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features

Inventor: Christopher Ruddock, INCUS

With real-time vibration feedback, INCUS | NOVA is a new wearable system which generates applied analytics and guides training. Steph Eaves talks to the inventor

Published in Fit Tech 2020 issue 1

What’s your background?
I graduated from Loughborough University with a first class degree in product design engineering. I’d consider myself a design engineer by training – this essentially means I’m a mechanical/ manufacturing engineer, but I bring this together with skills in visual and user-centric design to create products that not only work on a technical level, but look and feel great for a user.

Before INCUS, I was involved in sports engineering. I designed high performance bicycle frames and equipment for UK Sport, predominantly for British Cycling. This began while I was a student, and I took a year out as part of my degree to work full time on it.

I worked in a team of two – my boss at the time and I – in a small office overlooking a high street in Nottingham. Here we developed cutting edge cycling frames and equipment for those competing at the Olympic Games, Paralympics, and in pro teams across the world.

I was involved in designs for yellow- jersey winning bikes at the Tour de France, and developed a new carbon tandem bicycle that has since contributed to multiple Paralympic and World Championship race wins. I also did some design work at Dyson’s headquarters between studies which was useful in understanding how a larger company operates.

Where did the idea for INCUS come from?
In 2009, when I was 16 years old, I was a club level swimmer, as well as a swimming coach and I was competing in speed-lifesaving. After a bad ear infection, I lost the hearing in my left ear, which made me acutely aware of the importance of communication when training for and participating in sport. This was what planted the seed for INCUS – a system that could improve communication in training through numbers rather than through verbal feedback.

As an engineer, I turned to technology. I considered a product that could measure useful information in swimming and improve athlete/ coach communication using data. I sat on the idea for a number of years, and it wasn’t until I was designing the bikes in 2013 that I thought again about exploring the idea further.

How did you go about developing this idea?
I took the chance to spend more time on the development by including it as an individual project through my degree and began to experiment with sensors in my bedroom, strapping homemade electronics to my back with gaffer-tape and going for a swim.

Although it was a rudimentary approach, it proved the concept that now underpins the technology we have here at INCUS.

I quickly got hooked on how data could improve people’s enjoyment and engagement in sport and, having demonstrated a basic working prototype, I entered a competition to go to America to develop the concept as a business.

After a rigorous application process in the spring of 2015, I was invited to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Boston, USA as part of a Summer Exchange Scholarship. The trip was a pivotal step; I experienced the MIT approach to innovation and began to build the underlying business case for INCUS Performance based on their principles.

I attended MIT classes, with the core elements of the business plan tested and critiqued by MIT professors, athletes, spin out companies and entrepreneurs. It was an incredible experience.

I picked up the project again in the final year of my masters, giving me further time to refine my understanding of the problem I was trying to solve, and the system I was building to solve it. The devices became iteratively faster, smaller, smarter and the business plan began to take shape.

After graduating, I moved into the Advanced Technology Innovation Centre (ATIC) based on the University Science Park, and steadily built a team that has since brought the system to life.

We’re still based here, continuing to develop and test pioneering triathlon technologies alongside the upcoming launch of our flagship system: the INCUS | NOVA.

What exactly does INCUS do?
It’s easy to collect data nowadays, but collecting the right data, and knowing what to do with it is still a challenge for most people.

Typically, wearables will provide lots of numbers and then rely on other platforms, like Strava or similar, to process and share it. This limits the experience provided by existing wearables and introduces a lot of complexity when trying to use data to improve.

INCUS combines better measurement with more powerful analysis under a single seamless platform to help people to collect better training data, and to use it effectively.

Our flagship product, INCUS | NOVA, is a small device you wear while you train, and it collects new, unique information about your technique to explore during or after your session. Our mobile app, INCUS | CLOUD, then shows the results in a clear, beautiful way that can be understood by technical and non-technical audiences.

Essentially, the NOVA combines a stopwatch, tempo trainer, angle measurements, power meter, and a professional note taker all in one seamless device, to provide rich performance information within seconds via your smartphone.

It’s simple to use, and allows you to quickly feed back information such as body roll/ pitch, stroke strength, split times and distances in a session, without having to deal with lots of cumbersome equipment.

How is it different from other swimming-focused wearables?
In swimming, typical wrist-based trackers will give you information such as your lap count, perhaps your stroke rate and that’s about it. This information can be useful for basic tracking, but these provide little insight as to how to use the data to help you reach your goal.

The NOVA is the first ever triathlon wearable worn on the upper spine. This allows unique measurement of your left and right sides independently, rather than a smartwatch that will measure one side of your body and assumes the other side is doing the same.

