Heads-up on heart health
The screeneye X, from German navigation and sports specialist o-synce, puts the answer to the challenge of exercise motivation in front of your eyes
Last January, Google’s co-founder, 39-year-old Moscow-born computer scientist Sergey Brin, ventured onto the New York subway wearing what appeared to be outsized ski googles. The U.K.’s Independent newspaper reported that the eyewear was in fact a prototype of an ‘augmented reality’ device.
Using a small screen sited on the right lens, along with a camera, microphone and speakers, users can point the camera at objects or people and download information from the Internet about who or what they’re looking at.
But while Google’s glasses are impressive, Brin might be mildly surprised to hear that this time his company wasn’t the first to roll out the new gadget. But he’d be amazed to find out that Microsoft, Amazon or Samsung didn’t beat Google to the market, rather a small European company specializing in fitness monitoring.
Based in Weinheim, Germany, o-synce (pronounced “o-science”) was founded in 2008 and its augmented reality eyewear provides a visual display of fitness data without the person exercising having to take their eyes off the road ahead.
“In every region of the world, obesity doubled between 1980 and 2008,” said Dr Ties Boerma, Director of the Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems at World Health Organisation (WHO) in a statement during May 2012. “Today, half a billion people [12 percent of the world’s population] are considered obese.”
Obesity is a precursor of ailments such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) that can lead to cardiovascular disease and strokes. One in three adults worldwide, according to WHO’s “World health statistics 2012” report, suffers from hypertension - a condition that causes around half of all deaths from stroke and heart failure - and one in ten has diabetes.
Prevention of obesity is an important pillar of many governments’ health policies and the official advice is that reducing calorie intake and increasing exercise is of great benefit.
Taking regular exercise can be tedious, but a proven motivator is tracking the resultant improvements in fitness. There are scores of products that can do this, ranging from footpods measuring distance run, through heart rate monitors (HRM) wirelessly linked to smartphone-based applications, to sophisticated HRM-paired sportswatches. Some of these latter devices are able to track speed and distance via GPS and download the data to specialist websites via a wireless link when the user passes near their PC. These are impressive products, however, due to their compact nature, checking performance on tiny screens in anything but perfect conditions can be an inconvenience.
“Glancing down at a smartphone or sportswatch while cycling or running is a distraction, but far worse is having to manually scroll through menus in poor light or peer at a sportswatch in driving rain,” explains Dirk Sandrock, o-synce’s CEO.
“Our solution is to provide a constant readout of the information the runner or cyclist wants without them having to take their eyes off the road ahead.”
Called screeneye X, o-synce’s product projects fitness data onto an LCD display integrated into the visor of the cap and positioned in front of the user’s left eye. The unit can display a full range of training data (current, average, and maximum) including elapsed time, heart rate, speed, distance, stop times, lap times, cadence, calories burned, plus training zones, coaching tips, and ambient temperature. screeneye X is controlled using three discrete buttons embedded in the visor.
Not only does screeneye x make running, Nordic skiing or rowing safer, it also simplifies zone training – an increasingly popular fitness regime that relies on the user maintaining heart rate in a narrow band. (See “Staying in the zone”.)
“Many people are now adopting a zone training approach where they work to maintain a heart rate that’s a set percentage of the maximum,” explains Sandrock. “That requires checking the heart rate every few seconds which is difficult with a smartphone or sportswatch even in the best of conditions. But with screeneye X, heart rate information is constantly displayed right in front of the user’s eyes.”
o-synce has taken advantage of ANT+ wireless technology to connect the sensors monitoring the user’s performance to screeneye X. The company choose Nordic Semiconductor’s nRF24AP2 ANT chips, running Canada-based Dynastream Innovation’s ANT RF protocol software and ANT+ managed networks for two key reasons: interoperability and low power consumption.
“The market for sports monitoring is rapidly evolving,” notes Sandrock. “Formerly it was dominated by proprietary technology targeting a niche audience. But today, a much wider group has embraced smartphone-supported fitness apps. That makes it important for companies like o-synce to adopt technology that links both to the mobile everyone has in their pocket and the widest range of fitness sensors from multiple vendors.”
ANT+ underwrites this strategy because it offers interoperability with equipment from the hundreds of companies that are members of the ANT+ Alliance. Users can, for example, select a HRM from one alliance member and a cadence pod from another safe in the knowledge that they will pair with screeneye X and then transfer data seamlessly. (The nRF24AP2 ANT chip used in o-synce’s product can simultaneously cope with inputs from up to eight separate sensors.)
According to Sandrock, screeneye X already connects to fitness sensors from scores of manufacturers and, and the next generation of the product will communicate with smartphones from major manufacturers that are embedding ANT+ into their handsets.
The nRF24AP2 ANT chip suited o-synce’s requirement to minimize power consumption. This single-chip connectivity solution operates with average currents are in the microampere range (for example, in simple broadcast mode, average operating current is 9µA). That helps to dramatically extend battery life.
To keep overall power consumption down, a light collecting film is integrated into screeneye x which absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun and then fluoresces to illuminate the data on the LCD display. The technology also allows regulation of illumination to alter the display’s illumination: In a bright environment the display contrast is high and in a dark environment the contrast is low to prevent glare effects.
The Nordic transceiver’s performance allied to the efficient fluorescent display enables screeneye X to operate from a built in 150µAh rechargeable cell that’s around 33 percent smaller and lighter than a typical 225mAh CR2032 coin cell (watch) battery.
“Ultra low power wireless is the best way to transmit data from fitness sensors to display devices,” says Sandrock. “ANT+ is our preference because it’s a proven technology used in millions of sports and fitness sensors across the world.
“And it was very important that we kept the power consumption low to extend battery life and meet consumer expectations. While there are other ultra low power technologies available, none was able to approach the battery life offered by Nordic’s chip and ANT’s software.”
screeneye X may not be able to display the Facebook profile of the person sitting opposite or detail the origins of Gothic architecture when the user is examining a French cathedral––in the way that Internet giant Google’s product promises to do––but it does do something far more useful; it keeps the user safe while helping to strengthen their heart. Better yet, it’s available now.