Do you remember the last time you jumped rope? If you're a fitness junkie, gym regular or kid on the playground, you may still be swinging this classic exercise gear around. For most people, though, this simple, yet effective exercise routine has fallen by the wayside. Some of the team at Tangram's New Jersey office, however, have been jumping rope on the regular and decided to use their UX and design skills to add some technological flourishes to the old-school form factor. They took their "Smart Rope" concept to Kickstarter recently, exceeding their fundraising goal by a wide margin. The product has now moved into active development and is slated to begin shipping pre-orders by September. I had a chance to test Tangram's first prototype to get a feel for how this focused fitness device would play out in the real world.
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Tangram Smart Rope prototype
Since the Smart Rope that I tried was only an alpha prototype, I didn't get to do much more than experience its jump-counting ability. I also had to settle for a rope that was a few sizes too big for my frame, although the final product will have options for all heights. On this version, you simply pop the cap off one of the handles and charge it using a standard micro-USB port. There's a power switch next to it, but we're told that when the product hits the market, the end cap itself should be a fully capable button. We also didn't get to pair it with the Smart Gym application through its Bluetooth 4.0 transmitter; both of those are still works in progress.
The unique thing about the Smart Rope that sets it apart from other products is the set of 23 LEDs embedded into its resilient plastic tubing. The prototype I tried had a clear section in the middle where the company's patent-pending flexible printed circuit board (FPCB) lives. When it's completed, the LEDs shouldn't be visible until they're lit. The rope hangs at a 45-degree angle off the grip for ease of motion, while the interior houses a set of ball bearings to keep it all fluid. Magnetic sensors track the rotation and position of the rope as it spins so it can trigger the LEDs and provide your jump count displayed in front of your eyes. It takes a bit of practice to get the numbers into the right position -- especially with a rope that's too big -- but once you get the hang of it, it works well. In fact, you can easily zone out watching the count; seeing the numbers increase rapidly makes it easy to set goals in blocks of 100.
For all you "vainiacs" out there, watching yourself and the count in the mirror is a bit difficult. Don't fret, though, once you snag a pricey gold Apple Watch Edition, you'll want something equally blinged-out to complete your "fitness" ensemble. Tangram has you covered and plans to offer a version with 18K gold-plated handles for just $1,000. The rest of us will get to choose from black, chrome or gold (colored) handles and you can add a rainbow assortment of grips.
On the software side, the Smart Gym app plans to keep track of your jump statistics over time and when you factor in your height and weight, it will give you a running total of calories burned. Additionally, you'll be able to set goals and customize your workouts. Along with the number of rotations, the LEDs should be able to provide the calorie count -- there's even a plan to add emojis. If sharing is your thing, the app should also lets you challenge other Smart Rope users to a "jump off" or brag about your rope-jumping prowess on Facebook.
Tangram continues to add progress updates on the Smart Rope's development as it goes from prototype to the finished product. The company is also working on integrating it with existing ecosystems like Apple Health, Google Fit and Pebble. That will certainly round out its usefulness and help validate its $70 price tag. While it may have a relatively singular purpose, there's something to be said for sticking with the basics and not overburdening the device with too many bells and whistles. In any case, if a high-tech version isn't your cup of tea, a good length of rope also does a pretty decent job.
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