Hamster Wheel for the Advanced

1. February 2010
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Physically active in your own living room: Does that work? Researchers at a laboratory at the TU Berlin say: Yes. Anyone too lazy or too immobile to leave the house can take a seat on a cyber-ergometer and get on the move in the world’s largest wheel with Google Earth.

Surely you know Google Earth. This not that small program allows a simulated low-altitude flight over nearly any corner of this planet by now. That’s not bad if you are not sure whether a holiday hotel is located right next to a dream beach like on the picture in the catalogue or whether on the other hand the back of it is a nightmare- highway. Google Earth can be used for other things as well though. For example the fitness room at the DAI-Laboratory located in the innovation center of the TU Berlin (technical university) presents itself highly innovative – connected living – compendiously IZ Connected. Anyone taking a seat here on the ergometer can dive deep into a world which might be or perhaps will be the every day life of tomorrow.

The whole world as our race track!

Just imagine an elderly lady. She would like to do some sports but she has only occasionally time to do so since her home is located a bit inconviniently. Sure, she could buy a regular bicycle ergometer. But that is dead boring. This type of health exercise would be a whole lot more entertaining in good company. But where to get it? The Berlin technicians have a clever answer to this question. The lady does not take a seat on a regular bike ergometer but on some kind of cyber-bike which is connected with Google Earth via internet. Before starting her bike tour she can pick a race track – the Mullholland Dive in Los Angeles for example or any mountain pass road in the Andes in South America. She pushes the start-button and bikes off while the Google Earth projection opens up in front of her on a white wall. So she tours her favourite route by bike anywhere in the world without having to leave her living room.

Thanks to coupling with the ergometer, the thing is at least half way realistic: If you pedal faster the country side will pass faster as well. It is not exactly the real bicycle perspective, more like a view half diagonally from above because Google Earth does not provide more. But it for sure is much more fun that the hobby room wallpaper. The funny part now is that the researchers have coupled the whole system with kind of a Web 2.0 platform. Means: If our senior lady does not want to tackle the Andes pass road all by herself she’ll give her girlfriend a call at the other end of town. They make a date somewhere in the middle of the road in Peru and pedal up-hill together including small intermediate sprints to give the whole things a taste of competition. That their chitchat is by Voice over IP goes without saying – if they aren’t too much out of breath.

Is that healthy now, Mr. Butler?

Professor Sahin Albayrak, scientific head of the Berlin DAI-Laboratory, is convinced that this combination of sports, cyberspace and Web 2.0 will take health prevention a big step ahead in the long run: “The social component during training is immensely important to maintain motivation. Sooner or later conventional sports equipment normally ends up in a corner unused. Joint training is much more sustainable.” The internet-based prevention of the future does not stop with the bike ergometer though. If you pedalled enough for your taste and if you don’t want to meet any more real people even in cyberspace – in the Berlin future lab, you are welcome to communicate with your personal digital butler. Whether we are talking cooking, shopping, an inspection of the fridge or any other place in every day’s life. The butler knows what’s healthy and right and does not hold back providing his opinion. And it’s nearly secondary whether this interaction between human being and machine is done via a cell phone or a screen built in the door of the fridge.

The challenge: Cost effective and suitable for the target group

Behind the IZ Connected are, in addition to the TU Berlin, diverse companies, among others the German Telekom, Loewe, EnBW and Vatttenfall. With the AOK, even a health insurance company is one of the founding members. Thus the target is not so much some high flying, expensive toys like some of thus discussed under the label “Ambient Assisted Living”. It’s more about low-budget solutions which motivate without costing too much money. The application of Web 2.0 technologies and Google Earth is (also) based on this requirement.
On the technical side, more experiments are made to find solutions working without expensive home networks – wireless data transfer is the key word here. But also digital electricity chips are interesting which are used to control any endpoints centrally – by using the regular circuit.

But it’s also about application scenarios and business models. For children with overweight and teenagers for example, currently a concept is being discussed which will enable them to collect virtual “moving” points when they meet with other teenagers in cyberspace for a sports event in the afternoon after school. That could be meeting on the ergometer but also at an accordingly equipped game consol like Nintendo’s Wii for example. And what about the business model? Nobody knows anything really just yet. But somehow, trade and industry are supposed to join the club, either by advertising or also by intelligent contract models of mobile telecommunication groups – they could make their cell phones more interesting by adding prevention assistants.

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