How Wearable Devices Are Reinventing Our Cities As Open-air Gyms

How Wearable Devices Are Reinventing Our Cities As Open-air Gyms

When Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, arguably the “father of gymnastics” and the inventor of the horizontal and parallel bars, opened his first gym (or Turnplatz) in 1811, he decided to locate it outdoors in Berlin.

At the time – and for thousands of years beforehand – physical exercise was primarily an open-air activity. Only in the 20th century did the gym begin to be relegated indoors, due to the increased regimentation of physical activity and the need to compare results with peers.

But could today’s digital technologies, which enable us to measure our physical exercise in everyday life, challenge the models of the last century? Could cities again be transformed into open-air gyms?

Tech takes training back outdoors

As newly invented appendices to our bodies, personal electronics help us to measure everything in our lives, including body activity. Through connected shoes, bracelets or belts, the Internet of Things has been morphing into an “Internet of Bodies” for the past several years.

The Nike+iPod tracker dates back to 2006. The first FitBit was released one year later.

Today, every smartphone can measure how we move in the city – whether we cycle, run or walk – and detect every step we take. Even the most intimate aspects of our lives – as shown by BangFit, the slightly ridiculous concept from the website Pornhub that combines sexual activity and fitness – can be monitored to calculate calories burnt.

In such a context, one might argue that the need for indoor fitness might become less relevant. We can accurately monitor physical activity everywhere and share collected data with others.

Let’s look, for instance, at cycling: using Strava every street segment in the city can be turned into a virtual racing circuit. Our own Copenhagen Wheel (now manufactured by the MIT startup Superpedestrian) can be retrofitted to any bike, allowing individual torque to be measured on a sub-second frequency. As a result, the performance of both the wheel’s motor and the rider can be assessed in real time.

All the data are stored online, so the Wheel can leverage artificial intelligence to provide information about paths, speed and calories burnt. Basically, it acts as an informed personal trainer.

Furthermore, this information can be shared and pooled with others. This illuminates how citizens are using public infrastructure, opening up opportunities for municipal improvement.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

The Copenhagen Wheel can monitor, store and share real-time data about the performance of rider and bike.

Augmented reality adds to experience

Augmented reality could add a new layer to urban exercising. In 2016, we witnessed the great success of Pokemon Go. The augmented reality game mobilized hordes of city dwellers to invade public space all across the world for the sake of gaming.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the game’s developer, John Hanke, observed:

I don’t think we were built to sit in a dark room with a piece of electronics strapped on our head. I’m more enamoured of going outside and building real social connections.

Similarly, we can imagine augmented reality fitness targets spread out through the built environment – as in a digitally augmented parkour.

The blending of augmented reality and quantified self is what we imagined in our recent Paris Navigating Gym. Developed with fitness equipment manufacturer Technogym and New York-based non-profit architectural office Terreform ONE, the gym is a 20-metre-long vessel that glides across the Seine propelled by a very particular kind of energy: human power.

Producing a kilowatt-hour not only allows us to move, it also makes us fitter. The very energy we produce becomes an alternative way to measure physical exercise and make it tangible.

All around the boat, augmented-reality screens show guests the amount of energy being generated, as well as individual and collective targets. These targets are constantly updated as participants move through the city. The digital and physical realm blend into an augmented version of that quintessential Parisian exercise: strolling.

Using the city as a digitally enhanced playground is not without unexpected and sometimes negative side-effects. “Digital exhibitionism” is a growing phenomenon, led by pranksters who crisscross urban space in paths intended to draw obscene shapes on online maps for everybody to see.

On a more serious note, Pokemon Go was used to commit hundreds of offences – fostering opportunities for robberies, thefts and assaults. Even Strava has been accused of putting people in danger, as amateur cyclists aim to improve their personal records in the city, often mistaking tranquil asphalt strips for virtual velodromes.

Still, if we learn how to manage such risks and learn from them to improve the design of urban public space, today’s technology has the potential to bring physical activity back to public outdoor spaces. It could thus enrich our enjoyment of cities and reunite two dimensions of urban life that have remained separate since Friedrich Ludwig Jahn’s Turnplatz in 19th-century Berlin.

The Conversation

About The Author

Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT Senseable City Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books:

at InnerSelf Market and Amazon


You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration




digital money 9 15
How Digital Money Has Changed How We Live
by Daromir Rudnyckyj
In simple terms, digital money can be defined as a form of currency that uses computer networks to…
An Equinox Altar
Making An Equinox Altar and Other Fall Equinox Projects
by Ellen Evert Hopman
Fall Equinox is the time when the seas become rough as the winter gales set in. It is also the…
curous kids 9 17
5 Ways To Keep Kids Curious
by Perry Zurn
Kids are naturally curious. But various forces in the environment can dampen their curiosity over…
renewable power 9 15
Why It’s Not Anti-Environmental To Be In Favour Of Economic Growth
by Eoin McLaughlin etal
In the midst of today’s cost of living crisis, many people who are critical of the idea of economic…
koala bear "stuck" in a tree
When It’s Smart To Be Slow: Lessons from a Koala Bear
by Danielle Clode
The koala was clinging to an old tree stag while stranded in the Murray River, on the border…
quiet quitting 9 16
Why You Should Talk To Your Boss Before 'Quiet Quitting'
by Cary Cooper
Quiet quitting is a catchy name, popularised on social media, for something we’ve all probably…
Like Genes, Your Gut Microbes Pass From One Generation To The Next
Like Genes, Your Gut Microbes Pass from One Generation to the Next
by Taichi A. Suzuki and Ruth Ley
When the first humans moved out of Africa, they carried their gut microbes with them. Turns out,…
ocean forests 9 18
Ocean Forests Are Larger Than The Amazon and More Productive Than We Thought
by Albert Pessarrodona Silvestre, et al
Off the coastline of southern Africa lies the Great African Seaforest, and Australia boasts the…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities | | | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.