With the pandemic continuing to mess with our holiday plans, staycations are the new normal, but at least a growing range of devices are helping us make the most of the great outdoors and discover a new sense of adventure.
While you and I watch television, Dave Davidson runs ultra marathons – anything longer than the usual marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
“I got into them because I love being out a long time and in brilliant surroundings – the isolation,” says Mr Davidson, an artist by day who lives in the Derbyshire town of Chesterfield.
His first was the 50-mile NoMad Ultra around Derbyshire, and his latest was the WaterWays 30 in January 2020.
“I like to run without my phone, though,” he says, to give himself “mental space”.
So in August he bought a Vodafone Curve smart tracker, to keep his wife from worrying when he was out in remote places.
“She can see where I am now while I’m out,” he adds. “£2 a month isn’t much to keep my wife happy.”
Mr Davidson isn’t the only one turning to trackers and other ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices to keep their staycation activities on course.
For many people, fitness tracker wrist watches and bands, made by the likes of Fitbit, Garmin and Apple, were their first taste of this kind of IoT device. Now we have Tile, Apple’s AirTag, and Vodafone’s Curve – small enough to attach to keychains or pets, with long-lasting batteries.
The beauty of a tracker is “its versatility”, says Ruth Ruppen, Vodafone’s Head of Strategy, Planning, and Programmes for the company’s Smart Tech division. “We see people using it with bikes, dogs, and even musical instruments.”
Tracker tech has evolved, so a device like the Curve can use GPS, Wi-Fi, mobile network, and Bluetooth tracking data, and passes the information on to a map in a smartphone app. It uses a SIM inside to stay connected to the internet.
The first Fitbit appeared in 2009. The Tile came along in 2013. So we’re now a full decade into getting used to bringing connected things with us when we exercise – and using the data this creates. For example, Nike has released a Nike Run Club app which has an AI coach to guide you through a dozen different types of guided runs, adapt as you progress (or don’t), while playing music through your headphones. London-based TrainAsONE and Toronto’s AIEndurance have also come up with other AI running coaches.
On the extra sensors side, running shoe maker Asics has designed a smart shoe, and Twickenham-based start-up Nurvv has come up with a smart insole, both sporting motion and vibration sensors. These push feedback through your earbuds about how hard you strike the ground, and whether you should shorten your stride.
The new profusion of trackers and other sensors also changes how we watch sport.
For the Tokyo Games, proceeding without an in-person audience, spectators at home can now follow competitors’ biometric data.
For example, when you tune in to archery, you can see variations in the athletes’ heartbeat as they draw and shoot their arrows.
The new heartbeat graphic “tells a whole story whether athletes are in control of the situation or not,” with a “definite correlation between heartbeat meter and quality of shots”, says one viewer in India.
Tech to go
While not everyone may be as adventurous as Mr Davidson or as competitive as Olympians, thousands are still searching out adventurous activities to feel a post-lockdown sense of freedom this summer, finds new research from Vodafone Smart Tech.
After a year of travel restrictions, 42% of people are interested in trying rock climbing, and 40% paragliding, says a recent survey of 1,500 respondents each from the UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Many will take tech along with them. In the UK, 62% of runners use two or more fitness devices. For Mr Davidson, this also means head torches to pick his way along tracks in the dark, and a Satmap device which contains Ordnance Survey maps at 1:50,000 detail.
All this means he also needs to run with solar chargers, to keep his batteries charged up during long runs.
“They just clip to my pack or vest – they’re light enough,” he explains.
Meanwhile, for all his current love of isolation, Mr Davidson is keenly looking forward to his next ultra marathon race with other people, perhaps at “the beginning of next year”.
And this time, his wife can be on the finish line and not watching a dot moving across a 2D map.