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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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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
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We can capture tracking data from historical videos, enabling us to do large scale comparisons of players, such as Michael Jordan, across eras
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We’ve been ranked number two on the App Store for health and fitness, second only to Fitbit
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Functional wearables

A new ultra-thin, stretchable electronic material could be a game changer for wearable tech
interview

Will Ahmed, Whoop

Whoop is taking wearable technology to the next level, providing deeper insights into individuals’ physiology and enabling optimised training. Founder and CEO Will Ahmed talks to Steph Eaves about the importance of personalised feedback

Fighting COVID-19

In the aftermath of the pandemic, people will be more aware of the importance of their health and the strength of their immune system. Can fit tech alert users to potential immunodeficiencies or symptoms? And might these products assist governments? We asked industry leaders for their predictions
Editor's letter

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We have such a timeless design that this product will fit into the home for a long time
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