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Wearing your data: Can a T-shirt or sticker become your next outdoor/fitness motivator?

Wearable data trackers are top sellers, and the technology is rapidly evolving. Find out what's up next for the "Internet of Things" in the industry.

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This story is brought to you in partnership with the Outdoor Industry Association.

You know that saying, “If you can’t prove it, you didn’t do it”?

A techie named Kevin Ashton saw it coming. Roughly 15 years ago he predicted that gadgets would one day gather and analyze data collected by all manner of different “things,” including machines, equipment, devices, appliances and more. He deemed the movement, rather uncreatively, the “Internet of Things,” or IoT for short.

Flash forward to 2014, and the trend is invading the outdoor and fitness industries, along with the rest of society.

“Connected devices and experiences that measure, track, analyze, share and evaluate performance provide new ways to understand, refine and improve training; provide motivation; and create new and engaging opportunities to participate in sport,” said Paul Gaudio, vice president of Adidas Interactive.

As Guadio notes, people can now use numbers to support all sorts of athletic endeavors, and millennials are doing it in droves. They’re using GPS watches and heart monitors to train for marathons, and fitness trackers to get back into pre-desk-job shape. The latest ski goggles track and display real-time speed, altitude and location, all the while recording what you see in HD video. And as this New York Times article points out, yes, even “every dog has its data,” too to stay in prime squirrel-chasing shape.

Experts say these the data-hungry habits and practices are here to stay for awhile.

“You’re going to see people wanting to use these devices more and more,” said Elyse Winer, marketing and communications manager for wearable electronics manufacturer MC10 Inc. “We see this becoming just a part of your everyday life. It should be as addicting to check in on how your body is doing as it is to check Facebook.”

Rise of wearables
The introduction of the IoT trend to the outdoor and fitness industries came via devices like Fitbit, a wristband that tracks daily activity, and GPS watches. The second wave of tech is promising similar activity and location monitoring benefits but in a sleeker, often more “wearable” package and the aim for better actionable results.

Remember how itchy that arm-band iPod case was? A major component of IoT 2.0 will be integrating data-gathering devices seamlessly into an experience so that the wearer forgets it’s even there.

New products from online retailer and Adidas acquisition NuMetrex are no more obtrusive than a piece of clothing. The brand’s sensing fiber “smart fabric” is knit directly into the garment. With the Adidas miCoach Seamless Sports Bra, the apparel item itself transmits useful training data, including heart rate, to a compatible wrist unit, cardio machine or mobile app.


Products put out by MC10 Inc. function under the reasoning that when a hard material — including an electronic device — is made thin enough, it can become flexible, and therefore more comfortable.

The brand’s partnership with Reebok led to the CheckLight, a force-of-impact-measuring skull cap meant to be worn under a football helmet and provide data on concussions. Over the next few years, the brand hopes to unleash its “seamless sensor platform,” disposable, sticker-like sensors that adhere “exactly where the measurement matters,” Winer said. A hydration patch that monitors fluid loss is in the works, with sensors that measure a baseball pitch or golf swing a bit further out on the horizon.


“There are no limitations to where you can put something on the body. The insight you’re going to get is going to be much more relevant to the specific activity you’re participating in,” she added. “The future is wearing usable devices on a regular basis. Insight into our health will be as commonplace as insight into what our friends are doing on Facebook.”

App attack
Another piece to the IoT update: more apps. Outdoor and fitness brands are increasingly teaming up with tech gurus to design and develop accompanying apps to make the data collection and sharing process as easy as possible.

Zeal Optics merges the wearables phenomenon with sharable tech. The first company to incorporate a camera within the goggle frame, Zeal is now simplifying its data storage process by linking up to the user’s phone, where the athlete can view the camera’s footage directly on his iPhone or Android.


There’s no more waiting until later to start posting: Take first person video with one of their HD camera goggles, sync it with the Zeal app and it’s fast and easy to push pics and movies to Instagram or Facebook.

“The idea is the immediacy of sharing,” said digital marketing manager Mike Lewis. “You capture so much video through other point of view cameras that you never even wind up watching it again. If you don’t share it, it’s just going to sit on your hard drive and take up massive space. What better time to (share it) than on the chairlift directly after?”

Mio, maker of the first wristband heart-rate monitor (no pesky chest strap required), is now introducing an accompanying app called Mio GO, which connects to either the ALPHA or its smaller sister the LINK, monitoring the user’s effort, including time, speed, gradient, distance, calories burned, heart rate, power, and pace.


If the athlete is stuck on the treadmill, no worries. Preset virtual courses and “adventure trips” wind the runner through the Alps or Patagonia, indicating when to up speed and incline to attain a target heart rate — kind of like training with a video game.

“Ultimately we want fitness to be engaging and fun,” said Liz Dickinson, Mio Global founder and CEO. “We will continue to create heart rate products that are easy and fun to use and we will make them part of a larger ecosystem that is starting to emerge at the convergence of entertainment and fitness.”

Similarly, the Mountain Athletics Training app by The North Face, set to launch in late summer, will accompany a new indoors-focused line of apparel. On the app, the user selects from three training options — an ultra-marathon, big wall climbing expedition or ski mountaineering — inserts the date of an end goal and receives a personalized workout regimen that includes strength, stamina and power exercises. Videos featuring proper form and technique will accompany the app.


The end goal: “To feel like (the athlete) left nothing from a training perspective to chance,” said TNF’s director of digital marketing, Eric Oliver. “(They’re) ready to go physically and mentally.”

The future
Sure there are many opportunities to track data, but what’s going to drive the typical consumer to adopt the new technology? In short, comfort and results.

“True acceptance only really happens when you don’t know you have it. (The device) is not something that’s bulky or gaudy; it integrates seamlessly with how you would run your life,” Zeal’s Lewis said. “It truly ads to the experience versus detracting from the experience that you’re having in the first person.

MC10’s Winer agrees: “Unless we overcome the barriers of adoption so that (these devices) blend into the background of our lives, we’re not going to even get to the point of benefit for the information we can get.”

Results are the second half of the formula.

“At this point, there is a lot of focus [for the devices] to capture the data, but from our viewpoint, there has yet to be a winner in turning that data into effective insight, and [most importantly] long-term action,” said Dave Flynt, director of interaction, design and development at fitness equipment brand Precor.

In other words, he said, people might get a kick out of seeing how many steps they take in a week, or what speed they are flying down a hill, but that novelty likely won’t last long before users demand meaningful results.

The data might help you prove it, but up next is how best to use it.

–Courtney Holden