This unlocks new understanding of body balance and the effect of technique, which has never been available before. It also allows us to provide world-first swim measurements such as body angles and Velocity Gain – a measure of stroke strength on left and right sides.

What we have now is the cutting edge of performance monitoring in swimming. We have already used it to provide world-first analytics in turns, technique and pacing strategy for selected athletes in Loughborough, as well as supporting prominent events such as Marathon Swims and the London Triathlon.

With the quality of the data produced by NOVA, we are able to move towards predictive analytics that proactively guide you to reach your goal. This includes our insights which, instead of simply giving you numbers, provide a clear written statement explaining what the numbers mean. This makes it quicker and easier to get the value of the numbers out, rather than suffering from what we call ‘paralysis by analysis’.

Did you get any assistance to bring the product to market?
I won a student enterprise competition in my final year that gave me a small, but significant boost ahead of graduation.

I used the prize money to pay my living costs for a couple of months while I built the business case and wrote an application to Innovate UK to develop things towards a sellable product.

Innovate UK is a government -backed grant scheme which is aimed at providing assistance to early stage, high technology-led projects that would otherwise find it tricky get funded.

I won the Open competition draw which provided finance and support for an 18-month project to build the system towards a commercially viable solution.

Within the 18-month term of the project, we created eleven jobs, miniaturised and improved the electronics, developed new specialised garments and automated analytics for swimming, and we developed the first mobile app, which showed the results.

We successfully delivered the Innovate project and quickly closed a private funding round that has taken us to the point of generating initial sales and launching the product. We’re now exploring options for further investment for the next phase of INCUS, which includes scaling internationally with a focus on sales.

What challenges did you face?
With a product like INCUS | NOVA, there’s an awful lot that’s working in the background to deliver a simple, quick and seamless experience for the user. This includes not only the device that collects the data, but the garments, the way the data is handled, sent, analysed and displayed to the user. Each of these steps brings its own challenges, and knitting all of these things together elegantly is not an easy task.

With my mechanical engineering hat on, the more challenging aspects I’ve come across have been involved with reliable waterproofing, while maintaining a product that still looks and feels sleek and is easy to make.

Every swim wearable struggles with this – that’s why there aren’t many good ones – but over the years we’ve learned a lot and now combine a number of techniques that deliver robust sealing and an attractive experience for our users.

That’s just one of the many cogs spinning within the INCUS infrastructure, but thankfully I have an exceptional team that continue to keep things running smoothly!

Are you working on any new features?
Although we’re just launching the NOVA publicly now, we have a range of exciting new updates coming soon that will expand the functionality of the device without needing to buy anything new.

We purposefully built in a lot of power to the NOVA hardware that we will be making use of, including things like multi-sport analytics for running and eventually cycling, links to smartwatches, heart rate monitors and other features such as our ActiveAssistance™, which provides real-time vibration feedback to athletes to assist with training on-the-fly.

We’ve also got some fantastic new category products and partnerships in the works, but I can’t say much on that yet I’m afraid.

What kind of feedback have you had from swimmers using the product?
The feedback so far has been quite remarkable. There has been overwhelming support from athletes, press and industry experts to date, with strong reviews appearing in some of the leading triathlon magazines.

To be told by end users that the NOVA already surpasses their experience of current market leaders is excellent. It’s been great to see such continued enthusiasm from those who are now using the system after having watched it grow over the last number of years.

We look forward to welcoming new people to the INCUS experience in the coming months.

What is it about INCUS that you are most proud of?
The way I’ve seen the people involved with INCUS develop alongside the product. We’ve been able to use the technology as a vehicle to provide experiences and education, not only to the INCUS team, but to students through projects and internships, and to athletes/coaches directly.

Our users are now discovering new ways of enjoying and improving their sport through what we have created, with some world-first analyses produced in swimming and many more to come. Combining STEM with sport creates tremendous opportunities to inspire, engage and connect people – I’ve watched as individuals have grown through challenges, both technical and personal, and it’s very rewarding to have played a part in it.

Will this product change the sports of swimming and triathlon?
It sounds like a bit of a stereotype, but the NOVA literally represents a step change in swimming and triathlon technology when compared to the products currently available.

We’re able to explore areas of training and technique that have never been measured before in a swimming environment, and are unlocking new opportunities, not only with the results the NOVA produces, but in the way people interact with and integrate data into their training.

Our mission has always been to make quality analytics accessible to both amateur and elite athletes and this begins with NOVA. We have a truly world-class system in our hands now, and we look forward now to sharing it with the world.

