The technology in fitness trackers is changing the way researchers study exercise. But a Carleton electrical engineering professor has recently launched a sensory network device he says revolutionizes intelligent wearable fitness technology.
The “LEO” device leaves other activity trackers in the dust – the ones that use accelerometers to estimate the number of calories burned don’t do well at measuring the heart rate, hydration level and body fat percentage, for example.
LEO, a textile band interwoven with silver conductors that the user wears on the thigh while exercising, monitors muscles, heart rate, hydration levels and other anatomic activity. A Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol then sends intuitive visualizations wirelessly to an app on the user’s mobile device in real-time, with straightforward, understandable recommendations, and communicates the data to a cloud server for further analysis. Users can share and compare their data with friends and competitors.
LEO, a textile band interwoven with silver conductors that the user wears on the thigh while exercising, monitors muscles, heart rate, hydration levels and other anatomic activity.
The device began in Leonard MacEachern’s imagination eight years ago when he was somewhat overweight. Passionate about technology and about fitness, MacEachern admits, “I was a pretty hefty guy. I started lifting weights and lost a lot of weight. But there was nothing to tell me my muscle activation level. A really serious athlete wants to know about lactic acid, fatigue levels, muscle sequencing and muscle co-ordination.”
Three years ago, MacEachern met Mark Klibanov, who has experience in biomedical device design, and a few other students who began to develop a device that could monitor muscle activity as their fourth-year engineering project. “MuscleMate,” worn like a blood-pressure cuff, used an electromyographic (EMG) gesture recognition system to detect the tiny electrical signals generated by the wearer’s arm muscles. A microprocessor converted the biological analog signal into a digital one to read on a smartphone or computer. The novel gesture recognition software then detected the intensity and frequency of the impulses to determine strength and bodily actions.
Originally intended for use in video gaming, MuscleMate won local and regional awards and was the first to win the $40,000 Carleton University Capstone Award, which funded the team to begin commercializing the project.
Additional funding came through Carleton Entrepreneurs’ Lead to Win program and, last August, GestureLogic incorporated, with an entrepreneurial team that combines experience and expertise in business, sales, athletics, industrial design, machine intelligence, electrical engineering and biomedical engineering. All 11 are or were Carleton students, and MacEachern foresees a staff of 20 in the near future.
Klibanov, now 24 and GestureLogic’s product developer, is responsible for the original technology and finds the idea of being an innovator appealing.
“Many activity trackers are very primitive. We tore down that whole concept. We don’t want to track motion. We want to track your body’s bio signals.”
Many activity trackers are very primitive. We tore down that whole concept. We don’t want to track motion. We want to track your body’s bio signals.
The science, he says, was already there. “It just wasn’t in a wearable practical device. We packaged existing technology by pulling together different pieces of the puzzle.”
The new living laboratory, 1125@Carleton, an innovation and collaboration facility on campus, has facilitated meetings for GestureLogic and has contacted funding agencies on its behalf.
In mid-May, GestureLogic presented LEO at the Discovery innovation-to-commercialization conference hosted by the provincially funded Ontario Centres of Excellence, and is moving ahead with a campaign launch on Indiegogo, a platform to help entrepreneurs plug into the startup community.
“Our commercial project is aimed at the average person who wants to exercise,” says MacEachern, who explains the device not only can improve fitness and training efficiency, but also can reduce the risk of injury.
“It gives the user an unparalleled level of insight into what’s actually happening. Users will get the metrics they need to improve or excel in their preferred sport.”
In spite of the complexity of the technologies GestureLogic employs in the device, the company is making the technology accessible by keeping the price point at a reasonable level. The major target market is cyclists and runners, but the technology could apply to soccer players or, in fact, any sport.
“I like the idea of wearable technology to motivate people to get into shape,” says MacEachern. “If you have a way of quantifying what you are doing, to track your progress, and to not get hurt while you are doing it, then you will stick to it.”
This summer, says MacEachern, he plans to take up outdoor cycling and use his device to continue to improve his own health and fitness.
Our commercial project is aimed at the average person who wants to exercise