When you think of the stereotype of the fitness junkie and that of the tech geek, they're hardly a pair that go hand in hand. Yet the two have long been interlinked, with technology playing a much bigger role in sports than some people might initially think. Sure, the varsity jock and AV nerd depicted in most high school coming-of-age movies would certainly suggest the opposite - that the two worlds are more like chalk and cheese - but in real life, they form a pretty damn beautiful union.
Think about it - even the sports gear you wear, or the activewear that is now so ubiquitious (even among people who hardly ever work out, hah) is set apart from a lot of other clothing because of its unique engineering, which was developed through technology. Through the use of applied technology in sports, tech whizzes have been able to use smart equipment, sensors and computers to measure and evaluate the human performance of athletes. The data and information collected isn't only fed back to help improve their training regimes, but also to help create the gear needed to allow them to perform even better, and use their natural talents to the greatest capacity of their ability.
This melding of man and machine can help push human performance to its limits. In judging competitions, sensors that track and measure every minuscule aspect of movement can help to more accurately assess the points earned in a scoring system, and determine a winner, for instance. In everyday life, wearable tech like FitBits, Jawbones, and the Apple Watch have made tracking on a more "regular person" or weekend warrior scale accessible to the masses, as well as help encourage people to move more and live healthier lifestyles - if anything, because it alerts them to how much they actually move (or don't). I think anyone with an office-based desk job can relate to that feeling after the first time they've tried a fitness tracker, then gotten home after a day at work to look at their step count only to realise that they've hardly moved and only hit around 20-30% of their daily minimum 10k step goal. Even in our activewear, smart construction combined with clever technology doesn't just make for more flattering cuts, but for more supportive clothing (hello, sports bras) that offer everything from better sweat-wicking to shirts that can measure your heart-rate and respiratory patterns. First, it was the specialists, then the fashion brands came on board. In 2015, Ralph Lauren released the PoloTech smartshirt, a fitted men's t-shirt that bore the brand's logo, as well as tiny fibres that measured everything from heart rate to depth of breathing. It could be machine-washed, paired with a specially-designed accompanying mobile app, and reportedly wouldn't lose its oomph over time.
But the coolest ways to use technology to improve the way we do things doesn't always have to be complicated. Sometimes, they're incredible new things we can wear that seriously ups our game (pun intended - sorry, couldn't resist), and other times they're so simple albeit brilliant that hearing about them will make you want to kick yourself as you mutter, "Why didn't I think of that first?". So without further ado, here are five recent active lifestyle-focused technology ideas that make us stop and say, "Whoa, cool" this season.
1) The Nike Makers' Experience, Nike By You
Around five years ago, I was at Niketown in New York City - like visits to your favourite tattoo studios and Duane Reade (drugstores outside the USA simply don't compare when it comes to the beauty and cosmetics selection), there are a few things that are essentials. It's got great energy, inspirational quotes on the walls, good lighting - even if I don't buy anything (though there's so many floors you'd be hard-pressed to not find something you like), it's a great retail experience beyond the shopping. I desperately wanted to order a pair of shoes from their custom sneaker lab section on the top floor. Unfortunately, they didn't ship to the Middle East, and it would take a couple of weeks for the product to be ready, so I walked away with a design and shattered dreams. So imagine my joy (and wistful longing) when I read about the Nike Makers' Experience, a brand-new feature from Nike that allows you to design and produce custom shoes, then trot out with your new kicks just an hour and a half later. Created by Nike and Wieden + Kennedy's The Lodge, a creative technology group based in Portland, Oregon (yes, where Nike also hails from) that uses AI, VR, and other badass new tech to create design-focused experiences, the invite-only lab - called the Nike By You Studio - is located at 45 Grand St. Apparently there's now another one at the Nike Soho location, where you can customise "NFl jerseys as well as other Nike apparel", and it's available by appointment only. So what exactly happens? Well, you apparently slide on a "blank canvas" version of a shoe (the Nike Presto X, a shoe silhouette that's been exclusively created just for this) before you then use their futuristic high-tech systems to design your own, one-of-a-kind pair. I'm not just talking about picking custom colour combos from an existing list, either - these are truly custom, since you can create your own graphics using content generated from their database (motivational phrases, Nike emblems and iconic design features, and other design elements), or put in your own words and numbers (a birthday or an anniversary, for instance), which the tech will then turn into your very own pattern. This is then tweaked and customised to your heart's content, before you can then see the designs shown on the blank-canvas-shoe on your feet, so you can see what they'd actually look like on your feet and in the "flesh". Once you're happy with it, off to the production section they go, and hey presto, you can collect your shoes 90 minutes later. Talk about bespoke. I suspect that all those people reposting the meme about real-life Cinderellas don't need glass slippers but actually need Nikes instead would go nuts over this one.
