Fitbit patents bold new swimming tech

Improved stroke count and kick-strokes could
Fitbit Fitbit swimming
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Fitbit is working on improving its swim tracking features – according to a recently updated patent filing. 

Within a filing to the United States Patent Office, the Google-owned fitness giant speaks of adding the addition of stroke counts, kicks strokes, and flip-turn detection through acceleration peaks picked up by sensors.

The oft-requested stroke count feature could be an excellent addition for swimmers who prefer open-water adventures over swimming in the pool, where laps/lengths can be counted to help establish total distance. Kick strokes, meanwhile, would be useful for leg drills with minimal arm movements (or, you know, doggy paddle).

Currently, Fitbit users can only track swimming distance by manually inserting the pool length with lap splits and automatic detection of the stroke used on each lap. 

However, the filing published on 12 January 2023 “Automatic detection and quantification of swimming” suggests Fitbit improvements may be on the way.

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In terms of stroke counts, the patent explains: “The swim stroke count may be determined based on a number of acceleration peaks extracted from the sensor data that satisfy a set of predefined rules associated with a swim stroke.”

In terms kick strokes the patent later says: “The motion data includes accelerometer data; and the one or more features extracted from the acceleration data includes one or more acceleration peaks indicative of the user performing the kicking motion associated with swimming.”

The patent also outlines new ways of tracking the length/lap count during a session, for swimmers who perform flip turns in the pool. The trackers currently use changes in direction to determine when a lap has been completed. 

Fitbit explains: “…the method further involves counting swim laps performed by the user based on a number of acceleration peaks from the sensor data that satisfy a set of predefined rules associated with a flip turn.”

Fitbit has faced criticism for the absence of robust swimming features.  For example, some more recent releases no longer show the live lap count on the water-locked display (earlier watchers did), meaning users must keep a mental note until seeing workout stats in the app.

The heart rate sensor is also inactive during swim-tracking workouts. That’s a limitation of most fitness trackers, but Fitbit doesn’t allow for connection to a water-friendly external chest strap either. The GPS functionality isn’t offered for open water swimmers, making it very difficult to establish distance.

Comparatively, the Apple Watch makes a stab at offering heart rate tracking (albeit with a disclaimer acknowledging it might be affected) and uses GPS for open water for open swimming. 

Fitbit’s latest patent does refer to GPS, but only in relation to establishing if the swimmer is indeed near a body of water. 

The patent addresses none of the greater shortcomings. However, it does show Fitbit/Google is still thinking of ways to improve the swim tracking tech. 

Whether the technology mentioned here ever makes it into consumer products remains to be seen.

TAGGED Fitbit Swimming

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Chris Smith


Chris has more than decade of experience writing for the UK's foremost technology publications including TechRadar, T3 and more.

 A freelance journalist based near Miami, Florida, Chris has written for Wareable since its inception in 2014. From reviews of the latest fitness devices, and in-depth features on bleeding-edge wearable devices, to future-gazing interviews with some of the industry's brightest minds, Chris covers the lot. He also writes about sport for The Guardian and is the author of many technology guide books, while also dabbling in film, music, beer, travel and political commentary.

When he's isn't smashing away at the keys of his MacBook, Chris can be found at his favourite craft breweries, dangling his rod in the warm waters of the Florida Keys, or exploring the Shropshire countryside.

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