Gear for making outdoor fitness more enjoyable

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch earn affiliate commissions.     

Exercising outdoors comes with space, terrain and, if you’re lucky, a nice breeze that you don’t get in a gym. While fitness fanatics care most about completing a good workout, having the right gear to help with keeping track of progress — and getting on with your day when you’re done — makes a big difference.

We’ve gathered some of our favorite fitness wearables, headphones and accessories that improve and make outdoor workout routines more enjoyable.

Running headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Fit

We’ve tested 31 pairs of running headphones and for two years the Plantronics BackBeat Fit has remained our top recommendation. The ergonomics and comfort that the BackBeat Fit offer is impressive and they’re built to combat sweat, dust and rain. The cable that connects the earbuds is accommodating for heads of all sizes and it won’t bounce around or be an annoyance while you work out. Jogging at night or in a busy neighborhood will be a bit safer and easier to navigate as the BackBeat Fit has unsealed earbuds that are designed to allow you to hear your surroundings.

Everything I fit into my Arkel Bug for a day of working away from home. (Photo: Eve O’Neill)

Backpack pannier: Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack

Bike riding is a form of exercise that’s enjoyable for many. A bike is also a convenient mode of transportation, and equipping it with gear like a bike lock, rear rack and pannier can make heading out on the trail even more worthwhile. If in-between or after your ride you’d prefer to run errands, hang out or work, we recommend carrying your belongings in the Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack.

It’s spacious and has mesh material that repels water. We like that it’s durable enough to hold heavier items and it has a deep back pocket that’s big enough for a road or urban style helmet.                                                                                                                 

The Forerunner 235 (front) is thinner and sits more evenly on your wrist than its predecessor, the Forerunner 225.

GPS Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 235

The ease of operating the Garmin Forerunner 235 makes it a great GPS running watch for beginners. Its optional apps and ability to track advanced metrics makes it great for experienced runners. You’ll be able to use data to create and follow customized workouts, as well as review details about intensity and volume.

The FR 235 delivers heart-rate tracking without the use of a chest strap and it isn’t as bulky as previous generations. Its Auto Pause feature helps with accurately tracking pace and running data when you make stops (i.e. at an intersection) during runs.

The Garmin Vivosport is the most versatile and accurate tracker we’ve found. (Photo: Michael Hession)

Fitness tracker: Garmin Vivosport

For a simple rundown of your heart rate, the number of steps you’ve taken and the distance you’ve traveled, a fitness tracker will do the trick. Our top pick, the Garmin Vivosport, has optional GPS tracking capabilities, accurate stats and overall solid performance that places it above a standard fitness tracker.

If keeping your phone on you for listening to music is a must, you can use the Vivosport to control playback and receive notifications. It measures stress levels, tracks sleep and automatically detects activity. When you’re lifting weights without a buddy, its strength-training mode can be enabled to do rep counting for you.

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Water bottle: Klean Kanteen Classic 27-ounce stainless-steel bottle with 3.0 Sport Cap

Whether your workout consists of high-intensity cardio or a casual walk in the park, it’s important to stay hydrated. Bringing along a light, durable water bottle means you won’t have to find a place to grab a drink and you’ll have a handy go-to when you need a refresher.

The Klean Kanteen Classic 27-Ounce Stainless Steel Bottle with 3.0 Sport Cap is our top pick for a steel water bottle because it’s easy to clean, has swappable caps and, more importantly, less than favorable tastes and smells don’t linger around. Its 1¾-inch mouth is big enough to fit ice cubes but not so big that water will spill on your new shoes if you take a sip while running.

This guide may have been updated by WirecutterNote from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

We love augmented reality, but let’s fix things that could become big problems

Augmented Reality (AR) is still in its infancy and has a very promising youth and adulthood ahead. It has already become one of the most exciting, dynamic, and pervasive technologies ever developed. Every day someone is creating a novel way to reshape the real world with a new digital innovation.

Over the past couple of decades, the Internet and smartphone revolutions have transformed our lives, and AR has the potential to be that big. We’re already seeing AR act as a catalyst for major change, driving advances in everything from industrial machines to consumer electronics. It’s also pushing new frontiers in education, entertainment, and health care.

But as with any new technology, there are inherent risks we should acknowledge, anticipate, and deal with as soon as possible. If we do so, these technologies are likely to continue to thrive. Some industry watchers are forecasting a combined AR/VR market value of $108 billion by 2021, as businesses of all sizes take advantage of AR to change the way their customers interact with the world around them in ways previously only possible in science fiction.

