Fitness tracking and performance optimization lead much of wearable technology's innovation. Startups like Remo Haptics, a company creating wearable devices designed to fine tune cyclists' form, are elevating fitness technology's potential from trackers to sophisticated coaches.
Imagine subtle vibrations used to trigger mindful form adjustments in real-time. Remo Haptics integrates accelerometers and haptic feedback to produce nonintrusive remote athletic training.
Clever Tech Digest sat down with the masterminds behind Remo Haptics to discuss the future of human-tech interfacing and physical training.
For our readers unfamiliar with haptic technology, please explain how it’s changing user interactions with consumer electronics, and how it inspired the creation of Remo Haptics.
Haptic means kinesthetic communication, or communication through touch or sensation on the skin. Haptic technology creates sensations on the skin by applying gentle forces, vibrations, or motions. Haptic language, similar to visual and audio queues, has different levels of resolution. Everyone is familiar with haptics, they can be found in the vibration alerts in your phone, video gaming physical feedback, and rumble seats in a movie theater.
Remo Haptics is a wearable haptic device that helps adjust movement patterns in real time to boost athletic performance. It’s a smart knee sleeve for cyclists that reads users' alignment, cadence and power in their pedal stroke to determine the correct alignment of the knee and foot. Gentle sensations on the skin remind cyclists to keep their knee in proper alignment, improving technique to optimize performance and help users optimize their workout.
Remo Haptics originated as a collaborative Wearable Technology research project between Pratt Institute Industrial Design and NYU Tandon. Two graduate students from Pratt Industrial Design and one from NYU's Integrated Digital Media program teamed up to create a device that used Haptic Technology to guide users through dance moves by remotely controlling an on-screen avatar. A choreographer could program an avatar to dance, and then teach an entire flash mob the moves by using this technology.
Now, after many iterations, Remo Haptics adapted the haptic technology to work in combination with accelerometers to help cyclists adjust their form in real-time, increasing performance and reducing the risk of injury.
Remo Haptics participated in Verizon Connected Futures and the NYC Combine, two programs that strive to push innovative concepts into real markets. What did your team learn from this process and how did it shift Remo Haptics' development?
Remo Haptics was invited to show at Columbia’s Tech Summit, an NYC Media Lab sponsored event. Remo Haptics then joined the Verizon Connected Futures program and another NYC Media Lab program, the NYC Combine. http://nycmedialab.org/verizon-challenge-20162017/
Verizon’s Connected Futures Prototyping and Talent Development program invests grant funding into faculty and student teams prototyping emerging media technologies from schools like Columbia University, The New School, School of Visual Arts, and Pratt Institute. The Remo Haptics team including Evan Huggins, Caitlin Sikora, Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, and Aaron Nesser were challenged to find applications that would connect their innovations to large markets.
NYC Combine’s lean startup mentality pushed the project to focus specifically on cyclists, an early adopting and high spending market. Through customer interviews we found that cyclists care about their form because it makes a difference in how far and fast they can go, and they’re willing to spend money to improve their form. The team pivoted initially from physical therapy to running to cycling, an application of Remo Haptics' technology that will help create a strong revenue stream for the company to grow and find more uses, so millions of people can learn to use their body more efficiently.
Body movement is complicated to track, but with cycling the seat is planted and foot clipped in. “We found that Cyclists care about their form and are willing to spend money to improve their form.” explains team leader Evan Huggins. “Because some parts of the body are attached to the bike, it removes some of the variables that we would otherwise need to account for when tracking movement.”
Remo Haptics represents a new wave of non-intrusive wearable technologies that drive users towards mindful optimization and self care. Outside of athletics, what applications do you think show the most exciting potential for haptic interfaced products.
“The gentle push our haptic technology provides increases body mindfulness. People often struggle with proprioception knowledge, meaning they don’t have a good sense of where their body is located in space. Remo Haptics can be like the guiding yoga teacher who gently adjusts your form during a class.” explains Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman. “It opens up the possibility of remote instruction for physical activity.”
Potentially, Remo Haptics could be integrated into athletic virtual gaming to create a more real experience. Future athletic applications may include snowboarding, skiing, and weightlifting. As a training device, Remo Haptics was able to skip the FDA approval process and allow the product to reach consumers’ hands faster.
One day, Remo Haptics may even branch into developing products to work with prosthetics and rehabilitation.
Many companies have attempted to create stylish fitness trackers and other wearable gadgets, but even so the wearable tech industry lacks aesthetic diversity and mainstream popularity. What about the wearable technology supply chain is preventing a seamless integration of the fashion and tech industries?
No one wants to put anything ugly on their body, ever. Wearable technology needs to be beautiful, comfortable, and functional. Many companies have attempted to create attractive wearable technology, but even so there is a lack of aesthetic diversity. With Remo we are trying to integrate both aesthetically interesting design with a functional device that people truly desire.
Paint me two pictures:
1. Your ideal vision for human optimization through technology.
Our ideal vision for human optimization is seamless integration of technology into our daily lives, so that our stress levels are reduced and our health and well-being are improved. We believe that good design is invisible. So far with technology, the data it is generating is important and useful but the design is still getting in the way of our everyday lives. As designers we need to work to access and act on this information in a more seamless and smoother way.
2. Your fears for a mechanically and digitally integrated human existence.
We are already mechanically and digitally integrated because we carry smart phone with us 24/7. As soon as my phone can be miniaturized and implanted, I will sign up so that I can have both hands to work with and stay connected without effort!