NikePlus: From Sonar to Virtual Marathons

nike+ sneakers

Yesterday at PICNIC Nike Techlab’s Michael Tchao gave a great talk on their history of integrating technology and sports. Right now Nike (and Michael) is leading the exercise industry with its NikePlus product.

The first technology-running product was a bit awkward. As described in a 1987 article by the Seattle-PI

One of the newest units is the Monitor, introduced by Nike just last month.

Not yet tested by consumer or user groups, the Monitor is a $225 investment that wires chest-strap heart sensors to a waist unit that uses ultra-sound burglar-alarm technology to track pace and mileage.

Indeed, the Monitor is first a distance pacer – a fancy pedometer. The heart-rate sensor comes extra. Pay $200 for the pacer alone, or add $25 for the chest strap. It uses a female voice to communicate data through stereo headphones.

We’ve come along way if we are now using accelerometers instead of sonar to measure distance.

In fact the product has come along so far that their are now virtual races happening across the world — all facilitated by the NikePlus system. The NikePlus combines a Nike accelerometer (no heart-rate monitor) with an iPod for feedback and data storage. The feedback comes in the form of stats (speed, distance, and estimated calories) and music (to help you meet your goals via Power Songs or encouragement via recordings of Lance Armstrong). After the run all of this data is uploaded to the NikePlus community site.

nikeplus group interface

Once uploaded the data can be shared. In the NikePlus system users are able to bet on each other’s goals or participate in virtual races. The virtual races were an offshoot of community events Nike holds across the world. Not all community member could attend so Nike would let them participate via the website – sometimes for a fee. Nike held a real-world marathon just for women (designed by women) that ended with a fireman in a tuxedo handing out necklaces at the finishing line. NikePlus-owning women who missed the actual event could pay $40, run a half-marathon and get a Tiffany bracelet for their trouble.

I had been unaware of the gaming aspect of NikePlus before this talk. Now I wish they would extend it beyond running (and of course add location to the app).

Update: As mentioned in the comments, location is a part of the app. You can share maps of your runs.
Here is an image of the Nike Monitor, courtesy of MIchael Tchao: