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2012 ANT+ Symposium Technology Roundup

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You saw my presentation to the ANT+ Symposium yesterday, highlighting my keynote session that I gave last week.  However, I wanted to loop back and highlight some of the things that were delivered to me, rather than me delivering to them.

General Thoughts:

This was my third year there, and the attendance seemed roughly on par with last year from a numbers standpoint.  My understanding from them is that the total attendance was about the same, but that more companies were there, with each company having slightly less people.

From my perspective – the main change I saw was that the ‘quality’ of the people attending increased.  I know that may be a weird way of saying it – but I felt that the companies I talked to each brought a strong blend of an executive sponsor with a talented engineer.  For example, in the past Garmin didn’t tend to have anybody higher up there (or even middle-up).  This year, their Executive Vice President was there.  Timex, the same – their Vice President of R&D.  In my mind, this changed some of the undercurrent of the discussion, as ideas could be ensured to make it to the top pretty quickly.

The engineering discussion was just as ripe as ever however.  Each day, lunch and dinner tables were full of geek-on-geek conversation.  I listened to the guys from Quarq banter with the Wahoo guys high data rate buffering of ANT+ messages and how exactly to take apart the Di2 system and control/record/automate it for play.  All meals were like this.  And school bus rides.  And hallway conversations.  And actually, just about anytime anyone was together.

Of course, that’s exactly what the conference is designed for – fostering ideas between companies.

My time there was mostly acting as a bit of neutral 3rd party.  Companies scheduled time with me to chat through new ideas, or thoughts on how a consumer might take their new product.  Some products to be released in the near future, and others potentially years away.  And everything in between.

Technology Snippets: The Check-in Kiosk

When you checked in, you got a lanyard with your name and company on it – like most conferences really.  Except at this one, you also got a little ANT+ Chirp on it.  And, the little Chirp had your name tied to it.  This enabled them to do all sorts of interesting scenarios over the course of the next few days at the conference (some of which I’ll highlight here, and in other posts).

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Now, where this got a bit funny is that when I checked in, it was late at night – around 11PM.  So nobody was there.  I merely found my badge on the desk and grabbed it.  Seemed to make sense to me (it’s the Canadian mountains, people are trusting here).

But what I didn’t realize (until the next day) – was that there was a photo aspect that I was supposed to take part in.  No worries, ANT+ had me covered:

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I always wanted a darker tan.

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I don’t think I realized this until Wednesday night when I went to check out the machine.  The machine used proximity to tell who was in front of the machine, and who was nearby.  Pretty cool.  Again, all just demo-type stuff to get peoples ideas flowing.

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At any rate, when I noticed the above, the guys from Wahoo were behind me chatting away.  Thus, Mike from Wahoo took the opportunity to grab a cell phone photo, which he tweeted out a number of hours later:

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Which in turn prompted this response from Simon:

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Well played Simon, well played.

Technology Snippets: A Pebble in Real Life

Someone at the ANT+ Symposium had a Pebble watch.  On Thursday, while pondering my lunch options I cracked open a little Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth Low Energy) browser app, and just let it roam.  This wasn’t because I was actually trying to find anything, but rather, because I accidentally had clicked on the icon.  In doing so though, I found something interesting:

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Yup, someone there had a Pebble, and it was on, and working, and broadcasting.  Given it was in the middle of a presentation – it would haven an awkward time to walk around in circles from table to table to figure it out.  But, the irony here is that the Pebble doesn’t include ANT+ (or at least, it’s not supposed to), so having a Bluetooth focused watch at the ANT+ Symposium is interesting.

Obviously, it’s not likely that it’s a member of the Pebble team, but rather, just a beta tester.  But still…small world.  Here’s a few other screens, for the geeks in ya:

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Unfortunately, the ability to gather information was fairly limited, as the device kept on rejecting the connection request – so screenshots were fairly limited.

Technology Snippets: Wahoo Fitness to add ANT+ to RFLKT Bike Computer

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I’m happy to let you know that Wahoo Fitness has decided it will offer an ANT+ variant of their new RFLKT bike computer.  Previously, the plan as announced at Interbike for the roughly $100 device was to have it be just Bluetooth Smart.  But now, they’re looking at an additional model which will include both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+.

This unit will cost a tiny bit extra, but not much extra.  Like, a couple Starbucks Mocha Light Frappuccino’s extra.  Pricing is still in flux.

That said, they are working on where to fit this in priority wise – so your feedback to them is appreciated below in the comments (meaning, if you’d buy this version over the other one, how important ANT+ connectivity is to you, etc…).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about at all, then click over to my first look at the RFLKT post.  It’s worth your time.

