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IoT in the gym and the future of innovation

By Chelsea McCullough / June 2, 2014

IoT in the gym and the future of innovation

The Internet of Things is in your home, your car, your office, and even your gym. Getting in shape can be an intimidating undertaking, but technology is making this a more customized and motivating process. Just take a look at the wide range of wearable fitness trackers currently on the market, including the Nike+ Fuel Band, Fitbit, Jawbone Up, and most recently, the Samsung Gear Fit. Consumers are snatching up these devices like crazy, but there is still ample room for innovation.

The latest fitness management gadgets have even more to offer: like heart rate monitoring, revolution tracking (while cycling), “find my device” functionality and personal training services. And while it’s true that sales of fitness and wellness wearables is skyrocketing, research on the overall effectiveness of these tools is still inconclusive.

For the average American, about 10% of fitness wearable users get motivated by the data spontaneously, and 60% stop using their device after 6-12 months. These results are much more optimistic for those who approach it as a necessary part of their personal wellness.

According to Dr. Joseph Kvedar of the Partners Center for Connected Health, about 30% can be engaged “if the data from their wearable device becomes part of the dialogue with their healthcare provider.” This is good news for those who suffer from chronic disease or need additional motivation to make lifestyle choices that can help them overcome illness.

Getting toned with tech

While some fitness enthusiasts are returning to primitive exercises like Crossfit, others are moving towards hi-tech workouts that even Ivan Drago would be into it. One gym that’s on the cutting edge of fitness tech is the Massachusetts based company, Koko Fit Club. The key to the Koko experience is literally a key that users insert into a variety of 21st century machines.

Each member’s key keeps track of everything from how much weight they lift on each machine to how much weight they’ve lost since joining the gym. The stations are equally impressive, with each one containing a monitor that displays your stats, demonstrates how to perform each exercise and even guides you along your lifts to make sure you’re doing it properly. It certainly beats carrying a notepad and pen from station to station, but there’s still one problem—remembering your key.

The Internet of Things aims to remove that step from the equation by making your smartphone the only key you’ll need to partake in a futuristic exercise. How can this be done without requiring a gym to purchase all new equipment? Beacons. As we’ve mentioned before, these low-cost/low-energy transmitters bring intelligence to even the “dumbest” appliances.

In a gym setting, beacons can be placed near each workout station, sending customizable signals to every member who has the corresponding app on their smartphone or tablet. With the app and beacons combined, every gym in the country could offer the Koko Fit Club experience for a fraction of the initial investment.

Today it’s beacons, tomorrow it’s an intergalactic training facility where elite soccer players hone their skills by battling robots (without using their hands, of course). At least, that’s how Samsung sees it. In their new World Cup inspired advertising campaign for their latest line of Galaxy products, Samsung demonstrates how Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and a team of legendary fútbollers use smartphones and wearable devices to ready themselves for a universal showdown with aliens who presumably have otherworldly athletic abilities. While this fictional world may seem a little far-fetched, the reality is technology will continue to play an increasingly important role in our physical fitness. (Sorry, Rocky.)

Lawmakers and regulators have to keep up

This is an exciting time for entrepreneurs, innovators and consumers, but all of this new creation can also be intimidating for those lawmakers and regulators who are trying to get a handle on what the future holds. It is more important than ever to embrace flexible policies that encourage and not hamper the technologies that fuel a new generation of fitness, physical awareness or other healthy life choices.

This conversation is happening both within and far outside of tech hotbeds. Recent headlines have been dominated with the topic of regulating the Internet. What started with discussion around net neutrality has morphed into some people calling for the Internet to be regulated like the old-fashioned rotary telephone network. When the media mentions “Title II,” that’s exactly what that means: applying 80-year-old regulations (just like those used for the old landline network) to the Internet. If that doesn’t sound quite right to you, well, you’re not alone. Congress and the FCC are considering regulations that would hinder and could even kill innovation.

Consumers everywhere are wondering about how this regulation would affect the services and devices that we have come to rely on. Meanwhile, tech entrepreneurs are wondering if regulations will thwart their newest innovations. These concerns are valid: in today’s world, there are more things (devices) connected to the Internet than there are people. Think about the new technology that is emerging and soon to be at gyms and running trails across the country. These futuristic inventions could be threatened if innovation is not allowed to thrive. Entrepreneurs have enough barriers to get their product to market without Internet regulation being added to the mix.

And yet, wearable health and fitness technology is only one niche area in which innovations and high-tech advancements are developing at a rapid pace, offering new and exciting benefits to all kinds of consumers while simultaneously generating economic growth. Across every sector, game-changing innovations and connected devices are regularly introduced, supported by investment and updated public policy that encourages high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

No room for old-school thinking in a new economy

These advancements should be celebrated and encouraged. Instead, regulators are considering adopting rules that would stifle future progress and stall innovation. In the dynamic tech sector, the last thing we need is an old school approach to lawmaking. Imagine what this looks like using advancements in health and wellness.

If we regress 80 years, instead of bracelets that upload your heart rate and calories burned to your iPhone, users will be hooked up to contraptions that look like torture devices, promising to help a woman “slenderize her ankles” or “reduce the chin.” Instead of digital machines that monitor your progress, our gyms would be filled with wide, vibrating belts that slide rapidly from one side of your torso to the other intended to slim the waistline.

The original Shake Weight.

All humor aside, smart policies that encourage investment into high-speed next-gen networks, as well as promote healthy competition and facilitate continued innovation, would be a testament to humanity’s mental and physical potential. The realities of today’s marketplace and the needs of today’s consumers should shift the focus toward the future. The right regulations will emphasize private investment into 21st century networks and innovations, leaving 20th century regulations in the past, where they belong. And in the meantime, consumers can keep themselves motivated and connected on treadmills, running trails and weight lifting machines, thanks to IoT in the gym.

Chelsea McCullough serves as Executive Director of Texans for Economic Progress, a statewide coalition that advocates greater access to tech education, entrepreneurship and infrastructure.