An abundance of sensors and armbands speaks to the popularity of tracking sporting performance. But extending this technology to an extreme sport like skateboarding raises another set of questions. How can a device be attached to the board without affecting performance? And, even if it is possible to quantify a sport so deeply rooted in the expression of personal style, is there a point? A group of skaters from Buenos Aires, Argentina feel there's much to gain by tracking flips and spins and have developed Syrmo, a motion tracker that fits discreetly underneath the trucks to gauge everything from air time to the force of your ollie.
"We want to improve the way skaters understand and share their tricks," Guido Marucci Blas, lead software developer and one of Syrmo's co-founders tells Gizmag. "We think that understanding is the first step toward progress, the only person you are competing against is yourself, by tracking your progress you get a better feeling of fulfillment."
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The Syrmo team isn't the first to take a shot at quantifying board sports. Last year we took a look at Trace, a puck-shaped monitor you slap on the bottom of your skateboard or snowboard to track your tricks. The downside of this approach is it will limit the variety of tricks that can be performed, with the presence of the sensor obstructing the board during particular grinds and slides.
Herein lies the strength of Syrmo. With an accelerometer, gyroscope, microcontroller and Bluetooth 4.0 module built-in, the device is designed to replace the riser, a pad that some skateboarders will place underneath the trucks to make the board a little higher off the ground. Adding just 1 mm to the height of the board and weighing 50 g (1.7 oz), the company is confident riders won't notice a difference when riding with the device attached to their board.
"We tested that with skaters," explains Blas. "We gave them two boards, one with the device and the other without, and they couldn't notice the difference."
Once Syrmo is fitted to the board, users pair it with the companion smartphone app. From here, once a Syrmo session is kicked off, the system keeps tabs on all the tricks attempted. It knows every time the board is popped, flipped and landed, tracking statistics such as air time, distance, pop force (in pounds) and height. The team believes the data gathered can go help riders improve their technique.
"The first step to developing your skills in skateboarding, and in many other sports, is understanding what you're doing," says Blas. "Stats can help you keep a record of every trick and how it evolved over time. That enables you to identify which aspects of your trick have been improving and which ones haven't."
Indeed, sports like skateboarding are as much about personal style as they are about who can ollie the highest, something that is impossible to capture with pure statistical data. In an attempt to immortalize the flair of that perfectly executed 360 flip, the team have incorporated an animation feature into the app which recreates the trick in the form of a 3D rendering.
"As skaters, we know that style is more than a 3D render," says Blas. "That's why we complemented the experience with the video."
When shooting a session with a smartphone, the Syrmo app will draw on data collected by the motion sensor, predominantly the precise moment the trick was popped and landed. This is designed to cut down video editing time by easily discarding unmade attempts, make it possible to lay statistics over the footage and also synchronize slow-motion for that maximum dramatic effect.
It might go without saying, but the team has designed the app for easy sharing of video clips and 3D renderings over Facebook and YouTube. There is also a social element, allowing users track where their friends are and the tricks they are landing.
Syrmo will run on Android and iOS devices that are Bluetooth 4.0 capable and its detachable battery is charged via Micro USB. The team have functioning prototypes and have turned to Kickstarter to scale-up production. An early-bird pledge of US$79 will put you in line for one of the motion sensors if all goes to plan, with the team planning to begin shipping in December 2014.
The team's pitch video can be viewed below.