How U.S. Cycling Uses High-Tech Goggles in Real Time

JULY 22, 2016 • Blog Post • BY ATLANTIC RE:THINK


  • Cyclists from the U.S. women’s team this year are wearing Solos Smart Glasses, whose heads-up display give real-time data on heart rate, speed, power, pace, cadence, distance and duration
  • The glasses also let each rider speak to her teammates without looking away from the road

In addition to muscle, sweat, talent and fanatical dedication, the U.S. women’s cycling team is bringing something new to training: real-time data in a heads-up display

To gain an edge at the Summer Games, the cyclists on the U.S. women’s team are turning to the latest in mobile, cloud and wearable technology. Their training for the “team pursuit,” a track cycling event, pits two teams of up to four riders against each other on a four kilometer track. The riders’ goal is to stay together and finish as a pack, and the best way to do that is with constant communication between teammates. So, throughout this summer’s practice sessions, each cyclist is wearing a pair of Solos Smart Glasses, whose heads-up displays give real-time data on heart rate, speed, power, pace, cadence, distance and duration. They also let each rider speak to her teammates without looking away from the road.

The glasses, which are not yet available to the general public, are designed by the Kopin Corporation. Kopin has been working on wearable technology for more than 25 years, first with the U.S. military. Created in partnership with experts from the MIT Sports Technology Lab, the Solos Smart Glasses are Kopin’s first foray into sports. Solos is not alone. Recon Jet from Intel, Varia Vision from Garmin, Raptor from Everysight and other wearables are a major improvement on previous options for cyclists. Advanced bikes already offer sensors—accelerometers, gyroscopes, altimeters, barometers and magnetometers—on the wheels, pedals and other wearables, as well as GPS and Wi-Fi connectivity. These systems gather performance data and then feed that data to a display attached to the bike’s handlebars, but to read the data, a cyclist has to look down. The 5-inch Solos micro-display, which eliminates that brief distraction from the track, is the world’s smallest optical module for high-resolution, near-eye applications, according to Solos Project Manager Ernesto Martinez. The display emits from a small, adjustable arm suspended just above the right eye, creating a virtual screen that seems to float in front of the glasses and that keeps projected data clear even in the brightest sunlight.

The Recon Jet also features a built-in display arm, while the Varia Vision is a separate attachment that fits onto most basic cycling glasses. The Raptor model is different. It places the virtual screen on the inside of the glasses, eliminating the separate arm. This inner-glass technology is called “beam technology” and comes from Elbit, the company that created Everysight and Everysight’s Raptor glasses. Like Korbin, Elbit is a defense technology company with more than 30 years of experience. Whether displayed inside the glass or out, the technology and rapid data processing are transforming the training experience. “Say you're approaching a climb and your cadence is below what your target should be,” says Solos’ Martinez. “You'll be able to see from the glasses that you should speed up or slow down or your heart rate is too high or too low and, in a smart way, guide yourself to successfully complete your program.” Several of the models include embedded microphones and speakers within the frames, with vocal-separation technology that helps dull wind and other nearby noise so that coaches and teammates can communicate clearly during a ride. All of the smart glasses sync with custom smartphone apps that allow riders to customize what data they’d like to receive during and after the ride. Beyond the custom apps, they also link to popular training apps such as MapMyRide and TrainingPeaks, among others. Some of the models have on-board processors to handle data, while Solos gives that job to the smartphone in order to keep the glasses as light as possible. Martinez forecasts that once Solos has a large enough user base, the company will start to analyze large pools of user data in order to make recommendations on form and injury prevention. For now, though, the focus is on the U.S. women's cycling team.

The hope is that this combination of the latest advances in cloud, mobile, wearable tech and analytics processing will help the team improve on its silver-medal finish in the 2012 London Summer Games. In an interview with Sport Techie, USA Cycling Director of Track Programs Andy Sparks explained that Rio was an important motivation for the cycling team’s work with Solos but not the only reason. “We are always looking for technologies to help improve and push the limits of our athletes’ performance, on the road and on the track, especially aiming at our goal for gold during the 2016 Summer Games in Rio,” Sparks said. “We worked in conjunction with the Solos team from the ground up to develop a wearable technology that could be a game changer in the industry and have a great impact across the board.”