GestureLogic: Wearable computing monitors athletes' muscles

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What started out as a personal quest to lose weight has turned into a cutting edge opportunity for one Carleton University professor and his team.

A little over eight years ago, Leonard MacEachern, a professor in the department of electronics, went from flabby to lean. Perhaps even a little too lean.

“I lost half my body weight. I looked like a stick,” he said. “I started lifting weights, and I realized that there is no product out there that allows you to measure muscle activity and growth.”

MacEachern, who used heart rate monitors as a key component in his weight loss, surveyed the market for comparable devices that could allow a person to monitor muscle contractions, lactic acid buildup and other key indicators that could help him to get more out of each of his workouts while avoiding injury.

“It just didn’t exist. Certainly not like there is for measuring heart rate and calories,” he said, adding that it took almost six years for technology to reach a point where it could be used to create wearable computing devices that have the ability to map muscle contractions.

“In 2012 I had some great students come along. We really got serious about it and we built a fully functional electromyographical mobile system. This is something you can wear and walk around and use.”

His company, GestureLogic, now employs 11 people and five interns.

Electromyography is a medical technique that is employed to monitor the health of muscles and the nerves that control them. Through their research, MacEachern and his team created a product called LEO, which is anchored by a band made of conductive fibres that wrap around a person’s upper thigh and relay information to a personal device, such as an iPhone or Android device. The information captured by LEO details which muscles in the thigh are firing and how hard, the distance a person is covering, what percentage of the muscle is firing, how much lactic acid is building up within the muscle, heart rate, and calories burned.
Engineering professor Leonard MacEachern of Carleton University and a team of students have developed technology that uses a band with worn on the thigh to monitor exercise benefits and risks.

“For example, when you’re cycling, you are supposed to pull with your hamstrings,” said MacEachern, adding that LEO will warn a person when they aren’t performing an exercise activity like cycling, properly. “We even came to the idea that we could use it for injury prevention. Most injuries in cycling and running are self-induced.”

By monitoring contraction, lactic acid build up and the amount of energy expended, LEO can warn an athlete when an activity, or the way it’s being performed, will likely result in an injury. The company is initially targeting LEO to the running and cycling community.

When the Ottawa-designed and -made device hits crowdfunding platform Indiegogo on Monday, it will leap to the forefront of a promising market for products known as “wearable computers”.

According to technology researcher BCC Research, the market for wearable computing devices, such as smart watches and heart rate monitors, will be worth $9.2 billion U.S. by the end of this year. And with new devices such as LEO and Google Glass set to change the way people interact with technology, BCC believes the market will hit $30.2 billion U.S. by 2018.

The soon-to-be-booming market is attracting the attention of top industrial players. Ford Motor Co., Apple Inc. and Google Inc. have all been linked to various wearable computing devices. However, most of those devices are still months and possibly even years away from being offered to consumers.

“This is the best timing I’ve ever had in my life,” said MacEachern, with respects to the launch of LEO. “We are perfectly positioned from many viewpoints.”

The company hopes to raise at least $50,000 through its Indiegogo campaign. It plans to offer LEO for $179 during the campaign. The price is a discount from LEO’S recommended retail sales price of $299. MacEachern plans to use the experience the company gains from its social fundraising campaign to set future price points and marketing initiatives for the device.
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