Friday, January 28, 2011

Interactive Treadmill design idea

I sometimes kill time running, especially on the treadmill by letting my mind wander. I actually get a lot done while running that ins't very obvious. I can think through quite a few things that I might have to otherwise sit at my desk and think through. It is actually pretty good multitasking. It also helps get through everyday runs that can sometimes be boring. Especially lately as I've been just dawdling on the treadmill, having something to think about is the only way I can tolerate it.

The last few days I've been mixing in some incline on the treadmill, which got me thinking about what grade to put it at to simulate different real roads, like Sagamore hill in Portsmouth, NH. That led me to think about Mount Washington. I think the treadmill at work maxes out at 10% so I know it isn't capable of simulating Mt. W, but that got me thinking more about it.

I wonder if there is some existing treadmill or program which allows you to program your treadmill to automatically adjust grade to simulate a road or race course of your choosing? The quick web search I've done since then only revealed one person wondering something similar, but the closest thing I've found is the NordicTrack iFit and I can't tell exactly what that does.

I tend to shoot holes in my ideas pretty quickly, so the first thing I thought is that you can't really simulate downhills on a treadmill, at least with current designs. I suppose you could design one with a rear lift as well as a front one, but I assume that would create some kind of safety issue. For the time being, let's assume it could be done safely. Maybe limit the rear lift to 5% rather than the 10% you can get on the front.

Whatever the format for loading the program, you would have to set it to make adjustments almost constantly if you were being really precise, so you might have to do some feathering to smooth it out a little bit, like make adjustments every 1/100 of a mile rather than every foot. The program would have to constantly compare your distance traveled to the corresponding grade at that distance into the route. It would also have to ignore or limit grade to the constraints of the treadmill, let's say 10% incline and 5% decline. Though to be honest, many people assume you should run at 1% incline on a treadmill normally anyway to more closely simulate outdoor running. Maybe this would be factored in.

Collecting data for inputting programs becomes the next thought. Could something as simple as an elevation profile from something like Google Maps be somehow converted into data that could be programmed and transformed into a format that a treadmill could be set up to decipher and execute? If so, that would be pretty simple.

The other piece of my fantasy treadmill that I would want to add is a handheld remote so I don't have to actually touch the screen. Reaching to touch the screen can actually be a little difficult once you get moving at close to race pace. I'd rather have a small (wireless for safety) remote with just an up/down button for adjusting the pace and an emergency stop button.

The other thing that would be cool, but possibly cost prohibitive would be a video monitor mounted to the front which could show your route as you move. The key here would be making a video of the course at a closely calibrated speed so that it would be slowed precisely to follow along with the distance traveled on your run. You wouldn't want to have the video get too far ahead of you or behind you. Collecting the data for this would be next to impossible, but it is a cool idea.

So there you have it. My thoughts on a programmable, varying course treadmill with interactive grade adjustments and dynamic video route display. Anyone want to help me patent this thing?

Maybe you're thinking "Just go outside and run." Well that isn't always possible for a variety of reasons. And imagine how much more enjoyable treadmill running would be if you could be indoors in Maine during a blizzard and decide you want to run part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, or through downtown Cairo, Egypt? Wouldn't that make your hour on the Dreadmill go by a little quicker?

Who's with me on this???


Diana said...

I've heard that to do downhills on a treadmill, you can put a 4x4 under the back end of your treadmill. I've heard of people doing long runs like this to prepare their quads for Boston.

If you wanted to simulate a rolling course without really steep hills (say between -5% and +5% grade) then you could put a plank under the back of your treadmill sufficient to put it at -5% grade, and then take the treadmill incline between 0 and 10% so that you would be running between -5% and +5%.

As for a video of the course, the February 2011 Runner's World mentioned a guy who does this. He runs in cool places (national parks, Niagara falls) with a special video setup and then you watch this video while you're on the treadmill. It wouldn't be your special home course, of course, but it would still make it feel more like you are running outside. He is planning to do race course videos in the near future.

Wilesthing said...

Damn...I've been beaten to the punch! Maybe I can collaborate with him ti incorporate some automated grade change aspect. I haven't seen the February Runner's World yet...what timing!

DoubleJ said...

Bob, the treadmill I was looking at goes up to 40% grade on the incline and 6% downhill. For Mt. Wash, there is no downhill at all except for the first like 50 meters. Take a look at incline trainers rather than regular treadmills...most of them go up to a crazy grade on the incline (like 40) and do do a decent downhill grade....

Wilesthing said...

Holy cow! 40% is just silly. But it interesting to learn that decline isn't out of the question.

It actually looks like the iFit program with Nordic Track can do exactly what I was thinking of:

I'm not sure how long this product has been on the market. It is possible that they read my blog this morning, developed it and got it off the ground before lunchtime. I am having my lawyers look into this.

KG said...

Programs like the one you're thinking about do already exist--for indoor trainers (for bikes). The indoor trainer is hooked up to a computer and the computer adjusts tension as the course is completed. The computer program (the one that I saw, anyway) had more of an animated course than a live video one. To boil it down: this technology exists for bikers, so let's make it exist for runners.

Diana said...

Hey Bob, here is the company that makes the treadmill videos: Virtual Active.