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93 | The Future of Sports Tech with Rohan Martin



Rohan Martin is an embedded and mobile software engineer who has worked on some of the raddest tech in the sports we love. Alongside his passion for coaching and extreme sports, he is also the CTO of BrakeAce, the world's first brake sensor and app combo for mountain bikers. Today Rohan shares his insights from behind the curtain, and we begin the discussion of how the world of sports tech is faring amongst the other tech around us. There's room for improvement, and it starts here.


Follow Rohan on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sweaty_techie/

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TRANSCRIPT




00:00.00

Rohan

So stuff. But yeah, that's all good I could I could talk about this forever and I'd probably do a little too much normally today you guys are the right guys to talk to at least.


00:14.67

Matt

All right? Ron welcome to performance vantage podcast.


00:19.00

Rohan

Thanks.


00:21.28

drwill

All right? So Matt said your handle is sweaty ticky. What is that about those 2 things don't go together unless you're like gaming without ear conditioning.


00:27.82

Rohan

Ah, ah, that's because you need something. Ah.


00:36.42

Matt

I'm just thinking about how I sweated all over my my bike yesterday in my wahoo and I got sweat all over my phone because I was watching Youtube on the trainer. So that's what I'm envisioning actually right now.


00:44.69

Rohan

Yeah, oh I'm envisioning myself sitting at the coffee shop for 5 hours on the laptop the other day after my ride thinking I should probably go home for a shower but getting too much done to actually do that. Ah, but yeah, that's pretty much it that facts it. My life is sports and tech and so sweaty techie is is me. It's not the best image but it's the best way to subize how I live my life.


01:14.98

drwill

It's real.


01:17.40

Matt

So how did had you get into all this stuff into tech.


01:21.26

Rohan

Oh how did I get into this bit of luck bit of being in the right place at the right time probably a whole lot of putting myself into places that made me have some opportunities so my background is. I've got a degree in software engineering part of the reason I did that is I like building things like making new stuff and wanted the opportunity to go and live and work somewhere else around the world. So I'm from perth western australia is about as isolated as you can get for a capital city. Always had these intentions of going somewhere else experiencing new things. Our software seemed the right way to do that and started working with mobile originally worked for Motorola back in the days of competing with the first iphone then they shut down didn't do so well.


02:12.69

drwill

Coal.


02:17.41

Rohan

I'd ended up doing a bit of other things before I went to Canada on a working holiday visa thinking I'd enjoyed the mountains and ended up finding a job full-time engineering for dinosstream innovations. It turns out, they'd been bought a couple of years earlier by Garmin.


02:33.92

drwill

Um, ah.


02:35.81

Rohan

They are now in Garmin canada and so I just jumped straight in to working on wireless technology. So for their ant wireless team. What I thought was going to be a you know fun year or so in the canadian rockies and ended up being 4 years working for them getting involved in so not just directly Garmin products more support of other people using ant and ant plus are connecting to mobile phones. So yeah, an example of just getting lucky but also willing to move to Canada and take a random job. Outside of the city. So.


03:15.28

Matt

I guess I wouldn't have happened in Perth then would it.


03:17.94

Rohan

Ah, there is surprising some things happening behind closed doors here. They're really hard to find and usually part of bigger projects elsewhere. But yeah Perth but has stuff happening.


03:32.59

drwill

They' sort I've found I um I like how do these people find these jobs you know like I have um sports scientists I met it. Um, there were similar position to me. You know ph d candidates or like honors masters people that have followed for the last. Halfde or so and then they have these like amazing jobs and like high performance or this new startup or something like where did you where did you find these you know it's like you just I'm going on holiday like oh I worked for Garmin now. Yeah.


04:04.56

Rohan

So yeah, ah it's a lot of once you get to know someone know the right people this Garmin job was basically the only thing I've ever done that was send in a job application with no idea the rest of the time. It's no someone have some connection get involved.


04:16.49

drwill

Yeah.