As wonderful as AR is and will continue to be, there are some serious privacy and security pitfalls, including dangers to physical safety, that as an industry we need to collectively avoid. There are also ongoing threats from cyber criminals and nation states bent on political chaos and worse — to say nothing of teenagers who can be easily distracted and fail to exercise judgement — all creating virtual landmines that could slow or even derail the success of AR. We love AR, and that’s why we’re calling out these issues now to raise awareness.

Ready Player One

Without widespread familiarity with the potential pitfalls, as well as robust self-regulation, AR will not only suffer from systemic security issues, it may be subject to stringent government oversight, slowing innovation, or even threaten existing First Amendment rights. In a climate where technology has come under attack from many fronts for unintended consequences and vulnerabilities–including Russian interference with the 2016 election as well as ever-growing incidents of hacking and malware–we should work together to make sure this doesn’t happen.

If anything causes government overreach in this area, it’ll likely be safety and privacy issues. An example of these concerns is shown in this dystopian video, in which a fictional engineer is able to manipulate both his own reality and that of others via retinal AR implants. Because AR by design blurs the divide between the digital and real worlds, threats to physical safety, job security, and digital identity can emerge in ways that were simply inconceivable in a world populated solely by traditional computers.

While far from exhaustive, the lists below present some of the pitfalls, as well as possible remedies for AR. Think of these as a starting point, beginning with pitfalls:

  • AR can cause big identity and property problems: Catching Pokemons on a sidewalk or receiving a Valentine on a coffee cup at Starbucks is really just scratching the surface of AR capabilities. On a fundamental level, we could lose the power to control how people see us. Imagine a virtual, 21st century equivalent of a sticky note with the words “kick me” stuck to some poor victim’s back. What if that note was digital, and the person couldn’t remove it? Even more seriously, AR could be used to create a digital doppelganger of someone doing something compromising or illegal. AR might also be used to add indelible graffiti to a house, business, sign, product, or art exhibit, raising some serious property concerns.
  • AR can threaten our privacy: Remember Google Glass and “Glassholes?” If a woman was physically confronted in a San Francisco dive bar just for wearing Google Glass (reportedly, her ability to capture the happenings at the bar on video was not appreciated by other patrons), imagine what might happen with true AR and privacy. We may soon see the emergence virtual dressing rooms, which would allow customers to try on clothing before purchasing online. A similar technology could be used to overlay virtual nudity onto someone without their permission. With AR wearables, for example, someone could surreptitiously take pictures of another person and publish them in real time, along with geotagged metadata. There are clear points at which the problem moves from the domain of creepiness to harassment and potentially to a safety concern.
  • AR can cause physical harm: Although hacking bank accounts and IoT devices can wreak havoc, these events don’t often lead to physical harm. With AR, however, this changes drastically when it is superimposed on the real world. AR can increase distractions and make travel more hazardous. As it becomes more common, over-reliance on AR navigation will leave consumers vulnerable to buggy or hacked GPS overlays that can manipulate drivers or pilotsmaking our outside world less safe. For example, if a bus driver’s AR headset or heads-up display starts showing illusory deer on the road, that’s a clear physical danger to pedestrians, passengers, and other drivers.
  • AR could launch disturbing career arms races: As AR advances, it can improve everything from individual productivity to worker data access, significantly impacting job performance. Eventually, workers with training and experience with AR technology might be preferred over those who don’t. That could lead to an even wider gap between so-called digital elites and those without such digital familiarity. More disturbingly, we might see something of an arms race in which a worker with eye implants as depicted in the film mentioned above might perform with higher productivity, thereby creating a competitive advantage over those who haven’t had the surgery. The person in the next cubicle could then feel pressure to do the same just to remain competitive in the job market.

How can we address and resolve these challenges? Here are some initial suggestions and guidelines to help get the conversation started:

  • Industry standards: Establish a sort of AR governing body that would evaluate, debate and then publish standards for developers to follow. Along with this, develop a centralized digital service akin to air traffic control for AR that classifies public, private and commercial spaces as well as establishes public areas as either safe or dangerous for AR use.
  • A comprehensive feedback system: Communities should feel empowered to voice their concerns. When it comes to AR, a strong and responsive way for reporting unsecure vendors that don’t comply with AR safety, privacy, and security standards will go a long way in driving consumer trust in next-gen AR products.
  • Responsible AR development and investment: Entrepreneurs and investors need to care about these issues when developing and backing AR products. They should follow a basic moral compass and not simply chase dollars and market share.
  • Guardrails for real-time AR screenshots: Rather than disallowing real-time AR screenshots entirely, instead control them through mechanisms such as geofencing. For example, an establishment such as a nightclub would need to set and publish its own rules which are then enforced by hardware or software.

