wearable tech and quantified running

I’m always looking for new techniques and technologies that can provide useful feedback for performance improvement and injury prevention. I recently stumbled upon the Sensoria Sock from Heapsylon.sensoria sock pressure pointsThe product uses embedded sensors and an ankle bracelet to record and
store data on gait and impact distribution through the walk or run cycle.
There is promise in aiding the user in avoiding bad habits that can
lead to injury. I’m a big fan of preventing injury, and a fair share of running related injuries are a result of poor running form. This also takes technology out of the lab and the hands of elite
athletes, and into the hands of us average runners.

wearable technology

It’s exciting to see all the new wearable computing companies springing up, including Heapsylon. Increasing the amount of sensors is critical in order to improve performance using bio feedback. The average consumer the last few years has with the help of affordable GPS, heart rate monitors and smart phone apps, become accustomed to
using biofeedback devices. Are they ready to take the next step and add
additional sensors? I believe they are, but the devices have to be out
of sight and out of mind, more embedded, more automated. And if not totally invisible, at least fashionably designed.

sensoria sock with bracelet

This new movement reminds me of the early days of heart rate monitors in the 80’s. The first successful biofeedback device for athletes. The heart rate monitor has in time become a huge part of not only professional but also average ability training. The devices have become better, cheaper and easier to use. It’s taken a few decades for the HR monitor to “arrive” but I believe that these new wearables will be introduced and utilized at a much faster rate.

additional thoughts on wearable technology

Augmented reality
There’s an amplification effect when multiple wearable computers and sensors are combined. I can see using an augmented reality device to track your gait in real-time. For now this would mean something like Google Glass. (note: I’m a Glass explorer and will be testing it out here in the coming weeks) Displaying relevant data besides HR, cadence on the heads up display. Additional relevant data about gait and economy could be useful. For example on a steep uphill section the device could prompt you to increase cadence and shorten your stride, or even suggest walking, especially if you’ve been locked into a high zone for too long and are in danger of hitting the wall.

Nike+ and others are already using simple game mechanics to help enhance the user experience. Awards for achievements, score boards, nice charts and graphs that are pleasing to look at, are all part of an enhanced experience. The purists and elites do not mind looking at a drab graph, but the average consumer has different aesthetic needs. Providing encouragement where needed will become key.
Social
We’ve lived with the Internet for some time now, and with social media for a decade or so. We can expect to see this trend continue into “hypersocial” territory. Sharing will just increase in frequency. I see this more so on Google+, where communities encourage participation and learning from one another. In a sense this works as another force feedback loop. It will become essential for companies and wearable devices to tap into these social graphs.Datamining
Imagine what these companies could eventually do if they start collecting data on millions of users running habits. I mean anonymous data about how you run, not personal data. This could be fed into the system and become a way of improving it. You could study the training habits, running economy and fuel requirements of the best runners. Then compare this to your own level. (I’m assuming Nike and Garmin already do something like this)

Towards intelligent learning systems
Ultimately I would like to see a system that is basically a virtual trainer. One that responds and adapts to your goals and abilities, gently guiding you. With adequate data from users and interpreting it the correct way, this will eventually lead to less injuries and better performance, and hence a better user experience.

cautionary notes

Science and data
The science is not always clear on what constitutes good running economy and form. There are so many variables. Level of fitness, body type, shoes, gait, and on and on. Makers of wearable sensor technology have to keep this in mind. There are always some absolute concrete facts, such as overstriding being bad. But heel striking is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on various conditions. What is useful for a sedentary diabetic is not always compatible with a semi elite ultra runner. Also data is only useful when interpreted correctly. Just having more of it does not make things automatically better. Sometimes there’s even detrimental effects of poor data interpretation.

Tech overload – perils of technology
Some of the best athletes are the ones who listen to their bodies, who from repeated practice know what to do and when. And all without the help of technology. We all know technology in and of itself is neutral, it can be useful or harmful depending on circumstances. So its all in how you use it. Not everyone uses a heart rate monitor either, and they can still get through a workout somehow. These devices will not be for everyone and that is fine.We all have different needs.

fin

The companies producing these
products must get the balance right between customer needs, good
technology, user experience, price and so on. I expect this space to
explode, we’ll have all kinds of alternatives, some good, some bad.
Eventually the better products should prevail. I assume
Nike/Garmin/Polar and others are already thinking along these lines.
It’s not going to be easy to compete with these juggernauts, but now is
the time to explore and stake a claim. For the average consumer this is
an overall good development. (besides wasting money on junk products)
The Sensoria Sock will soon be out for beta testing, and eventually be released to the general public. I hope to have a product in hand shortly so I can play around with it.I personally find this space very exciting and look forward to writing, testing and reviewing products in the future. If you stumble upon other quantified running devices, please drop me a line and we’ll check it out.

Happy running!