Tracking technologies take shape in various forms, be it handheld, wearable, rideable, or otherwise. These devices have now made it possible to try to quantify just about anything, anywhere, anytime. There’s a certain level of curiosity by some to find out about metrics that are not empirically evident to the naked eye at first glance, especially in relation to one’s activities. To unearth these numbers, though, isn’t so much an issue as it is the actionable part by the end-user.

GoPro, undoubtedly, has paved the way for the adoption of technology in extreme sports. What started out as a single camera style being sold at surf shops across California for just under $20, it then closed in on nearly a billion in sales after 12 years since its inception. Other high-tech companies have entered the action sports scene and gained some level of traction, too. Some include: SNOCRU, Runtastic Winter Sports, BearTek, and Recon Instruments. These tools accentuate and accelerate the conditions experienced by athletes.

Although the simple aesthetic permutations of a startup like War+Drobe Designs suffices for the casual skateboarder, the latest technological breakthroughs take performance factors to another level among action sports participants.

The devices and sensors derived from virtually all of the aforementioned are developing efficient battery lives, smaller hardware, and better units as a whole. It was just two years ago that digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLR) served as the primary conduit for taking photos and videos. Smartphones have simplified the process along with bridging everything together. The potential for increased performance lies in the combination of tech and media, particularly video consumption.
A father and son duo, Dr. Anatole Lokshin and David Lokshin, team up to address tracking technologies’ compatibility with action sports. Dr. Lokshin happens to be the former Chief Technology Officer of Magellan Navigation, where he helped usher GPS technology to its ubiquitous state. Being one of the first developers to push that tech forward, he’s seen its evolution firsthand and the emerging innovation surrounding it. Sensors, naturally, represent the next avenue to explore, which should supplant GPS technology.

The case study started through their previous company called AlpineReplay. Over the past three years, they have been able to amass more than 10 million terabytes of sensor data, both from ski runs and other sports. The bevy of data allows them to have a worthwhile sample size to guide decisions: determine what’s important, how sensors inside phones malfunction during several outcomes, and identify what patterns to consider. On top of all that, this data enables them to know how to showcase that kind of information insofar as engaging athletes of all levels. AlpineReplay is the most downloaded, highest-rated ski and snowboard tracking app in the marketplace, in spite of the SNOCRU and Runtastic incumbents.

Accordingly, AlpineReplay pivoted in order to form Trace, especially given the amount of insights earned to translate into a better software and hardware product rather seamlessly.
“We should make decisions based on data and not intuition,” says Trace’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, David Lokshin, to SportTechie.

“We have more than 7 million ski and snowboard jumps in the system. We send millions of interaction points from the app into our analytics to really understand how people are using our products. This is why we chose to focus on some features and not others,” Lokshin added.
Trace can be dubbed as “the action sports tracker.” This circular device weighs no less than 1.4 ounces, making it hardly noticeable. It’s durable and sturdy enough to withstand 10 millimeters of water, shockproof, and rugged for all-purpose settings. Its composition mounts to virtually any surface fathomable, be it flat or curved. And there’s a full day’s worth of battery life, 10 hours to use it on land, mountain, or water.

The current version of Trace described stands as the third generation of hardware. The original iteration tested out some of their theories, with respects to how the hardware could be utilized to track fine motion (flips, turns, and rotations). Apparently, it was the size of a brick, mentions Lokshin, so it’s come a long way to say the least. Since they found the potential for it, they shifted gears to devise a consumer-facing model that was a tad larger than what’s now available, incorporating all new hardware, too.

Trace manufactures everything from a factory in Santa Ana, California. They are there at this facility on a weekly, if not daily basis. To ensure that the product maintains its small and robust frame, they’ve had to develop a tight relationship throughout the production chain over an extended period of time. Lokshin believes these ongoing efforts are worth it, though, especially over the long haul to produce an equally sleek and responsive product.

The technological components that Trace is composed of are as follows: a high frequency GPS, nine axis sensors, memory, and a CPU. The unit communicates with a user’s smartphone and displays all of the data in iOS or Android. Trace lets users record without having to have their phones on them, holding more than 50 sessions without having to offload any data. The fact that it’s extremely light and can last nearly the whole day without charging more than once, it’s as frictionless to users as well as the equipment it’s attached to.

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Thus, Trace’s technology functions to measure athlete’s performance and assist their improvement. This gadget doesn’t compromise much of the user’s time or ability, instead providing accurate and relevant data. There’s only one button to press as it is, everything else is taking care of by Trace. Athletes can just film video unabated (through smartphone, GoPro, or other Wi-Fi-enabled camera) and save it via the cloud. A few minutes later they’d receive edited highlights, with a customized overlay, color-fixed, and defined notes. It’s easy to search the video clips by performance, being as vague or precise as possible on text or voice commands. Such simplicity took a lot of work and complex algorithms for it to be a non-cumbersome extension of the athlete.

Of the degrees in which it’s precise, users should just note that airtime is accurate to 10 milliseconds, while calories is akin to an approximation to running on a treadmill. Lokshin asserts that the uptick of pro athletes adopting Trace places a high priority for them to follow-through with the validity of statistics shown. An athlete ambassador program will commence sometime next year, too.

The social community–not too different from what is offering for the sport of swimming–housed inside the accompanying app (can’t be activated unless it’s syncronized with the device) impels athletes to track their progression, compare results with others, and learn context around performance. The previous work established from AlpineReplay carries over to Trace, which makes it formidable to scale further among the other action sports.

But the most promising facet with these features is the granularity of the data obtained. They’re working with top athletes and brands to aid them in constructing new equipment predicated on deeper performance analysis. They can calibrate the differences between different surfs, landing shock levels, for instance, which could help athletes decide on their respective outerwear or the manufacturer to alter their products for certain conditions.

That said, the technological integration evident in extreme sports has yielded products that are “smart” as well as those that are externally attached to regular equipment. The growing selection of these items creates ambivalence among consumers.

Lokshin believes that external devices are better because they are made for a specific task. The compromises a user can undertake would be elsewhere, not necessarily derived from the product. Trace’s specificity allows the device to be as small, lightweight, and responsive as possible.
“It also means that if something happens to your surfboard, you don’t have to buy a new Trace. If your skis had a smart surface, and something happened to your skis, you’d be forced to buy a whole new setup,” says Lokshin.

“And what if I have three surfboards? Do I move my surface from board to board? And if they’re different shapes? The cost and complexity of these sort of things needs to come way down before they become viable,” Lokshin continued.

Again, GoPro’s rise in popularity among action sports athletes compels others in the same space to integrate with it. Perhaps the only downside about GoPro tends to be sifting through footage before the user can edit the highlight they want. Trace eliminates that process entirely by auto-editing, color adjust, clip, and organize these POV highlights instantly. The user just has to sync to GoPro when it’s connected to the phone, then upload all video to Dropbox. Nothing more is needed by the user after that.

At retail for $199, that’s 10 times the price that GoPro originally sold cameras for action sports athletes. Trace produces user-friendly analytics to improve performance, offers community, and simplifies professional video editing skills. Only big data from this Apple-esque, designed device can track Trace’s chances to attain similar traction and climb up to the mountain top.