Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Running Tech

Egyptian water clocks.  Romans roads and bridges.  Aboriginal long distance relay communication.  Waffle Irons.  Running has always advanced alongside technology, and in this age of Apples and Blackberries, opportunities are ripe for the picking.  What was once Aboriginal is now Abodigital. Here are some ideas for the future of running technology.*

The Virtual Reality Treadmill.
Imagine being able to run anywhere in the world without leaving your basement.  Surrounded by projections of Google street view as the wind rushes by, you smell the bakery you're running past in Paris, hear dockside clamor in Singapore and feel the burn as the incline changes automatically in downtown San Francisco.  Nano particles in the tread change the feel of the terrain from road to grass to dirt as you train in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.  Of course by the time you've acquired this six-figure treadmill you might as well have bought some plane tickets.

Programmable (Wolverine) Spikes.
There's five minutes before the start of the cross country race, you're moving through your pre-race ritual, and suddenly coach tells you the mud is really thick in the third mile.  Uh oh, you only have quarter inch spikes in your shoes.  Relax, Don't Do It, no problem.  They are attached to programmable polymers inside the spike plates and a quick setting adjustment lengthens them to half-inch wolverine claws.  Just remember to retract before throwing em over your shoulder after the race...

Clockwise Tracks.
Runners (especially 10k people) have a risk of becoming ambi-turners if they continue to only turn left during track races.  Paint an additional set of lines and markers to allow for occasional meets in which all running events are held in the clockwise direction.  (Actually I have John Simons to thank for this idea).  The other way would be to put a massive mirror on one side of the track.  That would do it, right?

Downhill Tracks.
Imagine a track that turns clockwise and goes downhill....
While I'm on tracks, I was thinking we must be far along enough to make M.C. Escher's vision of a track that always goes downhill but somehow comes around to the same point reality.  World records and shins would come crashing down.

Permanently implanted timing chips.
This one is a bit Big Brother.  At an early age when you are indoctrinated into the cult that is running, they surgically implant a chip in your chest that will identify you at every race for the rest of your life.  No more pesky shoe chips or bib numbers you aren't supposed to fold.  The chip ID would be associated with an online database containing all you race results, splits, workout stats, 24/7 whereabouts... creepy.

Power Generating Training Shoes
Piezoelectric materials like lead zirconate titanate generate a voltage when they are compressed.  Put some in the soles of running shoes and you could charge your dead phone after running five miles right from your shoes.  Or they could power LEDs for safer nighttime running.  DARPA  is trying this in soldier's boots.

Facial Recognition Fan App.
How many times have you been watching a race and asked "who the hell is that guy taking it out like Diego Estrada?" or "wow, who is their fifth runner?  She is making the race for them."  With FaceTrack, simply point your mobile device at a pack of oncoming runners and it matches their faces with pre-loaded athlete profiles.  Then fans could view all results, media, and history for that athlete.  Don't forget to keep an eye on the race.  Doesn't work if all the runners in the frame have Derek Rubis' face.

Alternate Alter-G.
Definitely the best editing job I've ever done.
There has to be a better way to simulate lower gravity during rehab training than a sweaty plastic bubble that forces you to run like a T-rex.  I'm sure someone could figure out how to locally block the gravitons interacting between your body's and the Earth's matter... or maybe some kind of magnetic levitation suit?  An attractive option.  Wait, no, a repulsive one.

Holographic Pacers
I've heard that Harvard's indoor track used to have lights in the rail around the oval that could be set to a pace for workouts or races.  The "Hare-o-Gram" would take it a step further: project a hologram of a runner on the track for competitors to follow at a certain pace.  No more "what pace is the rabbit going?" "58 through the quarter" and then the guy runs a 61.5.  Hare-o-Gram would hit 58.00.  You could even pick the pacer's image, bringing back Matt Scherer from retirement or drafting off Big Bird.  Unfortunately, holograms can't provide a wind shadow so this is mainly for psychological pacemaking.  Puts people out of jobs too.

"Track Casual" Trainer-Dress Shoes.
This is actually possible, I think.  Have you ever had to squeeze a double run in between a flight and your friend's wedding, a first date, or a job interview?  Just because a training shoe has to withstand hundreds of miles, rain, snow, mud, and vomit during its lifetime doesn't mean it can't look like an Oxford.  Saves packing space, but probably not worth the smell at more formal events.

Real Time Form Analysis.
In-lab form analysis with the little Velcro ping pong balls and wire frame modeling already exists, but there's no way to get scientific stride or posture feedback on the roads and trails.  Let's say you are trying to improve your arm carriage or your rearward leg extension.  Gyro and accelerometer sensors inside bracelets and anklets measure the angles, rates, positions, and distances your limbs are swinging in.  They wirelessly update your watch, reminding you to focus on desired improvements.

Autonomous Meet Coverage.
Cover track and cross country meets with teams of drones.  They fly around with cameras getting aerial and trackside views.  Commentators work from a central control station and can cover multiple meets simultaneously all over the country without having to travel.

Prolonged careers with time travel.
I always have to include relativity in these more serious blog posts.  Let's say you want to dodge a rival doing particularly well this year or you want your career to last ten Olympic cycles instead of only two or three.  Just board a spaceship going close to the speed of light and time will move faster for you relative to Earth's, and when you come back you'll have "traveled into the future."  Though it might be hard to train on the spaceship since your relativistic mass would be at least... three times bigger.

Tear Away Short Shorts.
We love running in nice short shorts with big splits, but what if you get challenged to a game of HORSE (or ZAP) on the way to the run?  You'd be wearing the wrong equipment.  I envision a pair of basketball or lounging shorts that tear away to running shorts.  Man would you get made fun of.

But when it's all said and done, running is a gritty and visceral sport.  At a certain point, automation takes away from its purity.  Really the only thing that matters is getting results quickly after races.

*I do not claim to actually know anything about any of this.
**I know I know, I totally just botched special relativity.

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