While ambitious companies focus on innovation, they must also be vigilant about the potential hazards of those breakthroughs. In the case of AR, working to proactively wrestle with the challenges around identity, privacy and security will help mitigate the biggest hurdles to the success of this exciting new technology.

Recognizing risks to consumer safety and privacy is only the first step to resolving long-term vulnerabilities that rapidly emerging new technologies like AR create. Since AR blurs the line between the real world and the digital one, it’s imperative that we consider the repercussions of this technology alongside its compelling possibilities. As innovators, we have a duty to usher in new technologies responsibly and thoughtfully so that they’re improving society in ways that can’t also be abused -we need to anticipate problems and police ourselves. If we don’t safeguard our breakthroughs and the consumers who use them, someone else will.

The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

[gallery ids="1622526,1622527,1622528,1622529"]

What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

Family networking app Life360 acqui-hires PathSense team to boost location-based services

Life360, the app for networking families together via mobile devices, has acquired the developer team behind PathSense, responsible for the creation of a location-based mobile application toolkit, to build out its location-based offerings.

The San Francisco-based Life360 will see all of PathSense’s employees joining its staff, while the tech that PathSense developed will be licensed by the family networking and security monitoring service.

PathSense uses location software and sensing technologies that use less battery power than other GPS apps, according to the company.

“For Life 360 it is very critical to have accurate geofencing to locate assets especially family members and if they leave specific geofenced areas,” wrote Neil Shahe, an analyst for Counterpoint Research.

Specifically, Life360 is applying the technology to crash detection services for families in the event of an accident.

“The PathSense technology, and the team’s expertise in utilizing all of the sensors available on smartphones in a unique way, provides our users with a world-class car crash detection and response system,” said Alex Haro, co-founder and CTO of Life360. “This ensures we fulfill our vision to make every family member a safer driver and be there for them when accidents happen.”

That service will detect when an accident occurs and initiates a call to the phone of whichever subscriber was in the accident. If the user needs assistance, Life360 says it will notify emergency contacts and dispatch emergency services to a location.

The feature is part of the company’s Driver Protect subscription service — which also includes monitoring of phone usage in cars.

PathSense’s team, now a part of Life360 was behind the development of Trapster — a Waze -like app using crowd-sourced data to provide traffic and accident alerts.

As part of the talent acquisition, Life360 gets a new technology development hub in San Diego — which the company intends to continue to staff up as it develops new location-based applications.

PathSense will also remain a going concern and will look to bring on new clients in its Southern California office.

 

SpaceX is making big money moves

Planning a mars mission, a global telecommunications network for inexpensive internet service, and creating an interplanetary hedge against world war three isn’t cheap, so it’s no wonder that SpaceX is closing on $500 million in new cash through a financing round led by Fidelity, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the round.

Responding to clamoring demand from investors and their own desires to cash out (at least a little bit) existing shareholders in the company are creating several special purpose vehicles to sell shares on the secondary market — with our sources saying those secondary offerings could total an additional $500 million. 

Shares for the company are selling for somewhere between $160 and $170, according to our sources.

One big buyer of SpaceX shares is reportedly SpaceX chief executive and founder Elon Musk, who multiple sources have said is investing $100 million to buy up shares.

News of the initial fundraising effort was first reported by CNBC, which pegged the valuation of Musk’s space exploration venture at roughly $21.5 billion.

That’s a huge jump from fifteen years ago, when the company’s shares were issued at around 5 cents and Elon Musk said it was struggling to get cash in the door, basically living week-to-week.

Secondary offerings are controlled sales of existing shares held by early employees and investors who are looking to cash out of the company. It’s the only way to realize some value of shares before an initial public offering.

Now, on the heels of a huge award from the US Air Force, SpaceX will have $290 million in contracts coming in, covering transportation for three global positioning system satellites into orbit by the end of 2020.

Those contracts are in addition to private agreements that SpaceX has cut with a growing number of commercial space companies, whose activity has been boosted by significant cost reductions at every level of the supply chain.

SpaceX and companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, Relativity Space and SpinLaunch are all vying to bring down the cost of launching payloads into space. And on the other side of the equation, satellite companies like Spire, Astranis, Akash Systems, OneWebPlanet and a host of others are reducing costs for building equipment with monitoring and communications technologies for terrestrial applications from space.