Technology Snippets: The Wasp

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I’ll be talking more about the Wasp next week in a post.  But essentially this technology allows field of play ANT+ meshing.  Such as hundreds of people with ANT+ sensors on and gathering the data (like on a football field, though probably not that many people unless rioting is occurring).  Other uses could be massive spin classes or entire club with complete real-time streaming, etc… They had some pretty interesting demos setup, which were pretty cool.  Of course, everything’s fun and games until someone gets run over on a bicycle…but more on that later.

Technology Snippets: Alpha strapless heart rate watch

I saw me mention it in my Friday bike ride post – but I’ve been using it since and am pretty darn impressed.  I wore it the whole way back from Calgary, and the battery lasted 30 hours before it died out (that’s 30 hours of continuous HR broadcasting).  Very solid.

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I had it connected to a Garmin Fenix to record all that awesomeness, but of course, the Fenix let me down when it came do data visibility.  Lesson learned, next time use something else.

At any rate, in talking with Liz Dickinson (head of the Alpha product) while up there – they continue to be on target for a December release.  I poked fun at Kickstarter companies in general during my keynote speech about always being late – so I’m looking forward to a company proving me wrong.

Ultimately, I think that it’s the technology (not the watch) that is of most use here.  The watch merely tells time and HR, but the technology if applied to other watches is a game changer.  In my testing thus far I’m simply not seeing dropouts and the like, ones that so many industry gossipers warn about.  In that 30 hour stretch, it only beeped twice to let me know of a skin contact issue – otherwise it was fine.  And obviously, if I wore it 30+ hours it was at least comfortable enough it didn’t bother me.

But again, I don’t see it as the watch is today at the $250 price point, but for the strap/band technology.  Ultimately, the watch will be offered in both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart.

Technology Snippets: Edible Body Monitoring Underwear

I played around with some integrated clothing options last winter (and actually generally liked it).  In fact, the folks that sent me out the demo gear were there at the conference again this year (which is how I met them last year).

However, over the course of the few days, another company – Clothing+ – presented on the state of integrated garments.  Their presentation focused on all sorts of sensor types that were being integrated into clothing, far more than just HR.  Like temperature, stretch sensors (you doing that Yoga pose correctly?) and much more.

And, as you can see below, underwear is a popular place for sensors – since it virtually guarantees you’re wearing it against your skin.

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It was interesting to listen to them and their various attempts over the years.  Market timing is a fickle creature, especially when you’re trying to convince someone to strap electronic sensors to their boobs.

To date, most of their product lines have been driven by partnering with existing clothing brands – i.e the Nike’s of the world.  Personally though, I think they should go about it the other way around.  Focus on the user communities that actually care about this stuff: The Garmin’s, Timex’s and Polar’s of the world.  Heck, pick a endurance sports company like Zoot, 2XU or the like.  Just like we saw with 3T and the Garmin Edge mounts, so much so that Garmin is now selling them.

OEM through them a small lineup of heart rate strap embedded clothing.  No different than any of the 28,187 other Garmin or Polar accessories you can buy for your unit.  Again, just my two cents, but focusing on the user segment that uses the data seems like a better place to start than spending time on folks who just want regular old clothes.

Technology Snippets: A lot of other people

No doubt, I talked to a lot of people while I’m there.  In fact, that’s all I did from 8AM till 12AM each night (after that, I did my regular job talking to people in Europe/Africa/Asia…it never ended).

Garmin: I had some very solid and productive conversations with their Executive Vice President, as well as a long-time senior engineer at Garmin (like, since the band got together longtime engineer).  We talked about a broad range of topics, and talked about some of the areas that were covered in my presentation – such as lack of company interaction in the forums (specifically, having the right employees and enough of them there).  And releases in general, and integration between different teams.  With the senior engineer we talked about Garmin Connect and the challenges it faces, and has faced over the past few years since the loss of the Motionbased team that was behind it.

As is usual in my conversations, we had some frank discussions about software development quality – such as I believe the case with the Garmin Fenix.  And their general shift towards moving away from announcing products until they are 100% ready to ship the product.

Timex: I had a good chat with the folks from Timex.  Which, is about all I’ve gotta say about that.

Brim Brothers: Again, another good chat with them.  Though, I had spent four unplanned ferry boat roads and four bus rides with him at Eurobike, and some time at Interbike – so I pretty much knew where they stood.  That said, we had a very open and clear conversation about the products and their current timelines.  Look for something announcement-wise from them in the coming months.

LeMond Fitness No More: The rumors have been swirling for a while, and they continued to swirl at the ANT+ Symposium (where Greg LeMond himself spoke two years ago).  At Interbike, they no-showed to two booth spaces they had (one on the main floor, and one in the Health and Fitness area), and Greg LeMond himself no-showed on a speech he had.  Currently, the plan is for them to be bought out by Hoist Fitness, though, it’s not clear what that means for the product line.  Ordering seems to have stopped a while ago, and postings on their social media pages seems to have dropped off.  Guess I should have put out that LeMond Trainer review sooner than next week…sigh.

