Rolling Beyond The Limits Of The Standard Step Counter

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Wearable fitness trackers are taking the world by storm—but they may not be designed with everyone in mind. Consider how the conventional fitness tracker with a step counter works for people in wheelchairs. 

Chaotic Moon Studios is known for solving everyday problems with technology so when their own content strategist, Tyler Hively, introduced this question to the team, they got right to work. 

Chad Darbyshire is EVP of marketing and communications at Chaotic Moon Studios, the creators of an innovative new fitness tracker for wheelchair users. In this interview, he discusses their inspiration and applications of the company’s Wheelchair Tracking & Terrain Mapping Device, along with his take on what lies ahead for the future of wearables.  

See also: How Wearable Tech Can Make For A Healthier Life And Planet

Wearable.ai: What was it about the problem Tyler posed that inspired you to create this project?

Chad Darbyshire: When one of our own comes to us with a problem—especially one that presents such a unique challenge—we’re always going to jump in and find a solution through technology. 

Tyler’s problem wasn’t unique to him as an individual, but was representative of an entire community. Fitness trackers have taken off in the last few years, but an entire population has been overlooked and excluded from this phenomenon and its associated positive impacts and potential. [It’s] our attempt to fill this gaping hole in the market and provide both Tyler and wheelchair users around the globe with a fitness tracker. 

On top of that, there are other applications and use cases that extend the benefits of [the wheelchair] even further.  

Wearable.ai: What obstacles do people in wheelchairs find with typical fitness trackers, and how does this project approach those issues? 

CD: Most fitness trackers use a pedometer, and the algorithm that they use to calculate things like caloric burn, etc. is based on the idea that you’re using your legs. This clearly isn’t an effective model for wheelchair users, who instead are utilizing their arms and muscle groups in their upper body.

That being said, even if you had a wearable on your wrist and could calculate an algorithm based on arm motion, it still wouldn’t take into account important information like incline.

By utilizing Hall Effect sensors, a barometer, a gyroscope and an accelerometer, we could gather all the critical info—speed, acceleration, distance, altitude, incline, and decline—to create a fitness tracker that’s specifically geared towards wheelchair users.

Wearable.ai: What other applications do you see for the technology?

CD: Another particularly interesting aspect … is its unique crowdsourcing element. 

Not only is every user enjoying the fitness-tracking benefits of the device on an individual level, but as they’re moving—going to work or to their neighborhood coffee shop—they’re automatically gathering and recording all kinds of important information about their environment that can benefit everyone. Suddenly, simply through the everyday actions and routes of all these … users, an incredible amount of data has been amassed that, when aggregated, can be used for functions like terrain mapping. Just like that, you’ve mapped an entire neighborhood and incorporated data like incline and decline, which isn’t just useful for wheelchair users, but also hikers, bikers, and anyone in general who wants to plot a more uphill or downhill route.  

Wearable.ai: How do you see the wearables movement changing the way those who use wheelchairs interact with their environment?

CD: [It] will probably have less of an effect on how users interact with their environment and more of an effect on their habits and how they eventually plan their route.

For example, currently if a wheelchair user is in an unfamiliar city, they’re going to have to use trial and error to find the best way to get from point A to point B. As it is, that isn’t just inefficient but incredibly frustrating. Once data has been aggregated to map out these cities and neighborhoods, and provide incline and other information that indicates the intensity or feasibility of a particular route, the user will then be able to make an educated decision. 

This is also information that’s useful for business owners to take into account. It presents more transparency and more incentive for them to increase accessibility and make the decision to better accommodate wheelchair users.  

Wearable.aiDo you have any other products in store for us?

CD: We have several projects in the works, a few of which fall under the wearables umbrella. We can’t talk about any of them at the moment, but we can say they are exciting projects we’re excited to experiment with, refine and share with the world. 

Wearable.ai: What do you see for the future of wearables, and what’s Chaotic Moon’s place in it? 

CD: Right now, when people hear the word wearables, they’re thinking about Fitbits, Apple Watches, Android Wear Watches, Google Glass … all these accessories that you put on and, in many cases, actually force yourself to interact with. While there are obviously awesome applications, often the wearable as we know it might as well just be an iPhone strapped to our wrist. 

We believe that the future of wearables is in seamless integration and in implementing the technology in a way that makes sense to the user, so that it works with them naturally and enhances, rather than complicates, their life. We’re here to push not only ourselves, but the industry as a whole to rethink and redefine what’s possible. 

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Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, this interview was initially misattributed to the incorrect author. We’ve also removed references to a project code name the company is no longer using.

Lead photo courtesy of Chaotic Moon Studios

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