The Device Chronicle interviews David Ducrest, CTO, Flexia on how IoT had been applied to enhance Pilates
As Co-Founder and CTO of Flexia, David heads the research and development for the online Pilates studio and reformer-embedded sensor technology to inform practitioners about the quality of their movement and create a progressively challenging learning environment.
Flexia’s mission is to make mindful movement more accessible by delivering data to help highlight gains and indicate struggles along the way. David explains that the essential thing in pilates is establishing an excellent body-mind connection to understand what you are doing while doing it. “Traditionally, to make gains, an instructor has been necessary to guide that process. A reformer is a sliding bed with springs supporting a user’s movement. It makes things easier when you need them and harder when you are ready. The movement in Pilates is now quantified. What can the data indicate about body form and movement?”
An embedded sensor in the reformer
David explains that Flexia designed a product with integrated sensors into our manufacturing reformer. It measures load over time acceleration and the distance the carriage has moved over time. “The insights from patterns in this data inform the ability to control movement, consistently repeat actions, and they can keep pace with an instructor. Users can understand where they are struggling and where they are excelling, and set goals for performance improvement over time.”
David adds that the reformer should last for decades, so the embedded component needs a mechanism for software updates and maintenance. Flexia went to complete production of its IoT-enabled product in February 2022. The subscription service features a dashboard as a browser-based experience. The IoT device on the reformer receives instructions on how to process the data and generate events from the activity on the reformer. It will detect and call out a change in control or form in almost real-time. The software stack is a front-end user experience with a subscription service for classes, queried with a video and reinforced with real-time events. The IoT technology is the sensor device on the reformer and then the cloud backend infrastructure. It handles the organization and matchmaking between the embedded sensor and the reformer.
Edge processing is important
Edge processing on the IoT device is needed to minimize the latency between the machine and the user experience as low as possible. If you let go of the machine, it creates a loud bang, and if done repeatedly it can damage the device. You want to be able to send immediate notifications to prevent undesired behavior. The sensor processes which events have occurred, and it broadcasts those events via WebRTC to an online studio where the client is subscribed to them and can inform them back to the user as either an audio or a visual cue. The circuitry in the sensor is custom designed; the computing hardware is a Raspberry Pi4 module using a Debian derivative as the OS.
OTA software updates with Mender
Flexia discovered Mender through TechStars Accelerators. David explains that companies in this ecosystem said Mender would be much more manageable and quick to spin up and use. It would allow Flexia to scale at its pace from 100s to 1000s in due course. They do separate OTA updates – service by service updates, 2-3 months; there is a new software update at the driver level and the analysis system. Mender will also support Patches.
Flexia focuses on machine longevity, there is no screen attached as that would break most frequently in the first 2-3 years; we don’t want to force that into users’ homes. The screen can come from other more established devices – iPad, Chromecast, Apple TV, and we want to make sure they use a new screen that demands different quality of service. Users participate with us in our programs and share their success. The OTA is necessary for the subscription business model of the online platform and ensures that Flexia can connect the device to the system at large. David concludes, “The mindful movement market is expanding, and this will create new features to be deployed by OTA and satisfy different aspects of the Pilates market.”