04:23.95

Rohan

Some way and so that's a big part of so I eventually ended up getting into doing more consulting type work and really that just that wasn't a big risk that was I knew a lot of people people kept asking questions Anyway. So it just naturally became but I started doing things. Or independently.


04:41.94

drwill

So is that when you ah was there after the four years you'd been at Garmin Canada


04:46.30

Rohan

Yes, so that was another case of just getting pretty lucky I told them hey okay I've been here four years before it gets to 5 I've decided I'm not going to stay forever I should leave I'm going to head back to Australia and my boss is like no. Don't quit take a laptop. We'll find some work for you and so that just got me started working remotely and those first few months slowly traveling back home making the most of a bit of freedom and flexibility started to set the precedent for the next few years ah but I was the only the technical person in the company working remotely so I kept sort of changing through a bit of what I was doing. Um how I'd fit into the team. So I had been running the team and so that very much changed things. Ah but I've been trying to. Increase adoption of amplus into mobile phones. So I was working directly with a lot of external companies and so I became basically the guy doing support to get more people involved. For example I just ah, Strava. Is a big one so identifying if you wanted to have wireless connectivity to amp plus devices in mobile strava is getting bigger and bigger. So I reached out to them saying hey or 2013 but then thirteen fourteen yeah


06:09.90

drwill

So when was this where like year were we told me oh yeah, yeah.


06:17.83

Matt

Strabo is just getting star I guess so it had been around for a bit. Yeah Wow you were an early adopter.


06:19.57

drwill

Now that was stole and.


06:21.40

Rohan

Yeah, like I started using them 2010 or 11 and things. Yeah, that's I owe so many apps that because I was the app guy I was constantly on the lookout for apps and so I met my ride ride to Gps there was a Google. My maps or actually there's lots of these apps that's like yep I just had you know all of them installed and so just for work purposes. However, Strava was one that I very quickly got hooked on for good or for bad I just I did lose my original tracks though. I was signed up with a work account and I don't have that email anymore. So if you're at Strava and you can tell me I want to see how poor was my writing back then? yeah I'm I'm sure I could yeah I'm in there somewhere.


07:00.63

Matt

Oh no, Ah, that's the will would be destroyed. You could probably go back and find that guy you know like search him.


07:00.94

drwill

Ah, no.


07:16.83

drwill

Oh man I went back through my training peaks account in like around 2000 and I don't know 11 I think I got my first Gps watch and I just recorded everything in run mode.


07:17.38

Matt

But.


07:32.73

drwill

And even just the like the tags that would come that were pushed through it was all manual upload and it's just all the data is just ridiculous like it's just it's like no elevation data. It's like it's like just ah, a Gps like pace track like.


07:49.39

Rohan

Yeah, absolutely that that data geek thing of must record everything. It's going to be useful one day until you look back at it and there's no context like yeah.


07:50.16

drwill

And just like where I went and and how fast I ran and that they're like that's it and like man.


07:59.50

drwill

Yeah, and yeah, like I didn't comment to it I can have a lot was I doing intervals or have to try and remember a session from I was probably I know I wasn't doing it I was just going hard the whole time. Um, but.


08:08.70

Matt

Probably you probably were.


08:08.41

Rohan

Yeah, yeah.


08:19.10

drwill

Yeah, yeah, ah yeah, so striver did you get them? Did you get them on Ant plus.


08:20.20

Rohan

Yeah I did so that was an interesting one so they were using an external library for their connectivity at that point. So this is they were built on top of the wahoo library. Interface which is how they had Iphone and Ios and so wahoo back in the day their very first product was a dongle for iphones to let you connect to m plus sensors.


08:47.22

drwill

Yes, I was gonna ask you about this because I had the first um kicker wahoo kicker so I got one of those like as soon as they came out and I used it to control training when I was doing my my research collecting. Um, participant data and I had to control their training I was like these things are amazing and then yeah I was like as over those years I was collecting the data news and the kickers it was like you had to have this external dongle and then I saw in the forums that actually no ant plus was supported inside the phone but you had to like. Unlock it or use ah as an apk with Android or something as so you can tell fill us in fill the gaps there.


