When Japanese startup Leomo announced its debut product, the Type-R tracking system for cyclists, it made a huge deal about how motion analysis can be used to break down your bodies' inefficiencies.
But back in 2012, Leomo just wanted to make a web sports service. CEO Kaji Kunihiko had met co-founder and CFO Taizo Son in university, and they were both big fans of sports, but they quickly learned that people didn't want to do sports with PCs and smartphones. So they decided to change course to a device.
"We started the project to develop a smartwatch," Kunihiko tells us. "But we'd focus on sports." They roped in designer of the Casio G-Shock to design the device, but then Apple came along. While they still believed they could sell the device on the strength of having the designer of the G-Shock involved, that changed.
"One day Taizo asked me 'Would you buy the [Apple Watch?]'. I said 'No, because I don't need Apple Watch'. So he asked me what kind of function would we need for our smart sport watch? I think about it for a week and my conclusion was I need a device that can improve my performance."
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Leomo's big idea is that athletic endeavors look easy, but actually moving your body to match up with what you think you're doing is the difficult part. Kunihiko points to golf as a good example.
"Just put the ball on the ground and hit it with a stick," he says. "It's always easy to imagine how to hit the ball, but everyone feels it's so difficult. It's because you can't move your body the way you imagine."
Shrinking the gap comes down to recognizing your flaws. "To move your body as you imagine, you must recognize how your body moves. You must recognize the difference between the image and your exact movement."
The numbers game
Kunihiko explains that coaching to improve the motion of athletes is more difficult than it seems. He uses the example of having someone ask you to raise your hand. You can raise it straight up, or you can do a more sweeping outside raise. It's easy to communicate raising your arm, but how do you raise it?
To solve that problem, Leomo decided to turn to numerical values. It also decided to replicate motion capture technology. While motion capture technology is accurate, it's also too expensive for regular athletes and coaches. Plus, you need some sort of lab or studio. Instead, Leomo's system is able to bring motion capture ideas to real world scenarios.
The problem with video is that it's sometimes hard to find what you're looking for
Currently, many coaches like to use video to analyze movements. The problem with video, however, is that sometimes it's too hard to find what you're looking for. If there's a group of cyclists on a road, it's hard to check the fine movements of one of them while everyone is vying for pole position.
The company wants the Type-R system to be in the hands of people who understand it best right now, people who would refer other knowledgeable athletes and coaches to it. Coaches can already recognize bad movement, Kunihiko tells us, therefore they can use the data to get a more detailed look at how movement helps or harms performance. They also usually understand how bodies move far better than athletes, and can better understand what the company is trying to do.
That's why Leomo has opted to run an open beta period with a weird pricing strategy. The first 100 units are $399, and can only be purchased via customer referral. Every couple of months the Type-R raises by $100 until it's available for the general public between $700 and $800.
And finally, there's actually knowing how to use the data to improve. Leomo showed us a clip of the Japanese National Olympic Team using a future sensor focused on the pelvis for training. There were three heats. The first heat was Ok, the second heat was the best and the third heat was the worst, a 20% drop from the second heat in performance.
The coach understood that the second heat was the best, while the athlete felt like the third heat went the best. However, the coach used Leomo's system to present the data on how that performance dipped so much.
Putting it into practice
So how does all of this work in practice? We spoke to Hunter Allen, CEO of Peaks Coaching Group, who has been testing the Type-R for the past year alongside the cyclists he trains. Allen was given the Type-R by Leomo, and was asked to help the company come up with different ways to use the technology.
Allen, who is writing a user guide for the Type-R, said that being able to see the movement and range of motion data the Type-R produces is very interesting from a cyclist's perspective.
While the statistics it spews out, like pelvic tilt and foot position, may be way too detailed for amateurs, Allen says detailed and specific data can help answer a question he's been asking for 15 years: what is the optimal cycling cadence?
So while a regular Joe might not be able to make sense of what the heck foot angular range means, Allen says cyclists know it's important because it helps save energy. While you're pedaling, your calves act as a pump that shoots blood back up to your heart. Foot angular range, which measures how much your foot moves while you pedal, can help you figure out whether your foot is moving too much.
"You need a little bit of movement to happen," Allen tells us. "But if you have too much movement, maybe with the heel or the toe dropping with that up and down motion then that's wasted energy."
Allen would like future sensors to allow cyclists to fit their bicycles better
Similarly, understanding pelvic tilt can help a cyclists figure out their positioning. "One, it tells us when the athlete's in a normal ride position," Allen says. "Then, as they become more aerodynamic they get their upper body lower and that tilt changes [to a much lower angle]." The coach or trainer can get a more nuanced look at how the cyclist is riding and give them directions on how to make themselves faster, just by tilting their pelvis.
Allen also tells us that coaches and cyclists can then take this data and apply it in a different way, like creating a Power Cadence Deadspot (PCD) map. "That's really groundbreaking because it shows the athlete right away: If I'm producing 250 watts but by cadence is 80rpm then my foot has a lot of movement. It's too much movement so I'm wasting energy. But if I produce 250 watts and I'm at 90rpm then my foot quiets down and I don't have as much movement."
Reducing movements isn't just about being faster either. Allen said that even amateurs can benefit from reducing unneeded or unwanted movements because it reduces the risk of injury.
"If you pedal 5,000 times on your bicycle for one ride, your legs are moving 5,000 times in the exact same position and if it's the wrong pattern it's only going to create injury," Allen explained. "It may not do it today, or tomorrow, but it could in three years. Those are the things that could really help down the road."
Leomo's plans for its motion trackers are limited to cycling right now, but it's planning on rolling out systems for runners at the end of the year, and is developing sensors for the chest, upper body and head.
Next year, Leomo will begin expanding to as many sports as it can, but Kunihiko says the company won't release anything without consulting coaches carefully as it decides that kind of data analyzation it can provide, and whether it needs to develop news sensors to track it.
Allen would like future sensors to allow cyclists to fit their bicycles better. If riders knew their pelvic rotation, they could tell how efficient their leg movements were when they're moving up and down, which could help fine tune bikes better to cyclist bodies, reducing friction and unneeded movement even further.
Allen has some ideas of how the Type-R could be improved, with a simpler way of delivering data top of the list (Leomo tells us it is working on it). However he insists there was no problem with wearing all the sensors. "We had an athlete get into the shower because he forgot it was on him."
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