The world is awash in fitness apps and trackers. Nike Plus, Fitbit, Under Armour's Healthbox, and more—they're all based on the idea that tracking and monitoring your health and athletic performance will help you understand your routine, inspire you to carry on, and ultimately improve your performance. Now Puma has taken this idea to a new level by going beyond wearable to raceable tech. Meet the Beatbot.
Created by ad agency J. Walter Thompson New York, it looks like a shoebox on wheels. But the BeatBot is a programmable, self-driving, line-following robot made to push runners by giving them a real visual target to beat. Kind of like dog racing for humans. If you tend to run faster when competing against someone rather than just the stopwatch, this one's for you.
Runners can enter the time and distance of the race they want, put the robot on the starting line next to them and go. The BeatBot paces out the programmed race, allowing runners to race against their own best time, their rival’s best time, or even Usain Bolt’s best time, because the robot can match the world-record holder's a top speed of 44-km/hour.
JWT New York executive creative director Florent Imbert says there wasn't a specific academic insight that led to Beatbot. "We found a lot of anecdotal evidence that head to head competition raised performance levels, even a few studies that showed an uptick performance," says Imbert. "But, to us, it felt like a human truth. Running against an invisible clock will never be as motivating as running against someone—or something."
The BeatBot scans and follows the line on a track using nine infrared sensors, while wheel revolutions measure both speed and distance. That data is processed in real-time, to make more than 100 maneuvers per second to stay on the line, navigate bends, and cross the finish line at the pace you've programmed. It's outfitted with rear LED lights so you can see the BeatBot in your peripheral vision, and GoPro cameras on the front and back allow you to review your run after the race, then maybe put it on YouTube set to Chariots of Fire.
Imbert says that while line following robots are commonplace, building one that could reliably stay on a line and around corners at 44km/h was a few orders of magnitude more complicated than they initially expected. "We went through over eight prototypes, and interrogated every aspect of the robot, from the weight of the car, to the lag between the Arduino and servo. We even enlisted the expertise of a NASA robotics engineer and three MIT grads."
Usain Bolt may like it, but chances are you won't be racing BeatBot anytime soon. Imbert says right now it's only available to Puma-sponsored athletes and teams. "While the cost of the current model makes it prohibitive for the average consumers to train with," he says. "The plan is always to develop new models, products and ideas to inspire every athlete."