Craig Travers was an All-America college swimmer at SUNY-Cortland who, later in life, had some health issues that necessitated vigorous exercise. In 2012, he returned to the pool, joined a U.S. masters swim club and bought a device to help him track his progress. “It was a sport watch that counted laps—sort of,” he says. “It was terrible at it. With all the technology we had, it was an awful thing.”
A software engineer by training, Travers, 57, is the chief science officer at Vuzix, a wearable display tech company founded by his brother, Paul, in Rochester, N.Y., that specializes in augmented reality glasses and virtual reality headsets. About six years ago, he began tinkering with the M100 Smart Glasses to adapt that AR product for swimming.
The result of his work is a new consumer product, Vuzix’s Smart Swim, a device that clips onto any pair of goggles and provides swimming data, messaging and even a video player to the swimmer in real-time via AR. Watch technology has evolved, but it remains tethered to the wrist. “Swimming is the ultimate hands-free environment,” says Travers. “Just floating the information out there [on the goggles display], that would be a big win for us, and I knew we could do better in the software world.
“With Smart Swim, metrics are delivered in real-time,” he adds, “and you’re putting it on the athlete’s eye.”
Vuzix began production on Smart Swim in March after winning two CES Innovation Awards in January, for Computer Peripherals & Accessories and Wearable Technologies. The device runs on Android with separate apps for open-water training, pool lap training and a media player that can stream video content over wifi. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity for a swimmer to connect headphones. To track performance data, Smart Swim carries a nine-axis inertial motion sensor as well as a GPS monitor that calculates yardage and stroke rate. A compass helps steer open-water swimmers, which can be especially useful when dense fog rolls in.
The DNA of Vuzix—a publicly-traded company on the NASDAQ stock exchange in which Intel is a minority owner, having acquired 30% of its stocks in 2015—is in heads-up displays, says Mike Hallett, the company’s director of sales. “It was the M100 product that kind of made Smart Swim what it is today,” Hallett says. “We were heavily involved in enterprise, and around the time Google Glass came out, we had a product just like it that performed much more efficiently. Then, Craig took that product and spun it back into a consumer-based product.”
A competing smart swim goggle, FORM, launched in Aug. 2019 with similar AR features but without the media player, the in-pool communication and or its own GPS—it pairs with smartwatches for more accurate distance tracking. (The price points reflect the different features: Vuzix retails for $499 compared to FORM’s $199 cost.) Also, Vuzix attaches to any pair of goggles whereas FORM’s device is affixed to its own branded goggles.
Travers has solicited feedback from the fellow competitors in his masters swimming club. He has gravitated more toward open-water and marathon swimming in recent years, finishing the eight-mile swim to the Alligator Reef Lighthouse off the Florida Keys and even swimming around the island of Key West. Travers wore the first prototype while completing the 4.4-mile Great Chesapeake Bay Swim on June 11, 2017.
“You can connect a camera to the back of your head and the camera’s image is now on your eye,” he says. “Now you see everything on the horizon line without ever having to stop to look to see where you’re going.” Travers adds that he plans to contact the Guinness Book of World Records to establish a new standard for longest, straightest swimming path, “There’s no doubt in my mind I could swim the furthest straight line without using anything but the technology to do it.”
Travers hopes Smart Swim can help college and other competitive pool-based programs as well. Though there is the potential for audio connectivity for real-time communication, he expects the ability to send short texts from the side of the pool deck to a swimmer in his or her lane will have greater value. (The app can be customized to appear for a certain number of seconds before being dismissed or to repeat after a certain interval.)
“What I found, anyway, with most people I’ve talked to and using the product myself, it’s really hard with audio in training and swimming,” Travers says, noting the inconvenience of a swimmer stopping a stroke to ask a coach to repeat something. “What’s better is if you substitute that with text messaging. Our system allows you to text the message over the swimmer’s eye, and because the display is floated there, the message will sit in front of the swimmer telling them repeatedly, ‘This is what I wanted you to do.’ ”
Elite swimmers, especially for shorter races, are usually closely monitored by coaches and do workouts with shorter segments, but Smart Swim would likely have stronger appeal for those doing open-water workouts or high-volume lap swims where there might otherwise be more monotony or less supervision in distance training. Smart goggles also stand to benefit anyone doing workouts on their own.
With the use of AR, there is the potential to add pace lines or other helpful imagery to the display—or just a purely motivational one. “Imagine chasing Michael Phelps as he chases the world record line, and you’re chasing him down,” Travers says. “It’s really a new frontier, and we’ve just got to get a community growing.”