Part of my job is proving to tech folks at potential customers that our products really can do what the sales guys say they do. The things you can make happen using HealthVault and Amalga are pretty fantastic, and naturally people want to know if we're for real or, well, full of crap. The first thing I am always careful to say is --- there's no magic. We've built some great tools, but they're the result of a ton of work and some novel founding principles. From that starting point, we can have a discussion that shows how we deliver what we promise (and we do!).

But once in awhile --- there really is magic.

Tom Jackson and Stuart Bowers work on Amalga Life Sciences, which builds on top of Amalga UIS, adding tools to aid in life sciences research and development. They are both crazy smart. But beyond raw horsepower, these guys share a passion for solving problems that just makes me sit back and shake my head.

As it happens, Tom and Stuart are fitness enthusiasts, and in their spare time, at home, they've built an incredible gym that watches them with cameras to identify when they're working out and what they're doing. It automatically captures super-granular data from weight machines, spin bikes, dance machines and even universal machines. All this data goes up to HealthVault using a SODA application they've built.

Here's more about their work, in their own words:

Tom and I have been working on a hobby project recently and wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the work we've been doing to capture our health and fitness data and get it into HealthVault. For a few years now we've each been tracking our data, but rarely in formats which were computable or persistent in the cloud, for example written records in a notebook or camera-phone pictures from arcade dance machines. In our current house we've built out a modest gym but now there is more data than ever to keep track of, and with busy schedules it's already hard to fit in a workout and harder still to take time afterward to enter it into a system like the MSN Health and Fitness portal.

We set out with the goal of keeping as much of our health and fitness information in the cloud as possible, while reducing the required user interaction to a minimum. It's been a fun ride and only recently did it truly become possible with the release of the new Software on Device Authentication (SODA) APIs for .NET from the HealthVault Team and a high-resolution webcam from Microsoft.

We've compiled a short video (7 minutes) showing a walkthrough of our gym and the HealthVault integration. If you have the time I'd strongly recommend watching it before reading on.

A short video of our home gym (also available in MP4) --- Note: The video is a WMV file hosted in Windows Azure. If it does not launch initially, open Windows Media Player and press Ctrl+U to enter the following URL:

As you can see in the video, one of the most exciting things about this project has been the ability to really start keeping our data and trusting the system to track us. If Pam and I choose to go use the spin bikes at the ProClub (which offer wattage output 🙂 we can just bring our thumb drives and uploading data is literally a few clicks away when we get home (via a custom app that Tom and I built for LeMond data). Similarly if Tom goes for a bike ride he can simply use the heart rate monitor from the gym and that data is preserved and can be uploaded via the same app we've built. Most notably though, if we all decide to workout at home, I can transition between weightlifting and spin biking to keep my heart rate up, and I never need to worry about tracking that data explicitly and I can even get real-time feedback that the system is working and my data is being uploaded. At the same time, Pam and Tom can track all of their In the Groove data on jump-drives and after the workout, it's literally a few clicks to get that data into HealthVault where it accessible to multiple applications including our own.

One of things we've started to notice is how liberating it is to know that the system is watching. For instance, most good personal trainers will have you do as many reps of an exercise as you can do comfortably, rather than making you count to a specific number. On strenuous activities like the bench press, counting reps can break your focus, but it's critical to determine if you should add more weight. Recently I've taken to simply lifting as hard as a can, then poking my head in the other room to see if I was pushing myself hard enough. It's an amazing feeling to literally have a virtual personal trainer. Similarly I try to get in at least 20 minutes on the spin bike, but jumping on and off of the bike during the workout makes it tricky to track that. I used to try to keep a running tally in my head but I'd often lose the count as I focused on weightlifting. Now if I ever get lost I can just poke my head around the corner and see a running tally displayed in HealthVault!

So far the system has been amazing to work with and HealthVault has proven to be the perfect platform for storing the data. We've even made a simple WPF app to show what days we've exercised and whether it was cardio or weightlifting, rendering our paper calendar obsolete.  As I mentioned above it's been an awesome ride getting everything working but we're pretty sure that the real fun is yet to come. Moving forward we are excited to keep pouring this high resolution data into HealthVault and start using it both as a motivator and as an opportunity to learn more about our own health and wellness.   

I still can't stop grinning like an idiot when I watch this video. First of all, it's INSANELY cool. Second, it is a great reinforcement of the promise of what we're enabling with HealthVault and our other projects. And third, with folks like Tom and Stuart working here, I know Microsoft is bringing the chops to make it all happen.


Comments (4)

  1. Jeff says:

    At 1:52 in the video, the weight goes from 155 to 165 but the extra 5 lbs per side hasn’t been put on the bar yet… can you explain this?

  2. Sean Nolan says:

    Jeff, I talked to Stuart and this was his response:

    Bahahaha, that drives me crazy in the video! I jumped the gun and brought the pink weight into frame but realized Tom was still talking so pulled it out, then as he reached the end of his explanation I added it again. We wanted a single take so we decided it wasn’t a deal breaker 🙁


  3. Jeff says:

    I figured it was legit… and it looks cool.  Just thot I’d ask… never believe everything you read, especially on the interweb and all.

    Now all you need to do is get the camera to recognize individuals and sell it to the ProClub so they can install it in their workout rooms. 😉  People could log in to a website and look at their workout history, personal trainers could monitor their students’ progress without having to sit there and watch them all the time.  Very cool.

  4. Andrew says:

    This system has pretty fantastic potential! On the bench tracker, does it have the capability to distinguish between two plates of the same weight side-by-side? Have you considered tracking on 2 axes to judge form like you do for bar height at full contraction?

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