It’s a sleek fitness-tracker-come-wristwatch that tracks activity levels for athletes. It uses a tri-axis accelerometer to record steps taken and calories burned, as well as how much NikeFuel the user is accumulating. NikeFuel is unique to the device – it’s a universal metric based on oxygen kinetics mapped to activities and movements. The more the user moves, the more fuel is earned, regardless of gender, body type and fitness level, so athletes and fitness enthusiasts can more easily compare, compete and collaborate across activities.

Curve spoke to some of the team at Nike – Jamian Cobbett, lead designer for Nike+ FuelBand, Aaron Weast, engineering lead for digital sport, and Kwamina Crankson, user-experience (UX) lead – about this intelligent and inspiring product.

“Nike’s mission is to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete* in the world. As quoted by Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, ‘If you have a body you are an athlete’. So our first goal was to address the asterisk,” explains Cobbett.

The problem with traditional calorie counters is that gender, fitness levels and body type all play a part in the tally, so two people doing the same activity will get different results. As such, it’s difficult to precisely compare stats with others. Nike visualised a metric that could be used by athletes across all sports and activities to universally record data. By measuring oxygen uptake, a normalised metric can be generated that remains constant, regardless of activity and body type. They set out to actualise this common metric for tracking activity – and called it NikeFuel.

“Nike worked directly with some of the world’s leading experts to create an algorithm using oxygen kinetics,” says Aaron Weast. “Activity intensity can be derived from quantifying the oxygen uptake both during an activity and while at rest, expressed using the MET (metabolic equivalent of a task) index. Nike measured the MET scores of activities and linked those to activity patterns to formulate NikeFuel.”

They knew that Nike+ FuelBand, being the first product to generate NikeFuel, would have to deliver on the proposition and prove that it is useable and appropriate for everyone – from professional athletes to fitness newbies – and could translate activity levels into an accessible, comparable and universal format. The goal was to make personal fuel burned visible to users and, as such, motivate sports people.

“You’re moving and walking and active in ways that you’re probably not recognising yet,” says Kwamina Crankson, UX lead for Nike+ FuelBand. “This experience starts to give me a measure of how active I am and how much my body is travelling throughout the day.”

The idea behind the NikeFuel algorithm is that it creates a shift in a person’s focus while they’re training or working out, and in general activity levels throughout the day. Instead of thinking about how much energy they’re burning, the Fuel system focuses on how much activity they’re accumulating, while also allowing for a context for comparison with others.

“There’s a reason top athletes train together,” says Crankson. “Teammates can push each other and celebrate their successes together. Now with NikeFuel they can even see who is working harder.” The close collaboration of Nike’s Design, UX and engineering teams was a major factor in the success of the Nike+ FuelBand, along with strategic partnerships. “Ideas can come from anywhere – science, technology, design – but the athlete is at the core of everything we do. Our teams worked closely together to make it a reality,” says Cobbett.

“One challenge in the product development,” he explains, “revolved around the desire for an extremely slim and streamlined object that could be comfortably worn 24/7 versus the need for a large battery volume and the large amount of electronics that had to be integrated. The final solution utilised curved batteries that follow the shape of the wrist.”

Water-resistant and with a sports-inspired aesthetic designed for an active lifestyle, it has a soft rubber-like outer skin and a silver clasp housing the USB. Coloured LEDs display data – calories, steps and Fuel, as well as the time of day – which the user can easily scroll through via a single button while exercising. Data captured automatically syncs (either wirelessly through Bluetooth or via the built-in USB plug in the clasp) to an iOS app (for iPhone or iPod Touch) or the internet so stats and progress can be tracked and shared to help motivate and inspire athletes and fitness enthusiasts.“One of the major achievements of the Nike+ FuelBand is it is changing the way people think about sport and activity,” says Cobbett. “Now the Nike+ FuelBand makes the invisible visible, revealing the activity that you do everyday.” The Nike+ FuelBand was launched in January 2012 after more than two years of conceptualising and development and is currently available for sale in the US and UK.

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