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The Rise Of The Virtual Trainer

Mon, 07/13/2009 - 10:38am
Duncan Smith, Cambridge Consultants

More recent technological advances have liberated athletes to some extent, enabling them to gather an increasing number of measurements outside the lab, for example on the running track or rowing down a river.

For many years, professional athletes have had to hook themselves up to bulky machines and tubes or cables in a laboratory-like environment in order to measure performance and physiology. More recent technological advances have liberated athletes to some extent, enabling them to gather an increasing number of measurements outside the lab, for example on the running track or rowing down a river. This makes it possible for the athlete and coaching team to gather increasingly realistic and useful data on their performance.

One of the major reasons for the slow uptake of this technology has been the time required to process and analyze the data in order to provide useful information. But now, advances in processing mean that data can be turned into information in near real-time and, in the case of posture and movement video for example, it can be ‘fused’ by smart processing with data from other sensors. This rapid feedback hugely increases the value of captured information to the athlete, allowing them to finely adjust their technique and gauge instant improvements.

These benefits are not just being felt by athletes. The decreasing cost of both processing power and integral components like batteries, sensors and displays has brought wearable technology well and truly to the masses, not only in the form of sports and fitness devices like the Samsung Adidas miCoach, but also in fitness/gaming cross-over products like the Wii.

A key driver for wearable devices to become mainstream is real-time analysis and feedback, communicated in motivational and personalized forms. For these devices to inspire the sort of loyalty and obsession their manufacturers want, the information they provide must motivate the average enthusiast – who doesn’t have the luxury of a personal trainer – to optimize their performance and achieve their goals.

One way to do this is to enable online communities like Garmin Connect, allowing individuals to share and compare their performance against others, or even against top athletes, adding a competitive element to exercise that many people need in order to maintain their interest in sport.

We are also seeing significant advances in the presentation of the information gathered from such devices. Options can include visual feedback of heart rate or running distance on head-up displays, or audio such as that offered by the Nike+ solution which communicates running pace and calories burned through headphones. However, the possibilities extend way beyond this.

Imagine running with a virtual partner. They could be an avatar athlete, disappearing into the distance and encouraging you to catch up, or they could be a real running buddy, actually jogging ‘with’ you in real-time, but a thousand miles away.

Of course, one of the main driving forces behind these developments is the professional sports industry, particularly in the run-up to the Olympic Games. But while these advances in wearable technology will help professional athletes optimize their performance, they should also be designed to enable everyone to join in, enjoy, get fit, and stay motivated.

For more information visit www.cambridgeconsultants.com

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