09:26.77

Rohan

Yeah, also that is exactly the work I did getting ant plus into Android that was sort of again being in a bit of luck so bluetooth low energy. The future of wireless. Was this big planned announced technology switching from the the classic bluetooth used a lot of power. Yes, it was able to stream all of your your audio high high bandwidth usage and there's Bluetooth low energy. Totally different technology. And actually almost the same as amplus and so someone at ant and realized that well there's all of these chips being output by the radio silicon manufacturers and they've got this space for bluetooth low energy. Can we just put. Ant on there and so ampplus managed to sort of sneak on to phones because there was all of these chips in there waiting for bluetooth low energy and so it wasn't advertised by a lot of phones and it needed.


10:32.82

drwill

Ah.


10:41.19

Rohan

The actual operating system. So your Android system needs to be updated and so that was the piece I did so make some changes try and convince different manufacturers potentially Google to enable that and so originally. 2000 and let's see in the 2010 tour de frances. There was a bunch of writers having a htc phone under their saddle that allowed live streaming of their data just because it was an off-the-shelf phone that had one of these trips that we could put. And plus into and that was the first sort of like real life proof of concept and it's definitely It's grown so now things aren't done that way but just that proof of hey people are interested in seeing live data. We can do that if we've got a phone that directly connects. And so then from there sort of trying to push in different ways. Samsung is the big one that ended up adopting and plus in most of their top end phones but not as super advertised feature so they did integrate it into s health.


11:48.59

Matt

Yeah I was just ah I was wondering that I was like do we know that our phones have am plus in there I didn't actually know and right.


11:57.70

Rohan

Yeah, very few very few do that's ah, it's because I left didn't finish that project. Oh yeah, so yeah, it's one of those things that you can if you really wanted to.


12:06.17

Matt

Ah, like forget it.


12:15.58

Rohan

You can plan to have your phone find the ones that do support it but they have sort of gone a different route for the and and plus side of things Anyway, bluetooth low energy is now there that is the the standard approach you take to getting something to a phone.


12:32.71

drwill

And what's better.


12:35.98

Rohan

Ah, different so similar sort of battery life usages but very different so from a developer standpoint There's definitely yeah, the available things you can implement is different. However, it's all about the ecosystem. What are you trying to connect to. So if you're a if you're a Garmin wahoo whoever making a head unit. You need to have amplus just because there are so many sensors out there that people have from before there was be a lead that work and it's broadcast. So you can connect to you know you have zwift on your Apple Tv and for years you then couldn't connect your bluetooth also to your Garland at the same time because it was only one single to single connection. 1 point to point single connection. And so for them to allow that they've had to add the ability to have a second connection whereas amplus right from the beginning just broadcasts to anyone that's listening so from a consumer point of view. The best is the one that works with whatever else, you've already got there isn't really that much difference once you've got it.


13:43.66

drwill

Right.


13:49.67

Rohan

You can make them both work. You just can't make it work if you've got something that doesn't integrate with the previous bits. You've got and so that's been sort of so a long time. Garmin was very much sticking to and plus it just worked and then.


13:56.58

drwill

Yes.


14:09.10

Rohan

Other companies the other way not adopting amplus so like suntu.


14:11.56

Matt

That would have been a bit of competition between the companies wouldn't it like ah now we're not going to do that because you guys do that.


14:18.13

Rohan

Ah, yes, and no I think a lot of it is also those existing products so there's a lot the sensors sell significant number more than you know the head units and watches and so if you're someone who's got 3 bikes you might have.


14:21.88

Matt

Here.


14:37.93

Rohan

Ah, just simple cadence speed distance on a couple of those you know, maybe power meter but you only have one head unit that you use across all of them. So there's a lot of sales there in the additional sensors and so if you create something new. You want it to keep working with your old stuff that people have so that they're tied in ah Apple approach make everything that just works. You thought you've got then once someone gets in you've got them.


