2012 Update: PLTech and the ARDA Engine

I’ve been working with Lee Ter Wal Design to assist Kerri McMaster and PLTech with the launch and commercialisation of the ARDAEngine. ARDA takes the output from the biometric sensors that athletes wear, such as heart rate monitors, watches and iPhones, and applies very intelligent interpretation and analysis in real time. It’s been built on the back of years of experience from elite coach Jon Ackland (he’s worked with Team NZ, the All Blacks and top endurance athletes), who wanted to automate the time and effort he spent pouring over detailed charts and data. He succeeded, and the ARDA engine brings elite coach-level feedback to all athletes, and does so in real time, rather than after the fact in a lab.

There are a huge range of fitness biometrics products, with the best and most popular from the likes of Garmin, Nike, Adidas, Strava, Runkeeper, MapMyFitness and gym equipment manufacturers. These all and others that use sensor data to produce beautiful charts, but struggle to provide meaningful coaching feedback during training. The classic example quoted to us is when an athlete starts running up a hill, their heart rate will naturally rise as they do more work and the heart-rate zone monitor will alarm, telling the athlete to slow down, perhaps to a walk. That’s not how hill training works, as that extra effort is a requirement. The existing applications likely don’t even know you are on a hill, and it turns out that it’s a hard problem to integrate biometric, elevation, meteorological and historical data. PL Tech have done so, and have patents on the way the ARDA Engine works to do this.

To put it into a box, we see that there is a large gap in the market:

The ARDA Engine can fill the gap, and in conjunction with existing and forthcoming products will deliver a huge step change in the field.

In use it changes everything, giving coaching and analysis based on your training plan (if you have one), previous records, current activity and the environment. I can’t describe too many of the capabilities, but it does give advice specific to the person exercising, and will adapt as you, your goals and the conditions change.

We see three main segments for core ARDA Engine, and as well we have the ability to get data from cameras and transform it into instant insights for coaches and TV producers.

The first segment is the software-only players such as Runkeeper and MapMyFitness that use smartphones and perhaps heart rate monitors to capture data. Smart phones have an increasing array of sensors, and smart companies are using these to creep into the space formerly occupied by specialist technology providers like Garmin. These companies are usually venture-backed and expanding quickly, perhaps searching for the right business model. The ARDA Engine will provide them with a premium product that allows them to deliver genuine benefits to their customers, and capture revenue in return.

The second segment is hardware technology driven players, such as Garmin, Polar, Timex and Suunto, and also the gym equipment manufacturers. Garmin are the clear leader in this space. These companies are the best at providing accurate data, and provide access to that data on the web. However the players in the first segment are charging towards this space, and devices like the iPhone, while bulky, are far more accessible and easy to use than dedicated watches and so forth. We see that the ARDAEngine technology will help these firms differentiate their products from others in this and other segments through maintaining a technology gap.

That gap is increasingly hard to maintain, as while the biometric fitness and quantified self market has been growing strongly for the entire industry, it’s a technological war that requires a constant stream of new product releases. The giant in the space is Garmin, and their revenue and income by segment chart speaks to the importance of the fitness segment for them, as a major contributor to growth that is offsetting the decline in their marine segment.

In this second segment all the companies have everything to gain, and to lose, and the ones that can get and stay ahead will reap billions in enterprise value. We believe that the ARDAEngine will provide that advantage.

The third segment is full service apparel, footwear and equipment providers, including  Nike, Adidas and Asics, and led for now by Nike. These players have the websites and much of the technology of the previous segments, but can also use biometric technology as a way to lift sales of shoes and apparel. They started by partnering (Adidas with Polar) and by keeping it simple, as with the Nike+. The Nike+ story is well known in the industry, with, for example, page 5 of this slideshow showing Nike’s US shoe market share lifting from 47% to 57% in a year, and to 61% thereafter. The original Nike+ product was fairly low tech, but elegantly simple, and it opened up an entirely new market. Nike and Adidas are steadily improving their technology, and have always had the lead in usability. Nike in particular are increasing the pace of change, and give the Nike+ range a very high profile on their website and retail stores. The have a range of products including the Fuelband, apps, integration with the iPod Nano and a new basketball product. Adidas has the MiCoach range, but while impressive they  are currently somewhat buried on their websites and in retail stores.

One magic part of ARDAEngine is that new customers can simply start running, with no setup required, and the coaching will begin. For these firms we see that the ARDAEngine will allow them to maintain the simple and elegant user experiences while delivering genuine benefit to their customers. This will open up new markets and expand sales for their biometric as well as clothing and shoe products.  We also see that just as the technology players in the second segment are being squeezed from the smart-phone software players, they must also be very nervous at the prospect of these third segment industry giants taking over their space.

So there it is.

We are a long way down the track with PLTech and potential partners, sharing the experience of using the ARDA engine with a wide range of firms, many of them mentioned above. The reactions to test-runs (a run where the tester wears our device) have been overwhelmingly positive, with amazement the most common response.

We also get confidence from attempts from some companies over the years to replicate the technology themselves – and failing. From where the industry is today, the ARDAEngine technology is perhaps the Arther C Clarke definition of magic. We see that we will help partners hold that advantage for a few years, through IP protection and further development, and we want to partner with firms that are able to bring it to global market quickly.

I can’t say too much more as we are running a process.

Published by Lance Wiggs