Imagine burning calories on the latest, trendy stationary bike to tackle your New Year’s fitness resolutions.
Would that digitally enhanced reflection keep you motivated throughout the rest of the year?
A new take on before and after photos is the thought-provoking idea behind EnvisionBody, a Tampa-area start-up with patented technology to keep users fixated on a more active version of themselves while running on a treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike or working out in front of a connected mirror.
The software platform was announced a year ago at CES 2020, an annual tech conference that’s typically among the world’s largest. The company hopes to launch as a stand-alone app in 2021 as its founder pulls together partnerships with large firms in the health and connected fitness space.
“For decades, companies have used before and after photos to motivate people, either to buy a product or to exercise,” said Salina Ray, chief executive of the augmented-reality platform. “It just makes sense that you use the latest technology and give it to people through real-time video rather than still-flat still images.”
Think of EnvisionBody like an immersive Snapchat lens that digitally reveals what you would look like with up to a 30 percent increase or reduction in weight or muscle mass.
Founded in 2013, the company has a trio of patents to cover an image’s ability to change in conjunction with exercise exertion. The platform uses heart-rate-sensor data, computer vision and artificial intelligence to show your possible future results based on your current body shape and how much effort you put into a workout.
For instance, the longer you walk on the treadmill, the more body enhancement would occur on the screen.
The business is in its development phase, having talks with leading diet companies to see how it could roll out to customers wanting a sneak peek at what adhering to meal plans could earn them, Ray said. So, it’s not ready for the masses just yet. Still, the chief executive also envisions partnerships with noncompeting fitness hardware companies looking to move beyond remote classes and trendy home-workout equipment. The plan is to embed the software into existing equipment, either at home or at a gym.
“If the gym equipment already has a camera and a large screen, EnvisionBody can easily interface with it,” Ray said.
The company hopes to lodge itself in the middle of a rapidly evolving connected fitness industry that’s seeking to take advantage of people spending more time at home and in front of screens.
The ongoing pandemic forced active Americans to slam on the brakes and adapt to remote fitness. The $94 billion fitness industry scrambled to adapt. As gyms closed and faced capacity restraints, studios launched apps and virtual personal training as a way to keep memberships going.
Meanwhile, fitness gear flew off the shelves, and high-priced items, such as Lululemon’s interactive Mirror and Peloton’s flagship stationary bike, suddenly made more sense to more people. Apple also got in on the race, launching its Fitness Plus subscription service.
Still, there is a chance that big-name wellness firms won’t turn toward body-altering augmented-reality services for their customers, or they could figure out a way to develop competing EnvisionBody software in-house.
The workout tech start-up could face other challenges, too.
Digitally stripping away fat, filling in the gaps and displaying that in real time on a wide variety of body types requires mountains of user data to produce a realistic result. EnvisionBody does not have that yet; instead, it’s relying on existing skeleton-tracking software and body-measurement data from partnering platforms until it can gather information from active users.
“It’s easy to add something to the body, like the filters you see on Snapchat. It’s hard to create the illusion of something that has been removed,” said Philippe Lewicki, lead software developer at EnvisionBody. He also runs an augmented-reality consulting agency that has worked with Marvel, Disney and Microsoft. “We’re working on computer-vision technology [that] would be able to give an illusion that something is going away from the body when it’s in motion.”
There’s also no surefire way to know how, where or when people’s bodies will change, though the company can make predictions based on information from health experts and analysts. There will be built-in restraints on how much thinner or how much larger digital clones can get.
The service is primarily meant to motivate people to take action by showing them what's possible, the company says.
“Once the gyms start reopening, and the shininess starts to wear off of companies like Peloton, these companies are going to have to do something to keep people’s interest,” Ray said. “They’re going to need to innovate, and hopefully, EnvisionBody is right in alignment for that at the right time.”