Ovao has developed a unique solution that helps swimmers bridge the gap between “swimming for fun” and swimming professionally. In this interview with Aldas Juronis, CEO, and Kamilė Butkevičiūtė, CMO, we learn about their goggle attachment that acts as a virtual coach for swimmers.
Calories, steps, heart-rate – fitness enthusiasts like to keep track of these, so they run around with a wearable device wrapped around their wrist.
But what if you’re a swimmer? You can’t exactly take your phone with you into the pool, and it’s hard to keep glancing at a waterproof Pebble, Fitbit or Misfit on your wrist as your arms move through the water and your goggles fog up.
One startup from Lithuania has taken on the challenge to develop a wearable fitness tracker that suits a swimmer’s specific routine and environment. Aldas, Kamile, Justinas, and Marius – four co-founders from Lithuania – came together in the summer of 2016 to form Ovao.
“Our company’s overall goal is to make swimming training smarter. We want to bridge a gap between swimming for fun and not knowing what you’re doing and swimming for results. We want swimmers to have their personal coach with them all the time when they’re in the pool.” Kamile, CMO of Ovao, starts our conversation.
Ovao is a wearable fitness tracker that can be easily attached to the strap of almost any pair of swimming goggles. Its smart position and ergonomic design allow swimmers to receive information about their performance without interrupting their exercise. It does this by displaying colour-coded information about heart rate directly onto the goggles.
The device does more than just provide basic information. “Swimmers are able to get both information and coaching advice in real time,” Aldas explains.
Unlike most wearable devices which only measure stroke rate, lap time, lap count and pace, Ovao helps swimmers achieve better results by offering real-time feedback upon which they can act immediately.
“We are not focusing just on the data and numbers that we can provide, but as well on the real-time feedback and impact for swimmers. We give clear, intuitive interval training guidance using colors, and that’s easily understandable by everyone. Ovao will indicate whether and when a swimmer needs to increase or decrease the intensity of exercise. While after the workout there will be possibility to analyze and track different swimming parameters and the progress in the dedicated Ovao app”, Kamile explains.
Ovao correlates your heart rate with the outcome of your training. They have employed a 5-zone heart-rate system. Each zone corresponds to a different intensity of the training, and thus a different result – from fat-burning to endurance and sprint training.
Also, each zone has its own colour code, so that one can easily understand how much effort they are applying. During workout, the device will be determining the intensity of your exercise by measuring heart rate from a temporal artery. It will then indicate in which of the 5 heart rate zones one is training by flashing the corresponding color light straight to the goggles’ lens.
If Ovao colours your goggles in blue, that means you’ve entered a heart-rate zone of 60 – 70 % of your MHR (Maximum Heart Rate), or Fitness Swimming. In this mode, the fat levels of the body are reduced with this making this the ideal heart rate zone to lose weight and improve the health of your body.
If your goggles turn orange, however, that means you’re speeding up to approximately 80 – 90 % of MHR, corresponding to an Anaerobic Swimming, which actually indicates that in this zone you’re training to improve the working of the cardiovascular system to be able to fight fatigue better.
Ovao will also help you stay on track with your training of choice. With the help of an app, you can choose a pre-set interval training program based on your goals. Say you’d like to burn some calories, so you go for the fat-burning program. Once in the water, in case you are going too slow for the program you chose, you will see a blinking LED-indicator telling you that you need to speed up to reach the higher zone. With the help of beeps, it will set the tempo for your strokes.
Alternatively, you can also set an individual training program by yourself or input the one you are given from your swimming coach.
When you complete your training, synchronize the device to the app, and then you can compare your results with the program you chose. After the training is complete, swimmers can gain insights into their performance parameters, such as lap time, stroke rate, swimming pace, distance or calories burned, and their progress over time.
What Ovao is trying to change is the way we look at performance measurement in any sport. Kamile specifies: “Movement is so important, but are we doing it right? I notice a lack of overall education about how to train properly. And wearable trackers these days can only help so much.”
Kamile has been a keen sports person for her entire life. She was quick to buy one of the first fitness trackers herself, only to find out it did plain post-workout analysis:
“It measured how many calories I’d burned, and steps or jumps. One cannot make sense of that. What I actually need to know is how well I train, the quality of the movement I do throughout the session, so I can improve.”
Many have suggested that users have high expectations that wearables become “smarter”. A recent survey by Gartner showed that as many as 30% of fitness tracker owners get quickly bored or disillusioned with their devices and abandon them.
An earlier Fortune commentary titled Face It, You’re Bored Of the Smartwatch You Got Last Christmas read: “I don’t want this tidal wave of data. What I want is a device that monitors the stream of data and lets me know how healthy I am. And what I can do to be healthier.”
The Ovao team hopes they will educate one’s training and help improve performance. “Our idea is to create not just a tracker, but a virtual training system that can help athletes train more efficiently. We add performance graphs to easily see whether you are doing great or if your performance is decreasing” Aldas concludes.
The Lithuanian startup is currently targeting both amateur and competitive swimmers, as well as triathletes. In the future, Aldas and Kamile say that one will be able to hire the device at the entrance of swimming pools.
“The insight surfaced while doing validation here, in the Tongelreep National Swimming Centre in Eindhoven, and visitors of the pool affirmed they would be willing to pay extra for a chance to to use the device as part of their subscription, and still have access to performance insights at any time.”
The device is expected to hit the market in May on Kickstarter. In the meantime, you can join the team. Ovao is looking for new recruits: “a passionate industrial designer, embedded coder as well as cross-platform app developer, to fall in love with our company and join our team.”
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