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Northeastern students create a shirt that knows when you're slacking off on your workout

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 1, 2012 09:56 AM

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Could a skin-tight shirt festooned with sensors improve the quality of your work-out?

A team of Northeastern students and profs have built a prototype that could point the way to the future of coaching and personal training for some elite athletes — and perhaps eventually hard-core gym rats, too. The Squid shirt is a tricked-out short-sleeve shirt from Under Armour that monitors how your delts, pecs, and lats are performing. (It also tracks your heart rate.) The shirt knows if you're hitting your exercise goals, and also if both sides of your body are doing equal amounts of work. It can relay that information via Bluetooth to a mobile phone or laptop, which would allow a coach or personal trainer to keep tabs on how you're doing. The shirt can also give you feedback via vibration if you're slacking off.

"It's a way for a trainer or coach to sign up an athlete for a workout, and collect data on how they do with it," says Adam Morgan, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. "They can target different muscle areas that they might want to develop with an individual or a group of team members."

squid2.jpgTrevor Lorden (pictured here) showed me how it worked, using a seated row machine. He said that it only takes him about two minutes to don the Squid shirt and affix the dozen disposable sensors. (The shirt can be washed in a machine, as long as it's dried on low heat.) Since the team is still developing the Bluetooth connection, he was connected to a laptop by a cable. Ali Aas, who helped develop the mobile app and web site, showed how the information about Lorden's workout could be viewed. You could see a calendar showing which days he'd worked out, and how his average intensity compared to the goal he'd set on various exercises. It also showed on a spectrum whether the exerciser is favoring one arm versus the other, or working out in perfect symmetry.

Faculty advisor Mark Sivak told me that they'll be testing the shirt with Northeastern athletes this summer. They see the initial market as college and professional sports teams. The Squiddoos may soon add additional sensors to monitor the biceps and abdominal muscles, and Constantinos Mavroidis, another faculty advisor to the project, said they've had some early conversations with a medical device company interested in the Squid shirt about tracking blood pressure and breathing.

A YouTube overview of the project is below, along with a photo of the team accepting the first prize award at last month's Research Innovation & Scholarship Expo at Northeastern.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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