kinect (ver 1) sensor is not the most accurate in measuring depth, so for exercises like push-ups, burpees, and core exercises like the bird-dog, the NKT gets users to turn to the side instead of face the TV/Kinect sensor; that way, the user’s movements are tracked more accurately. The concept of the NKT program is also pretty good because it starts with putting the user through an assessment – a series of movement tests and exercises, then rates the user in terms of strength, flexibility and stamina. Following that, it recommends a scheduled training program with a combination of exercises that can help you reach your goal (either to build power, become toned or lean). The feedback given by the on-screen personal trainer are usually quite spot on, usually correcting my posture, asking me to slow down (for exercises that are meant to be controlled) or speed up (for endurance type exercises), or just encouraging me to push on for the last few reps. There are instances where the Kinect sensor was unable to track some of my joints accurately and failed to count my reps, especially in a few of the floor exercises. But all in all, it is a pretty good program based on some sports science fundamentals and it could be an effective training tool for people who like to workout alone. I also got some good ideas off it that might be useful in the project I am working on.

{On a separate note, there has been some interesting devices/gadgets developed for the fitness and strength training folks in the last few months:

  • PUSH – a wearable arm band (possibly built with inertia sensors) that is able to determine force, velocity and power of each strength training rep
  • Hexoskin – another wearable smart apparel that not only measures movement (activity level, steps, cadence), but also the users physiology (heart rate and breathing rate).
  • Athos – similar to the Hexoskin, it is a wearable smart apparel with the addition of electromyography (EMG) capabilities embedded in the apparel.
  • Skulpt Aim – a mobile device that measures the user’s body fat percentage and muscle quality in individual muscles.

These devices (and other smart devices) could potentially become a common sight in gyms in the near future, allowing users to track more about their workout sessions and gain more understanding of what’s happening. A common trait among these gadgets is that they all have (or are developing) iPhone apps, which means users will have access to their workout history on their fingertips and probably be able to brag about it on social media.}

Going back to the Kinect sensor, apart from sports and fitness applications, developers have also come up with practical solutions for the medical and health industry. One such application is the Teki system developed by technology services company Accenture, and a few other partners including Microsoft. The main purpose of the Teki system is to reduce the need for elderly patients to travel to the hospital for routine consultations and check-ups, saving time and money. Using a Kinect sensor, set up at the elderly patient’s home, together with a few other wireless medical devices like a pulse oximeter and a spirometer, the doctor is able to do a remote consultation using a webcam in the hospital/clinic. The Kinect sensor comes in when the doctor needs to evaluate the patient’s range of motion; or when there are prescribed rehabilitative exercises that the patient need to perform and the Kinect sensor is able to assess and provide feedback to assist the patient.

Kinect v2

Kinect v2

It was mentioned earlier that the Kinect sensor isn’t the most precise in measuring movements, especially in terms of depth and also higher speed motions. Although the specification says that it could measure up to 30 fps, but after testing it myself, I found that it is usually around 15-16 fps (depending on your program). Lighting and certain background objects could also affect the detection of a full skeleton. But all these little ‘glitches’ will no longer be there with the release of the new Kinect 2 sensor which features improved performance over the original Kinect. Those improvements include: a wide-angle time-of-flight (ToF) camera allowing better range (or depth) measurements; capturing 1080p video, and ability to ‘see’ in the dark with its new active IR sensor; it can detect more joints on the body (5 more than the previous) with much higher accuracy, and it can track up to 6 skeletons at one time. Also, it is capable of measuring the users’ heart rate via a change in the user’s skin tone and even detecting mood from the user’s facial expression. {Just watch this video that basically demos all the improvements.}

With this newer Kinect sensor, it will be a lot more exciting for hackers/developers and who knows what interesting applications could be invented. But as of now, there is still no news of when Microsoft will officially release the windows version of Kinect 2 for developers; for those who are really keen, there is a preview program with limited spots that you can apply for here!

If you know any other Kinect applications in sports and health, feel free to comment below. Thanks for reading and here’s wishing everyone a happy new year!

APCST 2013 – The SportsTech gathering in HK

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The 6th Asia Pacific Congress on Sports Technology has come to a close last month. I think many (well, at least all 6 of you who emailed me) has agreed that it was a great conference. For some, it might be the Chinese Junkboat ride that was the highlight, where you enjoyed the beautiful view of the city, the night lights and even the full moon (credit goes to our HK organisers); for others, it could be the some of the presentations that sparked something in your minds; or for some others, simply being in Hong Kong, meeting new people in the industry and forming new collaborations might be the focal point.

The keynote talks all came from recognised experts in their own specialisations – sports aerodynamics, biomechanics & orthopaedics, sports medicine and even sports tech commercialisation. On top of the eye-opening video footage on baseball pitching, there were insights into the performance of prostheses, an interesting new invention that prevents ankle sprains, and a tell-all on how to commercialise new sports technologies.

