Wednesday October 26th, 2016

If Intel and Oakley get their way, soon you might be talking to your sunglasses, and they’ll talk back. Packed with Intel technology, Oakley’s newest eyewear called Radar Pace interacts with runners and cyclists using voice recognition, and aims to provide them with coaching feedback while they train.

OK Radar, start workout.
>Starting your workout. You can start running whenever you’re ready and I’ll be able to tell automatically.

The wraparound sunglasses have ear buds to listen to the coach, and a microphone on the left temple picks up the user’s speech. To get the device’s attention, you say OK Radar.

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The choice to go for an audio-only system, rather than including a Google Glass-like heads up display, was partly to maximize battery life and partly to save weight. The power lasts for six hours, which allows for it to be used on most longer distance training runs or rides, and the frame weighs in at 56 grams, which may feel a little heavier than a non-smart pair of sunglasses, but is not uncomfortable. Visual displays, either in a pair of glasses or on a watch, also typically require a user to look elsewhere to read numbers, distracting them from the road ahead.

Courtesy of Oakley

“When people run with a wrist watch and have to constantly look at the watch all the time, it’s sort of the opposite of what you try to preach as a coach,” says Craig Alexander, an Oakley sponsored three-time Ironman world champion who now runs a coaching business. “You want movement and things that project or propel the body forward in an efficient manner, and looking at your watch is really not one of them.”

OK Radar, how am I doing?
> You’ve gone 2.67 miles in 21 minutes 12 seconds.

Though Radar Pace has built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes to measure movement, it connects via Bluetooth to a user’s smartphone, and relies on that device to run voice-recognition and coaching algorithms. Designers realized early on that most people would take their phones along with them anyway.

“There was a lot of idle processing power sitting down in their pockets,” says Luiz Dias, who manages the Radar Pace project at Oakley.

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The system, run through an app available for Android devices and iPhones, can also connect to other wearable devices a user might be wearing, such as heart rate straps and cycling cadence and power meters. Initially, Radar Pace doesn’t provide much in the way of feedback or training plans, other than metrics about each run or ride, and instead logs data as it learns about the user.

Similarly, talking to the coach can seem a little unnatural at first. But you get used to talking to yourself—or at least used to giving that impression to passersby—and you learn what questions and speech pattern work best with the automated coach. Apple’s automated assistant Siri has already been around for five years, and talking to a device doesn’t feel that uncomfortable or unusual anymore.

OK Radar, tell me a joke.
> I don’t know about that.      

Courtesy of Oakley

“The coach won’t tell you the capital of Nebraska,” says Chris Croteau, who runs the Intel side of the project. Although the voice recognition can adapt to different ways of asking the same question, users won’t get much help if they ask it anything outside the realm of running or riding. “[But] if you hold down the touch panel, press it and hold it, it will initiate either Siri or Google Now, depending on the phone you have,” Croteau says.

Future software updates might expand some of the coach’s abilities, including adding different voices and perhaps weather advice, but most of the more complex distractions that someone might want on a long training route are effectively handed over to the phone. Users can make phone calls and listen to music the same way they would with any other Bluetooth headset. Because the ear buds are detachable, users can also decide how much of the world they want to block out while they focusing on working out.

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OK Radar, what’s my stride rate?
> Your current stride rate is 89.
Why is stride rate important?
> A low stride rate makes running harder. Increasing stride rate puts less load on your legs, and helps you feel less tired.

Perhaps the biggest athletic advantage of using Radar Pace is to be able to diagnose and change running or riding mechanics on the fly.

Courtesy of Oakley

“The real essence of coaching is assessing performance and making little changes as you progress,” Alexander says. Endurance sports coaches don’t typically follow their athletes around during long training sessions, and although reviewing data after a workout can be useful, getting regular updates, and making adjustments, during it is more likely to help make changes stick.

The device also might help fill the coaching gap for young athletes who either live too far away from top coaches, or who can’t yet afford to hire a trainer. “Being an athlete I was self-coached for a long time,” Alexander says. “[That] wasn’t a plan. I tried to get coaching early in my career, but it was hard to get a coach and a lot of the good coaches who were interested didn’t live near where I lived.

“I don’t think Radar Pace will ever supersede coaching as such,” Alexander says. “But I think there’s always going to be a place for this sort of technology.”

OK Radar, finish workout.

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