Fitbit is diving into the deep end of the pool in its pursuit of better swim tracking. The company mentions adding new features to its swim tracking capabilities, such as stroke counts, kick strokes, and automated flip-turn detection, in a recently updated patent filing with the United States Patent Office.
The current crop of Fitbits only has the ability to monitor swim lengths, duration, distance, and pace when in the water. That’s not very impressive, and is the type of info you can get from most water-resistant wearables. Fitbits can currently only track swimming distance by manually entering the pool length. The wearable then counts pool lengths by looking for a change in direction of the accelerometer.
Patent describes improved swim tracking
Fitbit users have been clamouring for better swim tracking. A stroke count feature would be useful for open-water swimming where tracking total distance can be difficult. The ability to keep track of kick strokes which would be useful for leg drills.
The patent, titled “Automatic detection and quantification of swimming,” could indicate that Fitbit is responding to these user requests. A number of acceleration peaks extracted from sensor data that satisfy a set of predefined rules associated with a swim stroke could be used to calculate stroke counts, according to the patent. With that sort of data, the wearable could add information on the stroke rate and distance per stroke. Kick strokes, on the other hand, could be tracked based on another variation of acceleration peaks that indicate the user is kicking.
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The paperwork also mentions new methods for tracking the length or lap count during a swim session, which is especially useful for those who perform flip turns in the pool. The method involves counting swim laps based on a number of acceleration peaks from sensor data that satisfy a set of predefined rules associated with a flip turn, according to the patent.
Fitbit has been criticised for swim tracking shortcomings
Fitbit has been chastised for its lack of robust swimming features, particularly in comparison to the likes of the Apple or Garmin watches. Both of these include heart rate tracking in the water and GPS for open water swimming.
Fitbit’s latest patent mentions GPS, but only to determine if the swimmer is near a body of water. Of course, this could be extended to monitor the persons position while swimming.
As far as heart rate, Fitbit’s sensor is inactive in the water which is a limitation shared by many such devices. This is due to water interfering with the accuracy of the readings. Although there is a workaround by allowing the device to auto track the activity. This keeps the heart rate monitor on but prevents you from viewing detailed stats during your swim. You’ll get a heart rate graph in the smartphone app afterwards.
Despite these constraints, Fitbit’s patent application demonstrates that the company is looking for ways to improve its swim tracking technology. The company’s continued investment in swim tracking suggests that it is committed to providing a more comprehensive experience for its users.
It remains to be seen whether Fitbit makes a big splash with these new features. Sometimes patent filings make it into real-world products, at other times they don’t. It remains to be seen whether these swim features will ever make their way into consumer products.
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