What does INCUS mean?
The name comes from three bones in the middle ear – the Incus, Malleus and Stapes – that conduct sound from our eardrum into our inner ear.

These essential bones are some of the smallest in the body, and the hearing loss I have is a result of the ear infection damaging my Incus bone.

INCUS Performance symbolises the missing piece to this puzzle, and reflects our ethos that details matter, from the details in our engineering development, to the marginal gains in training that can influence medal-winning performances.

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
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features

Inventor: Christopher Ruddock, INCUS

With real-time vibration feedback, INCUS | NOVA is a new wearable system which generates applied analytics and guides training. Steph Eaves talks to the inventor

Published in Fit Tech 2020 issue 1

What’s your background?
I graduated from Loughborough University with a first class degree in product design engineering. I’d consider myself a design engineer by training – this essentially means I’m a mechanical/ manufacturing engineer, but I bring this together with skills in visual and user-centric design to create products that not only work on a technical level, but look and feel great for a user.

Before INCUS, I was involved in sports engineering. I designed high performance bicycle frames and equipment for UK Sport, predominantly for British Cycling. This began while I was a student, and I took a year out as part of my degree to work full time on it.

I worked in a team of two – my boss at the time and I – in a small office overlooking a high street in Nottingham. Here we developed cutting edge cycling frames and equipment for those competing at the Olympic Games, Paralympics, and in pro teams across the world.

I was involved in designs for yellow- jersey winning bikes at the Tour de France, and developed a new carbon tandem bicycle that has since contributed to multiple Paralympic and World Championship race wins. I also did some design work at Dyson’s headquarters between studies which was useful in understanding how a larger company operates.

Where did the idea for INCUS come from?
In 2009, when I was 16 years old, I was a club level swimmer, as well as a swimming coach and I was competing in speed-lifesaving. After a bad ear infection, I lost the hearing in my left ear, which made me acutely aware of the importance of communication when training for and participating in sport. This was what planted the seed for INCUS – a system that could improve communication in training through numbers rather than through verbal feedback.

As an engineer, I turned to technology. I considered a product that could measure useful information in swimming and improve athlete/ coach communication using data. I sat on the idea for a number of years, and it wasn’t until I was designing the bikes in 2013 that I thought again about exploring the idea further.

How did you go about developing this idea?
I took the chance to spend more time on the development by including it as an individual project through my degree and began to experiment with sensors in my bedroom, strapping homemade electronics to my back with gaffer-tape and going for a swim.

Although it was a rudimentary approach, it proved the concept that now underpins the technology we have here at INCUS.

I quickly got hooked on how data could improve people’s enjoyment and engagement in sport and, having demonstrated a basic working prototype, I entered a competition to go to America to develop the concept as a business.

After a rigorous application process in the spring of 2015, I was invited to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Boston, USA as part of a Summer Exchange Scholarship. The trip was a pivotal step; I experienced the MIT approach to innovation and began to build the underlying business case for INCUS Performance based on their principles.

I attended MIT classes, with the core elements of the business plan tested and critiqued by MIT professors, athletes, spin out companies and entrepreneurs. It was an incredible experience.

I picked up the project again in the final year of my masters, giving me further time to refine my understanding of the problem I was trying to solve, and the system I was building to solve it. The devices became iteratively faster, smaller, smarter and the business plan began to take shape.

After graduating, I moved into the Advanced Technology Innovation Centre (ATIC) based on the University Science Park, and steadily built a team that has since brought the system to life.

We’re still based here, continuing to develop and test pioneering triathlon technologies alongside the upcoming launch of our flagship system: the INCUS | NOVA.

What exactly does INCUS do?
It’s easy to collect data nowadays, but collecting the right data, and knowing what to do with it is still a challenge for most people.

Typically, wearables will provide lots of numbers and then rely on other platforms, like Strava or similar, to process and share it. This limits the experience provided by existing wearables and introduces a lot of complexity when trying to use data to improve.

INCUS combines better measurement with more powerful analysis under a single seamless platform to help people to collect better training data, and to use it effectively.

Our flagship product, INCUS | NOVA, is a small device you wear while you train, and it collects new, unique information about your technique to explore during or after your session. Our mobile app, INCUS | CLOUD, then shows the results in a clear, beautiful way that can be understood by technical and non-technical audiences.

Essentially, the NOVA combines a stopwatch, tempo trainer, angle measurements, power meter, and a professional note taker all in one seamless device, to provide rich performance information within seconds via your smartphone.

