Are fitness drones the workout buddies of the future?

As vaccines roll out around the world, millions of people are eager to re-establish healthy exercise habits.

But with social distancing requirements and the continued prevalence of work-from-home arrangements, demand for convenient, customized, at-home fitness solutions remains high.

From exercise bikes that transform basements and living rooms into spin class studios, to wearables that track a huge and increasing variety of biometrics, to at-home wellness diagnostics, people are increasingly turning to high-tech solutions to maximize their efficiency and motivation when it comes to exercise.  

Drone technology is an underexplored but very promising addition to this high-tech fitness trend, and there is reason to believe that the $2.33 billion recreational drone market could eventually come together with the $30 billion wearables market to produce a fitness drones market.

In this post, we’ll explore a few of the more prominent fitness drone prototypes that have already been released.

Joggobot

The Joggobot was a basic quadrotor drone that is designed to fly ahead of runners like a companion. It was created by the Exertion Games Laboratory at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, in 2012.

The robot was tethered to the runner’s smartphone, which they could use to tell the device how high off the ground it should float. The robot followed its runner by focusing on a special T-shirt they wear marked with orange and blue squares. 

The Joggobot was designed to challenge and motivate runners of all levels. It had two modes: a companion mode that automatically adjusted the drone’s speed according to the runner’s pace, and a coaching mode that challenged the runner by pulling ahead ever so slightly.

Florian “Floyd” Mueller, director of the Exertion Games Lab, said that he Joggobot showed that fitness drones are useful both to challenge people and to give them a sense of camaraderie that they’d ideally get from a good workout buddy.

When  the Joggobot was being tested, he noted that people sometimes chose to run until the Joggobot “died” (usually about 30 minutes), and even referred to the Joggobot as a “he” or “she.” Unfortunately, the Joggobot only worked for straight running paths, so it wasn’t suitable for more dynamic runs, but since 2012, drone object sensing technology has improved exponentially.

So if it were re-created today, it’s likely that it would be suitable for varied outdoor routes.

Traverse

The Traverse drone concept — developed by students at Hongik University in South Koreawhich and made public in 2020 — is essentially a quadcopter intended to serve as a personal trainer for recreational runners. 

The drone concept features multiple fish-eye cameras that help it navigate through spaces  and along complex routes autonomously along with a runner. The concept aims for the  drone to monitor speed, performance, technique, and distance, and to gather the data in charts to monitor overall progress. Additionally, Traverse takes photos and videos of runners to provide visual feedback.  Additionally, Traverse is designed to encourage form correction by tracking its users’ posture with deep learning.

Also, in-line with the recent wearable trend, rather than T-shirts, Traverse users wear small pods around their necks to be identified as the Traverse’s “target.” Additionally, the vision for the pod is for it to provide voice feedback on posture and speed, as well as control the drone’s settings and communicate with friends or family.

University of Nevada’s “Seeing-Eye Drone”

Beyond performance optimization, fitness drones could help certain disadvantaged populations get a leg up in fitness.

For example, in 2015 a team of researchers from the Robotics Research Lab at the University of Nevada at Reno built a prototype drone system designed to guide blind runners around a track using sound. The researchers figured out how  to use a downward facing camera on the drone to make the drone follow a line on the ground around the track.

In the prototype trials, runners were able to navigate around the track with no visual input thanks to the drone’s noise.

Back in 2015, drones were bigger and noisier than they are now. So, due to concerns about dangerous collisions between the runners and the drones, the project never progressed beyond the prototype phase.

But, again, the prototype laid the groundwork for a lot of solutions that could be transformative for an active person with impaired vision.

How long before fitness drones are commonplace?

Currently, the main value that drones provide to the fitness industry is provided through video footage.

Various sports teams use drone footage to study tactics and movement during practices and games, while extreme sports athletes like snowboarders, use drones to help film tricks for technique improvement and social media.

In order for fitness drones to really become widespread (especially outdoors) a number of improvements would need to be made in regulatory frameworks, noise reduction,  and sense-and-avoid technology.

But as with any technological development once the value proposition of – and demand for – drone trainers – reaches a critical level, it will be only a matter of time before they make their way into the fitness industry.

About Consortiq

Consortiq is the Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) division of The Diplomat Group, LLC, a multi-discipline business concern registered in the United States.

For over 40 years, DFS has been providing logistics support, technical and professional services, integrated autonomous solutions, engineering, fast-track turnkey design-build and construction management to the United States government, foreign governments, NGOs and the private sector internationally.

Consortiq equips governments, organisations, and NGOs with the expertise and tools they need to utilise UAS (drone) technology. From consultation to unmanned data services, to internationally recognized, award-winning training, Consortiq supports clients from proof-of-concept through implementation.

For more information, visit: https://consortiq.com/.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

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