15:08.27

Matt

I was just thinking about actually ah the bikes I have and the sensors I have and then because obviously all my bikes have power meter and then I only had the 1 hen unit and the one head unit I had for some reason it would only connect to 1 power meter at a time and then I'd have to search and find it. But now I have one of those newer wahoos. And it remembers all my power meters which is great because I just like get that bike and I go for a ride and it knows which power meters on and it reads my power that was like 1 of the greatest things ever has ah just made my life so much easier.


15:40.50

Rohan

Yeah, so I did work on the original element from wahoo and that was one of those big discussions how to make pairing to sensors easier and so that had been something I've been dealing with for a long time is sort of the technical how it works. But that user interaction. So the traditional approach before that had been the Garmin did bike profiles you would choose which bike you had and it would connect to the sensors you had assigned to that and then get. But yeah, exactly no read. It was an extra step and like why would you bother.


16:08.74

drwill

Um, but no one ever used that? No one used that? Yeah yeah, um.


16:10.32

Matt

I Didn't use it. Ah yeah.


16:18.80

Rohan

And the extra step to set up was a long process and then every time you went for a ride you couldn't just press the button and so yeah, you would just set it up how you wanted it and just expect it to work whereas Waho was well. You set it up and just keep adding sensors and if you've got those sensors and at some point you use them. And that that is a big sort of transition in the way sports tech sort of becomes more mainstream this ability of it just works. There was a long time where every digital product you used required a little bit of technical knowledge and troubleshooting. Either in the setup or just in making it work properly.


17:01.16

drwill

It's still you know it's still there like as you know a coach works with a lot of athletes across a lot of different devices I should be can you get Accredited Garmin like support person because.


17:11.82

Rohan

Ah, yeah, yeah, until the new Garmin comes out and it's got 15 new features and you got to figure out all of them.


17:14.70

Matt

Do you want that like people be hitting you up like how do I sit on my goman.


17:17.70

drwill

Yeah, yeah, the phoenix 7 um, for running any um, running guy. But ah yeah, it's still not There's still so many hoops and loops and. So being massive into running power like the stride and it's just this initially man that thing was the biggest hurdle you guys? Um, like we'll fight met with breakcase I don't know how you're setting that up but with stride I had to. Was a heart rate strap like not the foot pod and then I had to set it up as a cadence sensor and it would read. Ah this was the other thing that was going back through training peaks my cadence is all like 350 rpm which is actually my power um from because I was trying to yeah so I was trying to find my power stuff. But.


18:07.80

Matt

Ah, ah.


18:13.79

drwill

Yeah, like so that's such a huge hurdle and then you could or you could run in bike mode so because only Garmin would only allow power meters in bike mode and.


18:24.82

Rohan

And.


18:25.90

Matt

That's funny because we've been talking about this actually for break case, It's like Okay, how do we get it on a head unit right? Is it going to be Rpms or whatever.


18:32.12

Rohan

And yeah, and yet there's definitely been multiple companies that have had to do that over the last decade and like we've got something new and cooled and we've got it. How do we get it to other people and get them using it. So yeah, stryde is 1 thing and it's interesting because it's's always tend to be cadence.


18:45.12

drwill

So what? yeah.


18:51.74

Rohan

Was like there's this decision that no one cares enough about cadence for it to be the thing you have to keep because ah muscle Oxygen is yeah it works.


18:53.32

drwill

Yeah, but also it's it's kind of on there by default as well. Like most people like with running I mean with cycling you might have it if you've got like 6 data fields. 1 of them is by default. There'll be cadence there.


18:54.55

Matt

Ah.


19:10.60

Rohan

Yeah, yeah, and then like speed and distance it's something that people understand really easily so it stays and so speed. Okay, you might be because it's interesting if you're doing training you might specifically be training to cadence.


19:12.20

drwill

Like look. We'll just populate there with something else.