It’s simple to use, and allows you to quickly feed back information such as body roll/ pitch, stroke strength, split times and distances in a session, without having to deal with lots of cumbersome equipment.

How is it different from other swimming-focused wearables?
In swimming, typical wrist-based trackers will give you information such as your lap count, perhaps your stroke rate and that’s about it. This information can be useful for basic tracking, but these provide little insight as to how to use the data to help you reach your goal.

The NOVA is the first ever triathlon wearable worn on the upper spine. This allows unique measurement of your left and right sides independently, rather than a smartwatch that will measure one side of your body and assumes the other side is doing the same.

This unlocks new understanding of body balance and the effect of technique, which has never been available before. It also allows us to provide world-first swim measurements such as body angles and Velocity Gain – a measure of stroke strength on left and right sides.

What we have now is the cutting edge of performance monitoring in swimming. We have already used it to provide world-first analytics in turns, technique and pacing strategy for selected athletes in Loughborough, as well as supporting prominent events such as Marathon Swims and the London Triathlon.

With the quality of the data produced by NOVA, we are able to move towards predictive analytics that proactively guide you to reach your goal. This includes our insights which, instead of simply giving you numbers, provide a clear written statement explaining what the numbers mean. This makes it quicker and easier to get the value of the numbers out, rather than suffering from what we call ‘paralysis by analysis’.

Did you get any assistance to bring the product to market?
I won a student enterprise competition in my final year that gave me a small, but significant boost ahead of graduation.

I used the prize money to pay my living costs for a couple of months while I built the business case and wrote an application to Innovate UK to develop things towards a sellable product.

Innovate UK is a government -backed grant scheme which is aimed at providing assistance to early stage, high technology-led projects that would otherwise find it tricky get funded.

I won the Open competition draw which provided finance and support for an 18-month project to build the system towards a commercially viable solution.

Within the 18-month term of the project, we created eleven jobs, miniaturised and improved the electronics, developed new specialised garments and automated analytics for swimming, and we developed the first mobile app, which showed the results.

We successfully delivered the Innovate project and quickly closed a private funding round that has taken us to the point of generating initial sales and launching the product. We’re now exploring options for further investment for the next phase of INCUS, which includes scaling internationally with a focus on sales.

What challenges did you face?
With a product like INCUS | NOVA, there’s an awful lot that’s working in the background to deliver a simple, quick and seamless experience for the user. This includes not only the device that collects the data, but the garments, the way the data is handled, sent, analysed and displayed to the user. Each of these steps brings its own challenges, and knitting all of these things together elegantly is not an easy task.

With my mechanical engineering hat on, the more challenging aspects I’ve come across have been involved with reliable waterproofing, while maintaining a product that still looks and feels sleek and is easy to make.

Every swim wearable struggles with this – that’s why there aren’t many good ones – but over the years we’ve learned a lot and now combine a number of techniques that deliver robust sealing and an attractive experience for our users.

That’s just one of the many cogs spinning within the INCUS infrastructure, but thankfully I have an exceptional team that continue to keep things running smoothly!

Are you working on any new features?
Although we’re just launching the NOVA publicly now, we have a range of exciting new updates coming soon that will expand the functionality of the device without needing to buy anything new.

We purposefully built in a lot of power to the NOVA hardware that we will be making use of, including things like multi-sport analytics for running and eventually cycling, links to smartwatches, heart rate monitors and other features such as our ActiveAssistance™, which provides real-time vibration feedback to athletes to assist with training on-the-fly.

We’ve also got some fantastic new category products and partnerships in the works, but I can’t say much on that yet I’m afraid.

What kind of feedback have you had from swimmers using the product?
The feedback so far has been quite remarkable. There has been overwhelming support from athletes, press and industry experts to date, with strong reviews appearing in some of the leading triathlon magazines.

To be told by end users that the NOVA already surpasses their experience of current market leaders is excellent. It’s been great to see such continued enthusiasm from those who are now using the system after having watched it grow over the last number of years.

We look forward to welcoming new people to the INCUS experience in the coming months.

What is it about INCUS that you are most proud of?
The way I’ve seen the people involved with INCUS develop alongside the product. We’ve been able to use the technology as a vehicle to provide experiences and education, not only to the INCUS team, but to students through projects and internships, and to athletes/coaches directly.

Our users are now discovering new ways of enjoying and improving their sport through what we have created, with some world-first analyses produced in swimming and many more to come. Combining STEM with sport creates tremendous opportunities to inspire, engage and connect people – I’ve watched as individuals have grown through challenges, both technical and personal, and it’s very rewarding to have played a part in it.