Plus conversations with…Trek, Texas Instruments, Quarq, Alphamantis, Moxy, 4iiii’s, Nordic Semiconductor, and many more.  But nothing of significant note for here.

Non-Technology: Simon Whitfield

Unfortunately, my flight didn’t arrive until very late Tuesday night, so I missed out on the group ride with him.  Which, I heard was a festivus – as they went out and got caught in a nasty lightening filled thunderstorm.  Bummer, that would have made it more fun.

But, we still had some good chatting on Wednesday – and, he jokingly opened up his keynote speech asking my why I hadn’t “provided a full in-depth review of the London 2012 Olympic course, including the speed bump”.  For those that doesn’t know what happened, see this.

I’d never met him in person, but he’s as friendly as you see on the interwebs.

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I suspect I’ll be seeing some more of him in the future, got some stuff potentially planned for Victoria down the road…

As always, thanks for reading!

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10 Comments

  1. On the Wahoo RFLKT gaining ANT+ compatibility, what would be the point? As far as I understand the product, it acts as an extension or second screen for your iPhone, so connecting via Bluetooth Smart your phone updates the screen via through an app. Since the iPhone doesn’t have ANT+, I can’t see how adding ANT+ to the second screen would be of use, unless it allowed you to monitor the sensors without the phone acting in the middle and recording data?

    I’m interested to see more of the RFLKT, and I think it has the potential to be brilliant.

    Reply
  2. Your presentation if really impressive, all the point you raised are correct and pertinent ! Good job :)

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Hi Myk-

    Sorry, I should have clarified. In this case, it acts as a go-between. So you could connect your ANT+ devices (like a PowerTap), and then the iPhone based app (from any company) could access that data stream. Thus no need for ANT+ dongle on the phone.

    Hope this helps!

    Reply
  4. That would be awesome if they could add Polar protocols/standards…

    Reply
  5. Really liked your presentation and nice to meet you in person. You gave the audience a good perspective of the whole — not only Ant+

    Reply
  6. Thanks for the reply – and yes, that helps a lot!! I already have plenty of ANT+ gear and have so far only changed to Bluetooth Heart Rate, so if I can use the RFLKT to get ANT+ info to the phone without an adapter I can put of upgrading the speed and cadence sensors.

    Now I just need a pre-Christmas release and confirmed price…

    Reply
  7. Ian

    Hadn’t really thought about you being able to work as a go-between from ‘regular folks’ to manufacturers, but that’s a very important aspect of letting them know about things (especially when they don’t read their own forums!).

    One I’d be keen to hear about is whether Garmin will allow a firmware update to allow non-cycling specific GPS to receive ANT+ power data, especially now they have a pedal based power system in the works. Models like the Dakota the I own, and the Colorado/Oregon etc, and I think some of the etrex/forerunners already use ANT+ for the HR strap, and are great for the mapping side of GPS – exploring, very long distance rides, offroad ultra distance races etc. (They seem to be a bit more rugged than the bike specific models too).

    However, they lack the power capture screens in the software/firmware, meaning taking along two devices if you want to navigate/record GPS as well as power, which while I’m sure is’t a problem for you Ray (I’ve seen the pics with you having 3 head units on the stem bars plus a couple of GPS watches on your wrists!) can be for long distance rides/events where weight and battery concerns are key…

    There’s a low level grumbling on GPS forums including the Garmin cycling forums, but I’ve not seen a reply to this – I’d love it if you could bring it up with a Garmin big cheese (or medium cheese if necessary!).

    Thanks!

    Ian

    ps – really looking forwards to the Powertap Joule GPS review, any updates on when it’s due?

    Reply
  8. Ironman Canada become Ironman Victoria? There is already a half there, seems like one could double the distance?

    Reply
  9. In regards to ANT+ for the RFLKT:

    I think it is a wonderful idea, ESPECIALLY if used as a go between for ANT+ devices. This would allow you to use ANY GPS enabled phone as your GPS tracker, and get all your power, speed, cadence metric on the RFLKT. I could see it being the go-to device for cyclist: no more having to drop $250 for a GPS enables cycling computer, ~$120 and you get a VERY customizable head unit. Plus it will work for both ANT+ AND BTLE.

    if they add ANT+ they have one customer here as I’m thinking of moving away from apple on my next phone.

    Thanks,

    Ryan

    Reply
  10. Tim

    I’ll Jump on board the RFLKT as an ANT+ go between……
    In fact, so much so that I’m going to stop trying to talk myself into buying something else sooner rather than waiting (I was going to buy something even as soon as this afternoon possibly!)

    There you go Wahoo, get on it ;-D

    Reply

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