Today’s electronics marketplace is demanding more technology and fewer restrictions from new devices. We are rapidly becoming a wireless community, one that can stay connected without being connected, so to speak. This sort of progress isn’t just limited to telephones and video games. At NK, we’re working hard to bring you the reliability you’ve come to expect from our products, but with much greater flexibility within the rowing and paddling world than ever before.
To this point, the best way for a rower to obtain basic performance data was by using the StrokeCoach with a wire harness, seat sensor, and seat magnet. This technology has been the standard for quite some time, and it continues to work rather well. The seat passes over the sensor with every stroke, the magnet trips the sensor, and the StrokeCoach analyzes that data to provide a continuously-updated stroke rating. This works great in many circumstances, but what happens if you row in a number of different club boats, some of which don’t have a wiring harness, seat sensor, and seat magnet? Or what if stroke seat is wired, but bow seat wants to know the stroke rate? Or what if you paddle a kayak or row an adaptive shell that doesn’t have a sliding seat? Until now, these have all been limitations for the StrokeCoach. Until now, rowers have been forced to accept these limitations. Until now.
The newest version of the NK StrokeCoach, known as the StrokeCoach with Surge technology, utilizes a 3-axis accelerometer to detect the surging nature of rowing or paddling and provides all of the original StrokeCoach data with no strings – er, wires – attached. The premise of the 3-axis accelerometer allows this new StrokeCoach to be used in any orientation in the boat – standing up, lying down, on its side, whatever. But it’s not as simple as slapping an accelerometer chip into a StrokeCoach and expecting it to work. It took a cleverly designed algorithm to translate the accelerometer data into something substantial to a rower. This algorithm goes so far as to ignore erroneous movements caused by such things as wake, choppy water, that nagging dip to starboard at the catch, or any other abnormality when you’re on the water. With this ingenious algorithm, the StrokeCoach with Surge works flawlessly in just about any boat, with just about any conditions present. It works in a rowing shell. It works in a kayak. It works in a dragon boat. It just works.
We’ve been presented with a few standard questions since unveiling this new gadget at the Head of the Charles.
“What if I’m so smooth, I don’t make any check?” Answer – This product is not intended to measure the ‘check’ of the boat; rather, it calculates the stroke rate from the regular periods between accelerations of the boat on the drive. As long as those periodic ‘surges’ are present, it will be detectable. One of the smoothest human-powered crafts is the Olympic kayak, or K1. At high stroke rates and an incredibly smooth trajectory, the Surge still picks up every entry of the paddle. Maximum stroke rate is 115 spm.
“Is it as accurate as the old StrokeCoach?” Answer – It’s actually MORE accurate. This is especially true is a bigger boat, like an 8+. Here’s the proof:
An 8+ wired with an original StrokeCoach was given a StrokeCoach Surge to compare side by side. We asked them to maintain a steady stroke rate of 26 spm for 5 minutes. We collected the data and what we saw was surprising. Initially there was concern because the instantaneous reading was often different from the seat sensor unit by 1 or 2 spm. But when we looked closer, we found that the difference didn’t reflect inaccuracy in the Surge unit, but actually showed a greater range of variability for the seat sensor unit. The seat sensor unit showed readings between 24 ½ and 27 ½ over the course of the piece. The Surge unit showed readings between 25 ½ and 26 ½, a much tighter margin. The seat sensor’s variability can be explained by considering subtle changes made by stroke man on each stroke. If he misses the catch by a bit, rushes the slide, or hesitates at the release, there’s bound to be some irregularities in each stroke. The Surge unit, however, doesn’t rely on a single seat sensor to represent the boat as a whole. It measures the averaged movement of the entire boat, which is far more consistent than one man’s slide. This is true in any boat, but most dramatic in bigger boats.
The current StrokeCoach with Surge is not a SpeedCoach, meaning it does not provide speed data or /500m splits. Currently the only way to obtain accurate speed data is with an impeller in the water and a sensor in the boat. However, the technology we’re seeing in the StrokeCoach is certainly paving the way for further wireless products from NK. Currently we’re working to incorporate the accelerometer into every SpeedCoach product which will provide stroke rating and speed with only 1 wire and 1 sensor needed for the impeller. On the horizon is the incorporation of GPS into the SpeedCoach, allowing for a totally wireless unit. There are very real complications with using GPS to measure boat speed, specifically because it does not account for water movement. A GPS reading going down river will be faster than actual water speed, and likewise going against current will give a reading slower than actual water speed. However, the demand for a wireless SpeedCoach certainly exists, and we’re working to fulfill that market demand. When we do incorporate this technology into the SpeedCoach line, we will undoubtedly still allow the unit to be docked on an existing wiring harness for accurate impeller readings.
The introduction of this wireless StrokeCoach with Surge has been met with wildly rave reviews. Athletes appreciate the simplistic design, the newly added backlight that comes on automatically in low-light conditions, and the fact that they can get stroke rating without ever moving the seat, such as during swing-pick drills or in non-rowing boats like kayaks and dragon boats. The best feedback though, has been how consistently it works. If you have further questions about this new technology, we’re always happy to entertain ‘techie’ conversations so give us a shout. This new StrokeCoach is such a great fit for so many different customers within the rowing and paddle sport market that we’re confident it’ll be around for a long time to come.