For the parallel sessions, although I only had the chance to sit down in a couple of sessions, I still caught some really good paper presentations. One of them was by Steffen Willwacher who won the adidas Young Investigator’s Award. The committee all agreed that his paper contained novelty and innovation in engineering, which is really what the conference as well as our sponsor, adidas, hope to promote. Some of the other award contenders that were also quite novel included topics on climbing, road cycling and motocross. Seeing these and all the other papers are just evidence that there is so much more possibilities and so much more to explore in this growing field.

So where is APCST 2015 going to be? The location and exact date has not been confirmed, but it will likely be between Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Whichever the case, the organising committee’s decision on the venue will definitely be one that adds value to the conference as well as to the sports tech community. Keep a lookout for updates!

Lastly, to see some of the conference photos, check out this Google+ community page.

Till then!

Swimming with the times

InstabeatSwimming is one of the top priority sports in Australia and has been one of the most successful sports in the international arena. As such there’s a lot of attention put into improving the performance of athletes. In fact, for those who are new to this blog, research in swimming performance is one of the focus areas of Queensland Sports Technology Cluster (QSTC), and you will find some recent published work here and some related blog posts about them here. There has also been lots of work done in various research institutes in Australia and here are some notable ones in the last 4-5 years:

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Mini-Traqua in action

The AIS itself has set up the Aquatic Testing, Training and Research Unit (ATTRU), where there has been even more research and testing done on swimming research, often working in tandem with research institutes mentioned earlier above. These and other similar type of research and innovation is what will give the Australian swimmers the edge to win on the international stage. Some of these research outcomes stay at the elite level of sport because they may not be relevant to the casual swimmers or do not have any commercial application or they are just ‘secret squirrel’ stuff. But some of the developed technology do get commercialized, though it may take a while before they get released into the public, but they do.

Commercialized Sports TechSo what kind of technologies/gadgets are available to everyday swimmers today?

1. Lap and stroke counting. How many times have you swam in a pool and lost track of the number of laps you covered? It can be pretty annoying. That’s why engineers developed swimming specific wrist watches that counts strokes and laps. These watches have motion sensors that enable them to count strokes, laps, and even estimate speeds and distances. Some of these include: the FINIS Swimsense, the Swimovate Poolmate, the Speedo Aquacoach, and the Garmin swim. The Garmin Swim particularly could even identify the type of stroke (front crawl, butterfly or breast stroke).

2. Music while swimming. One way to do it is to blast music at the swimming pool (assuming its your own pool, or everyone else at the pool likes your taste of music). The other option is to use waterproofed mp3 players. Some companies have developed swimming specific mp3 players, some applied waterproofing technology on existing devices, some made waterproof cases. Most of them did not stray far from the original mp3 player designed for land dwellers, all except the FINIS SwimP3 which used Bone conduction technology for audio transmission instead of earphones. If anyone is keen on swimming with music, they should check out DCrainmaker’s post comparing all (most of) the swimming mp3 players.

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DCRainmaker with the AquaPulse

3. Heart Rate monitoring. For the more serious athletes who want to monitor their heart rates to keep track of how hard they are training (or if they are training in the correct zone), there are two options available in the market right now – Heart rate belts and Heart rate ear clips. Heart rate chest belts are a pretty common training accessory for most athletes, but not all heart rate monitoring (HRM) belts will work in the water. For example, HRM sensors that transmits via bluetooth (or any higher frequencies) will not work in water. So if you want to use a HRM chest belt for swimming, make sure they transmit in water (i.e. lower frequencies). As a guide, Polar sensors and the PoolMate HRM sensors will work. The alternative to chest belts is ear clips, and the only product in the market is the FINIS AquaPulse which uses infrared sensors to monitor capillary blood flow at your earlobes. The advantage of using the ear clip (I believe) is it is more secure than the chest belt which tends to slip while swimming thus losing heart rate readings. Although I can’t imagine the ear clip sensor being very comfortable during swimming.

4. GPS. This is mainly for open water swimming. Tracking where you have swam in the open ocean/sea/lake/river/pond. Many sports watches (targeted at runners and triathletes)  have a built-in GPS module. That’s your Garmin, Suunto, Timex, Polar, Magellan, Nike etc etc. But one GPS sports watch that stands out is the Leikr, because it actually puts the map on your wrist. Coloured maps! It’s not officially out in the market yet because it started as a Kickstarter project, but it has been successfully funded so it won’t be long. Would you really need the maps? It depends and I think it’s arguable.

