A short history of electronics for rowing


Consumer technology and rowing

Rowing and technology have always seemed to go together. From the early innovation of the sliding seat, through decades of improvements in shell design and construction, to modern advances in materials science, rowing has always looked to technology to help athletes unlock their full potential.

The rise of inexpensive semiconductors in the 80’s helped spur a new wave of innovation such as the Concept2 Indoor Rower along with the Cox Box and StrokeCoach from Nielsen-Kellerman. These were among the first small, portable computing devices. Like other similar devices of their time, they were designed and programmed to serve a single purpose.

Crew Nerd rate/split display rowing app
Crew Nerd rate/split display

In the thirty years since the introduction of the StrokeCoach, the world has changed dramatically. The average smartphone today is more powerful in every way than the largest computers of that time and can be programmed to perform an amazing assortment of tasks. SpeedCoach Mobile (now renamed CrewNerd) was the first application to leverage the accelerometer and GPS features of modern smartphones to replicate the functions of a SpeedCoach device.

For those who haven’t had a chance to see it, CrewNerd is designed to feel a lot like a Concept2 erg monitor or a SpeedCoach. Its main display is similar to both, but can be reconfigured to show many different kinds of performance data in a variety of layouts. Workouts can be programmed much like the Concept2 monitor.

In the early years, finding good waterproof cases to protect the phone was a challenge. The cases available at that time were prone to developing small cracks or tears and had to be inspected frequently. In 2011, a new case for the iPhone was produced by LifeProof.com that was rugged, waterproof, and much easier to mount in the boat. The LifeProof cases are sturdy enough for use on the water, but slim enough for regular use as well.

Crew Nerd outing graph speed iphone app
Crew Nerd outing graph speed

Since CrewNerd’s release over four years ago, smartphone improvements and additional programming have brought many new capabilities:

  • “bounce” and “check” values to help improve technique
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • Automatic timer start stop based on position, with start and finish lines marked in Google Earth
  • Graph and map views of workout data
  • Speech output for blind or vision-impaired rowers
  • Real-time monitoring over the internet for coaches and spectators

It’s an especially exciting time right now, with many new technologies on the horizon. Head-mounted displays like Google Glass or the Recon Jet could be used to make performance data available without the need to look down at a display. Bluetooth Smart is enabling the design of sophisticated low-power sensors that can be used to gather more data in the boat. Smartphone cameras and wireless cameras can be used to record events in exciting new ways. With these advances and others, the potential applications for rowing are limitless.

 A Guest Post by Tony Andrews of Performance Phones, creator of CrewNerd


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Philip Tonkin

    Not really a brief history but a brief reference to that fact there was a past and some chat about smartphones. There were things that happened in the 20 years between the release of the cox box and the first, very expensive apps. Such as this: http://www.spoko.org/in2rowing.html a rowing amp with Accelerometers for rate capture and GPS for speed capture. I had the original one in 2005 before these things were common place in a phone, made from 2 halves of a soil pipe. Just one example of the many innovations tried to get us from CoxBox to Smart Phones.

  2. Carol Neill

    Written with you in mind, Chris Brake, Uwe Engbers

  3. Rebecca Caroe

    Philip – thanks for reminding us about Spoko – I’d seen their site but failed to bookmark it. Does yours still work or have you migrated to apps?

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