We've often bemoaned the lack of smarts in swimming goggles – now, it seems, they're finally getting better. Form, a startup based out of Vancouver, has unveiled the Swim Goggles. These connected goggles will let swimmers see performance metrics in real-time through a display built into the goggles. That's right, no more looking down at your wrist for that data fix.
Unlike previous smart swimming goggles we've seen crop up on crowdfunding websites, Form's Android and iPhone-friendly augmented reality eyewear will launch worldwide on 7 August for a pretty reasonable $199.
Read this: Understanding your swimming wearable metrics
This startup is no stranger to the wearable tech space, either. A core of the team cut their teeth at Recon Instruments, a company that built smart eyewear for fitness and snowsports like the Jet smartglasses. Recon Instruments was acquired by Intel and while the team stayed on at their new home for 18 months, the decision was then made to go it alone and Form was formed.
A long time in the works
While some of the team at Form, including its founder, Dan Eisenhardt, had focused on building smart eyewear for use on land, it was actually always the goal to bring those smarts to the water.
"The idea for that company [Recon Instruments] was actually swimming," Eisenhardt told us. "I was a competitive swimmer since about the age of seven. I come from a family of swimmers. It just happened that this product was something we couldn't make in 2008."
Eisenhardt said there were multiple reasons why it couldn't make the smart swimming goggles when it wanted to all those years ago. The components it needed to make it work would have impacted greatly on the form factor. He also cited expense and how putting those components all together would ultimately lead to bumping up the price for the consumer, too. And there was something else that needed to happen.
"The computing power required to accurately detect events in the pool, they weren’t there for something sitting on your head," he said. "When it's something on your wrist, you can detect some of those things. When it’s on your head, it’s a bit more difficult. Something we didn’t know at the time was what was going to happen with machine learning in the last 10 years. That has made it possible for use to make accurate algorithms that could make this product possible."
Design and data
That swimming wearable is made up of the goggles with an augmented reality display integrated into the goggle lens. There are also motion sensors, like accelerometers and gyroscopes, to track movement, and an onboard computer that uses AI to track and display metrics like split times, distance, stroke rate and stroke count.
Form made its own waveguide optics that produces the display to show off those metrics. While similar solutions like SwimAR have opted to use existing waveguide technology, Eisenhardt felt it could do it on its own and do a good job of it.
"Optics are very difficult", he said. "Putting those optics into the water provides multiple challenges."
Essential reading: The challenge of building smart swimming goggles
It went through a number of iterations to get the device where it needed to be. To get waterproofing right for something that needed to be suitable for charging, and to combat the hostile environment of the water and its impact on its sensitive optical tech. There was rigorous testing in salt water and plugging/unplugging the goggles thousands of times to make sure they were built to last.
And while it considers itself to be a sports technology company first and foremost, the startup knew it had to get the goggle element right, and make them feel like a regular pair of goggles. Else it would be doomed to fail.
"The goggles weren’t an afterthought," said Eisenhardt. "With the goggles, we knew we needed to construct something that was so durable, had good hydrodynamics and would fit most people. If you want to be a wearable company you have to actually be better than the non-wearable companies like the fashion brands to make something that works. We spent a lot of time on this."
When it's time to get out of the pool, it's over to the companion smartphone app (Android and iOS), where you can sync data and see additional metrics these goggles are capable of capturing. This is also the place where you can choose what data is displayed inside of the goggles and which side of the goggles the data will be displayed. As for where that data can live, there will also be support for Strava and TrainingPeaks when the wearable launches so you can pour your data into third party fitness apps.
When you can get them
As mentioned, the Form Swim Goggles are on target to hit that 7 August launch date. We've got a pair to try (stay tuned for our full verdict) and Eisenhardt said it was always the goal to pick a date and stick to it.
"We're ready to ship," he said. "We didn't want to do any kind of Kickstarter, pre-order type of thing. It was always about letting you buy the product and being able to get it that week."
The mention of Kickstarter and crowdfunding seems to be a reference to some of the other swimming wearables we've seen surface over the last few years that have struggled to get their devices out on time. The likes of Instabeat, Zwim and Ovao have all taken this route with varying levels of success. But there isn't any sort of animosity towards these projects that started life through crowdfunding. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
"I know how hard it is. It’s so difficult to do," said Eisenhardt. "I always respect people who go on that journey. It’s very difficult to do hardware on your own. It’s harder to get funding for it. I have been following the projects along and been cheering them from the sideline. Their presence can only be a good thing for the sport and what can be achieved."
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