5. Performance feedback. The traditional way of getting feedback is to have a coach scream at you. But with all these gadgets that count your stroke rate per lap, calculates how fast you swim and monitors how hard (heart rate) you are training, a swimmer can train without a coach yelling at him/her every session. These devices can tell you how you are performing. Since most of the mentioned devices are watches, the main feedback form is displaying all the calculated statistic on the screens. The one device that sets itself apart is the FINIS Aquapulse which used its Bone Conduction technology (what they used for their swimming mp3 player) to provide audio feedback of your heart rate. Saves you the trouble of trying to catch a glimpse of your watch face. Too bad it doesn’t work together  with their swimsense watch to also give you audio feedback of how many laps you swam and how fast you are swimming. Although that might make it worse than having a coach yelling…

So just when you think: that should be pretty much what swimmers need to help them train; along comes Instabeat – a heart rate sensor that is mounted on your goggles (and any other goggles), measures the laps, turns, breathing pattern, and gives you heads-up visual feedback of your training. Other than music and GPS, it does most of the things mentioned above. But how is it different from the rest?

  • For one, it measures heart rate from your temporal artery using optical sensors (which is patent-pending). 
  • Secondly, it becomes part of your goggles, so you are not wearing or clipping on an extra thing on your body.
  • Thirdly, it determines your breathing pattern. This is something new.
  • Lastly, it gives you real-time visual feedback of your heart rate training zone so you know if you are meeting your goals.

What led Hind Hobeika (Instabeat founder) to develop this was her deep dissatisfaction with existing heart rate monitors in the market. Utilising her swimming experience and engineering knowledge, she went through several designs, prototyping and testing them and the final result is this revolutionary heads-up display design.

Left: Initial designs of the Instabeat; Right: The final Instabeat design

Some of the challenges the Instabeat team faced included getting the right data from the sensors, coming up with a design that could fit all the different goggles, and not forgetting the challenge of making the sensor waterproof – the nemesis of all wearable technology. And now that they are past those product design challenges, they face the next challenge which is to bring it to market. They have decided to go through Indiegogo to crowdsource funds and you can support them here. The response looks positive so far and you know the Instabeat team is a bunch of forward thinkers because they have already planned a next version which includes wireless (bluetooth) data transfer and syncing with your smartphone. I even found out [Spoiler alert] that they would explore adding GPS for open water swimming and possibly make a version compatible with other eyewear, i.e. sunglasses. Sounds like the Sportiiiis could be having some competition in the near future.

In the meantime, I leave you with Instabeat’s pitch on Indiegogo:

Thanks for reading!

Energy Returning Running Shoes

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Adidas Energy Boost

adidas recently released a new pair of energy return running shoes called the Energy Boost. It promises to “change your run forever” by giving the runner high energy return and extremely soft cushioning. Based on this article, adidas is trying to grow their running market which is mainly dominated by ASICS, Brooks and New Balance; and a study done by RMIT not too long ago also revealed that Adidas shoes were not the top choices of most runners.

Adidas Bounce

Adidas Bounce

But it’s not the first time that adidas has come up with a “energy return” shoe. There was the adidas bounce back in 2008/9 which has these ‘bounce’ tubes that goes horizontally across the sole. It would seem logical that those tubes can increase energy return and increase running performance but this study here showed that it would only work if the tubes were rotated by 18 degrees towards the rear thus transferring 34% of the vertical energy (from the foot landing) horizontally forward. Interestingly, the Adidas bounce shoes can no longer be found on the official Adidas website, and only on Ebay or Amazon.com.

Adidas Bounce Titan

Adidas Bounce Titan

Then adidas came up with a variation to their bounce design and called it the Bounce Titan and even had a Porsche Design version. However the same group that did the previous study also found in a subsequent study that this new design was still not optimum for running. Try and google adidas Bounce Titan and you will find that it suffered the same fate as the original bounce -> Ebay or Amazon.

Reebok Zigtech

Reebok Zigtech

Apart from adidas, Reebok developed the Zigtech while Mizuno has the Wave Prophecy. Both work on a slightly similar alternative to “bouncing”, that is “Waves”; and they basically promise to do the same thing – return energy or propel you forward and provide cushioning. Well, no tests (in the lab) has been done on them as far as I know, although if you google, you will find many wear reviews like this or this. Generally, they are positive.

Mizuno Wave Prophecy

Mizuno Wave Prophecy

Going back to the adidas Energy Boost shoes, their innovation is in the material of the sole that is developed by adidas partner, BASF. Based on this article and the video, the material likens to “thousands of small energy capsules“, that “stores and unleash energy” with every stride. Interesting. But I wonder how it really stacks up to other energy return shoes.

Maybe a showdown test should just be done with all these different “energy returning” shoes using a standard test like this one developed at RMIT, or the KMT test developed with Newton running, both addressing short falls of the existing ASTM test. So if anyone from adidas is reading this, feel free to drop me a note if you would like a test organised. 🙂

On Running

On Running

In fact I would add another shoe to the test list – on running – a swiss performance running shoe. Although they don’t promote energy return in their shoe, the “cushioned landing” and “barefoot takeoff” still makes an interesting concept that just can’t be left out!

Lastly, for those who would like to find out more about energetics of human movement and sports shoes or biomechanical concepts, do check out this article and this article.

Thanks for reading!