2) Reebok's #Reebot Emoji-Powered Workout Bot
This one is brilliant in its simplicity. Reebok, which has been pushing its "Gym Is Everywhere' campaign that encourages people to move anywhere and no matter what (and basically make the world their workout space - even a park bench), is taking this to a new level by using an emoji-powered workout bot on Twitter. It's incredibly easy to use: All you have to do is get on Twitter, type three of your favourite emojis into a tweet to @Reebok along with the hashtag #reebot, and hey presto, you're sent back an exercise for you to do next. One of the best things about it is how inclusive it is - this isn't just for dedicated athletes for one particular sport, or even fitness buffs, nor does it cost anything, since anyone with a device boasting internet access and a Twitter account can use it. We tried it: Within a matter of seconds of sending in our Tweet (😊🤙😁 @reebok #Reebot), we were sent back instructions to do 5 Glute Bridges and 20 Reverse Lunges. So even if you're feeling lost or stuck for inspiration, you've got no more excuses and help is on the way - no matter where you are, or what you're doing, anytime, anyplace.
3) GoPro Fusion
You know all those times you've taken a photo of a gorgeous landscape in Panoramic mode, only to want to kick yourself because you moved too quickly or slowly, or some jackass walked into your shot halfway through? Or you've wished that you could spin your torso around slowly and evenly without shaking at all, like the lovechild of the evil kid in The Exorcist and a seasoned belly-dancer, so that you could capture as much of a shot as possible without ruining it? Well, a 360 camera is obviously the solution for you here - and GoPro's new Fusion camera the soon-to-be fodder of your tech dreams.
I had the chance to watch a little video of this when I was invited to the launch of the recently-launched GoPro Hero 6 (which is also amazing, but that's another post for another day), and while that was the star of the show, the Fusion lingered in my mind for days afterwards. GoPro's very first all-in-one 360 degree camera, this little baby retails for $699.99, so as usual with GoPro, it's not cheap, but it's not an eye-watering price either, at least when you consider factors like quality, durability, and versatility, not to mention portability. I mean, that's what GoPro is all about isn't it, and it's nice to see that this stays on brand. The camera, which comes out in November this year, basically has two cameras in one, on either side of it, making sure it captures "every angle with no limits", along with "Gimbal-like stabilization", VR, overcapture, and more. If you want to know the specs, here they are: Footage is recorded to two/dual MicroSD cards (think of it as a Siamese Twin of GoPros), before the software then automatically stitches this together to create that 360 result for you. I'm not sure how it would work in a card reader with the two cards, but I suppose if you just want footage from every angle (or use the app), it'll cover that. It pairs with your phone so you can shoot straight from the apps like the Hero. It's meant to film buttery-smooth video. The audio is 360 too, of course. It's waterproof to 16ft, has hands-free control with voice recording (yup, that's available here too), the purchase apparently comes with a Fusion Grip with a built-in extension pole and tripod, and it'll soon have its very own app studio from GoPro, apparently. As for the video specs? It shoots in 5.2k at 30 frames per second. You can also pull the perspective way back to create a stereographic "tiny planet" feel (if you haven't tried that app, it's fun, albeit not my thing). It also offers a function that allows you to hide the pole view, if you are using it. The design is square and, size-wise, it's bigger than the Hero 5 and 6, but still fits into the palm of your hand - it actually reminds me of the Instagram logo, for some reason. I basically imagine it to be like strapping yourself up with a belt of GoPros aimed at every angle, except this is the same effect wrapped into one sleek, and considerably less uncomfortable, device. I can't wait to get my hands on one to try it out.
4) Piq and Everlast's Piq Robot
I've been a little disappointed in Everlast ever since my boxing competition in 2016 where my Everlast boxing boots started falling apart within just three weeks. I like to tell myself that it's because I was so lightning fast on my feet, like the Hermes of boxing (the messenger of Greek mythology, not the fashion brand), that that's why the soles started to melt and peel off. Please don't ruin it by telling me that's not the case - but the irony of the name "Everlast" for a product that only lasted a few weeks wasn't lost on me. Still, their wraps haven't let me down, and they are one of the most iconic brands in the boxing world. And now, they've teamed up with French company Piq to come up with a wearable sensor that can be worn seamlessly with the dedicated hand wraps, to measure everything from your speed and intensity to the number of punches. It costs $99. Fitness wearables are now becoming relatively commonplace, but I've never seen one for boxing before, and considering it's one of my absolute favourite sports that I do several times a week, this excited me. A lot.
5) Halo Neuroscience
This one isn't strictly that new - it came out last year - but it still wows us. If struggling with motivation, or getting around mental roadblocks, is a problem for you when it comes to surpassing physical boundaries (as it is for many of us - after all, studies have shown that a lot of the time, it's in our minds more than anywhere else), this might be the answer: It's a headset that can stimulate "the part of your brain responsible for muscle movement", which can be translated to everything from strength training to endurance sports, and even skills like playing the piano or hitting a target. You just have to download the app, plug in the headphones, then begin the neuropriming session, which lasts for 20 minutes, before you go on to your usual warm-up and training.