Will this product change the sports of swimming and triathlon?
It sounds like a bit of a stereotype, but the NOVA literally represents a step change in swimming and triathlon technology when compared to the products currently available.

We’re able to explore areas of training and technique that have never been measured before in a swimming environment, and are unlocking new opportunities, not only with the results the NOVA produces, but in the way people interact with and integrate data into their training.

Our mission has always been to make quality analytics accessible to both amateur and elite athletes and this begins with NOVA. We have a truly world-class system in our hands now, and we look forward now to sharing it with the world.

What does INCUS mean?
The name comes from three bones in the middle ear – the Incus, Malleus and Stapes – that conduct sound from our eardrum into our inner ear.

These essential bones are some of the smallest in the body, and the hearing loss I have is a result of the ear infection damaging my Incus bone.

INCUS Performance symbolises the missing piece to this puzzle, and reflects our ethos that details matter, from the details in our engineering development, to the marginal gains in training that can influence medal-winning performances.

Sign up here to get Fit Tech's weekly ezine and every issue of Fit Tech magazine free on digital.
Gallery
More features
Editor's letter

Two-way coaching

Content providers have been hugely active in the fit tech market since the start of the pandemic. We expect the industry to move on from delivering these services on a ‘broadcast-only’ basis as two-way coaching becomes the new USP
people

Laurent Petit

Co-founder, Active Giving
The future of sports and fitness are dependent on the climate. Our goal is to positively influence the future of our planet by instilling a global vision of wellbeing and a sense of collective action
people

Adam Zeitsiff

CEO, Intelivideo
We don’t just create the technology and bail – we support our clients’ ongoing hybridisation efforts
people

Anantharaman Pattabiraman

CEO and co-founder, Auro
When you’re undertaking fitness activities, unless you’re on a stationary bike, in most cases it’s not safe or necessary to be tied to a screen, especially a small screen
people

Mike Hansen

Managing partner, Endorphinz
We noticed a big gap in the market – customers needed better insights but also recommendations on what to do, whether that be customer acquisition, content creation, marketing and more
interview

Mathieu Letombe

We’ve found 90 per cent of Withings users continue to regularly use their scales after one year and 50 per cent regularly continue using them after 10 years

Refining augmented reality

London boutique The Refinery has created an avatar-led digital fitness offering called ALFI, which utilises augmented reality (AR) to demonstrate movements. Zoe Bertali, one of the co-founders of the gym, tells us more

Jessica Ennis-Hill: founder of Jennis

Jessica Ennis-Hill is on a mission to close the gender data gap in health research. Her app, Jennis CycleMapping, is designed to help women understand their cycles and how to train during each different phase. Steph Eaves speaks to Ennis-Hill to find out exactly how it works

How usable is your product?

Your fit tech product might be a game changer, solving problems or creating new possibilities for clients, but none of this will matter if it’s not easy and enjoyable to use. Industrial designer Nick Chubb explains why usability is key, and the factors to consider when designing your new product

Put on your red light

Red light therapy promises a variety of benefits, including better recovery, skin rejuvenation and increased energy, but is it all too good to be true? Fit Tech spoke to Bryan Gohl and James Strong of Red Light Rising, and Wes Pfiffner of Joovv to find out more
interview

Kilian Saekel

A-Champs is a platform that delivers sports science-based programmes and games through interactive sensor pods that come with light, sound and vibration

Adrian Hon

Zombies, Run! is one of the most enduring fitness apps, with half a million users getting active while engaging in ‘missions’ against the zombie apocalypse. Its co-creator spoke to Steph Eaves about the power of story

Digital community

Matt Stebbings of SLT Group talks about the creation of their Community Portal, a new platform that aims to help anyone to get active, whether that’s inside or outside of SLT’s facilities

Funxtion: A vital connection

NonStop Gym, Switzerland’s no frills gym chain, has appointed FunXtion to create its member training app

Monitoring mental health

New technology uses advanced machine learning to monitor patients’ mental health between visits to their medical providers
people

Devi Mahadevia

Facebook director of sports and fitness partnerships
With Facebook paid online events, publishers can charge viewers to attend a video livestream on their Facebook pages or a third party video service
people

Andy Etches

Founder and sports director, Rezzil
Rezzil was able to have an injured player learning his new manager's philosophy, positioning and playing style – all from a seated position
interview

Preston Lewis, Black Box VR

We’ve had to create training experiences that show users how to grab handles in the virtual world that are mapped to our real-world machine
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Quoox Ltd | Fit Tech promotion
Quoox Ltd | Fit Tech promotion