19:29.55

Rohan

Or to speed and like so if you've now overwritten one of those with power but you want to try this power sensor. Yeah, it's become a hassle and that is one of the the struggles of introducing new technology is the hurdle of becoming part of the bigger. Ecosystem this setup that a user already has and so a lot of companies go out will have their app and make things work the way that work for them and as soon as you try and integrate into the bigger system. You've realize okay, this hasn't been thought out we need a way. To make it happen and so yeah, when you mentioned that I was thinking trying to integrate so muscle Oxygen years ago same thing so put a sensor on different muscle muscle figure out your lactate threshold makes total sense laboratory setting being used forever having that something you can take out.


20:15.83

drwill

Ah, yeah.


20:26.83

Rohan

Or Even using Laboratory as an affordable product. So They there's a couple of companies doing it same thing send out as Cadence However, one of the sensors trying to integrate that it would require you to hit it to turn it on and it would start flashing then you could connect to it. And then it would be on and connected but it wouldn't start recording any information or even sending out any information on Muscle Oxygen until you'd send like a start command and so because it's it's using Leds. It is a bunch of power. And so from the sort of someone trying to integrate that into their product whether that be a watch an app or a head unit. You have to make all of these pieces work and then and plus as a control method. It doesn't have sort of guaranteed messages getting through. Part of the way. It's really low power. Is. It just consistently sends out updates and if you miss 1 Oh well, you've missed it and in terms of recording data. That's that's fine in most cases because you want the latest you don't want to be falling behind in what data you've got. But if you're trying to send a command to.


21:41.61

drwill

Yeah.


21:42.51

Rohan

Start or stop a sensor and it's not getting through then you've got to figure that out of how do you manage that and especially at the end of your running a ride the person wants to stop and turn off their device but it hasn't been able to send a stop command yet. So these little things which when you're designing it as a. You know technical designer. You're like yeah easy send to the stop command but then you put it out in the real world and this user goes great finish My ride stop turn it off and then you've got batteries dead next time because the stop command never went through so little things like that. Just. More exposure different companies. Get you start to realize these things learn from other people's mistakes learn from your own mistakes and say things should be getting better and that's definitely something I've seen that even the technical people are generally starting to have this more understanding of product. Decision.


22:39.24

drwill

Yeah, if I think one of the latest ones I've seen would be super sapiens continuous glucose monitoring and that seemed to get adopted pretty quickly by devices. Um from what I've seen like I know you can get it on the Garmin straight away.


22:55.76

Rohan

Yeah, so there's been. Yeah, absolutely so connect iq allowing anyone to create their own data fields apps to go on a Garmin.


22:57.89

drwill

I Guess connect Likeq Apps must be a revelation as well, right? So that's apps you can get on to onto carmen. Yeah.


23:13.33

Rohan

That was interesting because at the same time as I was working for Garmin trying to create an android api for application programmers to use I had visibility into the fact that there was this other Garmin project happening that was creating the connect iq and the ability for app programmers to write that. And wow I had it easy watching that team try and create a library that would work or an interface that would work across every device that Garmin creates trying to do it in a low power like resource constrained environment that was a big effort. But once that came out it was a game changer so now almost every sensor product I work on 1 of the first steps is okay, do we want to connect iq version to get it onto Garlin and you write it for Garmin and it only works with Garlin doesn't work with anyone else, but in terms of getting. Access to your product out there. It's it's a step but it's a big step. So Garmin's to put the effort in. But yeah, opened that up and then it's it's now an option. However, there's also so a lot especially a lot of the Android based by computers they are. A lot quicker than garmin to adopt new things because there's this ability to to basically port in existing apps. so that's wahoo no so different so for Garmin's got their own thing where os is.


24:39.84

drwill

Do they use we're where os.


24:51.40

Rohan

Not very good at any sports technology. So that's been. Oh yeah, that's become more so it's got the Google influence there but it's I say uses too much battery in general. So it's had a lot of improvements and it is getting better. So it's mostly designed about general use.


24:52.88