Future gadgets to help with fitness resolutions

Story by Lenny Bernstein
(The Washington Post)
Mon, Dec 31, 2012
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Here are two interesting fitness accessories that you can’t buy yet, but probably will covet someday soon.

Full-service disclaimer: I haven’t tried these and don’t know whether they work. Like I said, they’re not even available yet. One was brought to my attention by its creator; the other I stumbled upon. There might be competitors working on similar ideas.

Let’s start with some remarkable ear-bud technology under development by a North Carolina company, Valencell. In addition to piping your favorite tunes into your head as you slog away on the elliptical machine, those same tiny devices will measure your heart rate, calorie burn, distance, speed, pace and VO2 max. They will send all this info wirelessly, in real time, to your smart phone or, if you’d like, whisper these sweet nothings of athletic progress directly into your ear.

I’ve (unfortunately) had my VO2 max tested in a lab. The data are the gold standard of aerobic fitness, a measure of how well your body takes in oxygen, transports it to your blood, circulates it to tissues and uses it to produce energy. The test involves complicated technology that collects your exhalations and measures them.

Valencell co-founder Steven LeBoeuf told me the company’s tests show the accuracy of the sensors is within 7 percent of laboratory VO2 max tests. If true, the Valencell product would make good information available to the masses. It also would eliminate the chest strap some people use now to accurately measure heart rate.

Valencell is licensing its technology to ear bud companies. LeBoeuf says it should be available in 2013 at a price in the low three figures, or similar to high-end headphones.

In Melbourne, Australia, some academic researchers are working to help keep all you socially inept runners on pace during your workouts. Exertion Games Lab, part of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, has invented the Joggobot, a flower-shaped hovercraft that will help you to stay on pace.

Using a small camera, the quad-copter recognizes brightly colored panels on a runner’s shirt and positions itself one meter off the ground and three meters ahead. If it loses sight of the shirt panels, it lands softly until the camera picks up the panels again, then rises from the ground and continues its task of pacing the runner. 

There’s no word on when you’ll see these gizmos in stores — my calls and emails to Exertion Games Lab were not returned.

Will automated companions encourage people to turn off their video games and work out? I don’t know. There are dogs that can do the same thing. But this contraption will never drag you off the trail to chase a squirrel.

And what happens when two Joggobots encounter one another? Will one pick up the pace to show it’s faster, like that annoying guy we all hate to run with? Which would sort of defeat the purpose.

 

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