Wheelchair Fitness & The Tech Revolution.
31st July 2017
Sport, health and wellbeing are currently undergoing a big revolution with a greater emphasis than ever on wheelchair fitness. Wheelchair users are increasingly being encouraged to lead an active lifestyle, through special fitness classes (such as Wheel-Spin) and the growing number of wheelchair sports clubs. The wearable fitness technology market has also jumped on this revolution and is now putting more focus on devices specifically designed to improve wheelchair health and wellbeing. Here at Mark Bates Ltd we have decided to examine the products available to see what’s new to the market and what’s in production.
Arguably, the most popular wearable technology on the market is the Apple Watch. Apple recently worked with around 300 wheelchair users to update their activity app showing their commitment to provide a great experience for wheelchair customers. The new OS 3 update provides many new features specifically designed for wheelchair fitness. The app now tracks distance, speed and calories burned when wheeling instead of just walking and running. The device calculates calories burned by measuring the type of surface the wheels are on and the gradient. There is also a new ‘time to roll’ alert which prompts users to move during prolonged periods of inactivity. However, while Apple might be the market leader there are plenty of other great alternatives such as Fitbits Fitbit Flex.
Fitbit is possibly the largest competitor to Apple in the wearable technology market and has the benefit of solely focusing on the health and fitness of the user. Fitbit, like Apple, are also aiming to provide a fantastic wheelchair friendly experience which can be seen in their Fitbit Flex. This wristband now counts any movement as steps and this includes manual wheelchair propelling. Like the Apple Watch, Fitbit Flex tracks distance, calories burned and active minutes. However, the device also covers additional health aspects such as sleep quality. A 3-axis accelerometer is used to convert acceleration into digital measurements such as frequency, duration, intensity and movement patterns. All this digital data can be synced to a phone app via Bluetooth to track the progress a user makes. While there are many good deceives available on the market now, there are even more devices currently in production that put an even greater emphasis on wheelchair users.
One of the most exciting and revolutionary advances coming to the market soon is Chaotic Moon’s Freewheel. Freewheel is a small device specifically aimed at wheelchair users. One of the project leaders, Tyler Hivley, a wheelchair user himself, has worked extensively on the project and claimed that “there wasn’t a fitness tracker suitable for people in his situation” until Freewheel. The device differs from market leaders Apple and Fitbit by taking into account additional muscles needed to propel the chair across different terrains by using a gyroscope, accelerometer, barometer and effect sensors. The device can accurately track altitude, acceleration, speed and gradient as well as heart rate. All the collected data can be synced to a phone via Bluetooth. Freewheel also has ambitious plans for the future such as collecting terrain data which will be used to calculate the best available routes for the user. While many potential customers have praised Chaotic Moon others have questioned whether the device takes into account how the customers use their arms for other activities or if it is geared to a specific movement. As Freewheel is still a few months away from coming to the market this aspect of the device remains unclear.
Chaotic Moon are not the only ones who are developing a product aimed at improving wheelchair fitness. Students in Ohio State University have designed a device called a Smart Hub. This device is also specifically aimed at wheelchair users but has more of a focus towards reducing the risk of injury by monitoring the user’s daily habits. Distance travelled is calculated using the known circumference of the wheel and counting the number of times a magnet passes a switch. Time active is determined by looking for periods where the magnet passes the reed switch more than once in a five second interval. If the magnet has not passed within five seconds, the wheel has not made a full revolution in that time, and the user is in a period of inactivity. Unlike other apps and devices this data cannot be synced to your phone but the data can be downloaded onto a computer. The students claim there are currently no devices on the market that can be taken out of a clinic to track a manual wheelchair user’s fitness and wheeling habits, and that the Smart Hub ‘fills this void in the market’. For academics, this type of data could be used to better understand how individuals develop upper-body injuries and how to prevent them. The device makes it possible to track effects on the cardiovascular system, recommends the proper number of strokes per day, along with other possibilities. Like Freewheel this device is yet to come to the industry but there has been a commitment to ‘price competitivity’ when it does.
With so much new technology aimed at wheelchair users coming to the market soon as well as big corporations such as Apple targeting wheelchair fitness, wheelchair users no longer need to feel left behind in fitness technology advancement.