Entrepreneurs like Musk have their eyes on other prizes as well. SpaceX will soon begin testing the capabilities of its rockets that will be destined for Mars. The space race in the U.S. has also caught the attention of international entrepreneurs who are placing bets as well. Last year, in mid-December, the Japanese company ispace announced a $90 million round of funding for the development of a lunar lander and two lunar missions by 2020.

At SpaceX, plans for a robust launch schedule are also in place, with the company’s President, Gwynne Shotwell, saying that the company was planning launch mission every two-to-three weeks.

Some of those missions will be deploying SpaceX’s planned network of satellites intended to provide connectivity through high speed internet connections to underserved populations around the world– while others will be tests for Musk’s planned Martian journeys.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Blue Vision Labs, which builds ‘collaborative’ AR, emerges from stealth with $14.5M led by GV

Blue Vision Labs, a London-based augmented reality startup co-founded by computer vision experts from Oxford and Imperial College, is emerging from stealth today with a new platform that it claims will be the first to bring ‘collaboration’ to the AR experience: with an app built on Blue Vision’s technology (via its API and SDK), multiple users will be able to see the same virtual objects, and interact with each other in that virtual space with spatial accuracy that hasn’t been seen in widely-available AR services before.

Scenarios where this kind of feature could come in useful could include multi-player games, on-street navigation apps, social media applications and education. Peter Ondruska, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, tells me that Blue Vision’s tech can pinpoint people and other moving objects in a space to within centimeters of their actual location — far more accurate than typical GPS — meaning that it could give far better results in apps that require two parties to find each other, such as in a ride-hailing app. (Hands up if you and your Uber driver have ever lost each other before you’ve even stepped foot in the vehicle.)

Blue Vision has been in stealth mode for the past two years building its product — and its founding team, which also includes Lukas Platinsky, Hugo Grimmett, and repeat entrepreneurs Andrej Pancik and Bryan Baum, have been working on the idea since 2011 — but now it is finally hitting the ground running.

Along with the launch of its SDK for developers, Blue Vision announcing that it has raised $17 million in funding — $14.5 million in a new Series A led by Alphabet’s GV, plus another $2.5 million in Seed funding that it raised earlier from Accel, Horizons Ventures, SV Angel and others — all of whom also participated in this latest round, too.

The SDK will initially be free to use, Ondruska said.

There’s been a surge of interest in augmented and virtual reality technology in the last couple of years, fuelled by some interesting moves from larger tech companies like Google and Apple — launching developer kits to build applications, and working on more hardware to consume it — investments by larger media companies in building content for these platforms, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that investors are pouring into the army of startups that are building both software and hardware to usher in this new age of how we will, apparently, soon be seeing the world.

Some of these investments have so far felt like audacious moonshots. (Magic Leap’s hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, for example, have yet to materialise into anything we can use, virtually or otherwise.) But some are making their way to people today, and causing a stir, if not a massive wave of usage. (Think here of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore.)

And VR development has even already started to tackle the collaboration challenge too: recall Facebook’s Oculus division work on Rooms, where you can interact with multiple people.

Blue Vision’s approach is a little different, in that it requires no more hardware than what many people already have — a smartphone and a basic smartphone camera — both to interact with the experience and to ingest the environment to create it. The fact that it provides that relatively low barrier to entry, while also doing an enormous amount of heavy lifting at the back end to solve a persistent challenge in AR, is what potentially makes the company unique and noteworthy.

“They have reduced the need for specific, tailored hardware,” said GV’s Tom Hulme, who is joining the board. “Where we might have needed multiple lenses before, they have achieved same thing with a basic smartphone lens.”

Some of that heavy lifting has also involved building highly detailed maps that developers can now use to build collaborative AR experiences: the idea here is that the map of a space becomes the canvas onto which all of the other objects get placed for their interactions.

Ondruska said that initially the company has built maps covering the city centers of London, San Francisco and New York, with plans to add more locations. Users, he said, can also essentially “build” locations on the fly while using apps powered by Blue Vision, although these would work less well in fast-moving environments, where you might need to reference locations more accurately and pick up more detail.

Some have projected that AR-based applications could generate $83 billion by 2021. That seems like a big leap, considering we’re now already at 2018 and so far our biggest “hit” in AR has been Pokemon Go. Ondruska believes that this is because there have been missing pieces in making AR a truly seamless and smooth experience, and that his team has built the parts that will complete the picture.

“One of the reasons why AR hasn’t really reached mass market adoption is because of the tech that is on the market,” he said. “Single-user experiences are limiting. We are allowing the next step, letting people see the right place, for example. None of that was possible before in AR because the backend didn’t exist. But by filling this piece, we are creating new AR use cases, ones that are important and will be used on a daily basis.”

 

 

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