The Evolution of the smartOar Android App

The smartOar Android App, working in conjunction with the smartOar Bluetooth Translator (BTT), lets a Coach in the launch or coxswain/rower(s) in the boat see force curves in real-time. The App works with Android phones, Tablets, and low-cost device like the Kindle fire.

When smartOar was first conceived, the Zigbee radio protocol was chosen because it overcame some critical limitations of Bluetooth, namely limited range and number of allowed devices. Bluetooth range did not extend between the ends of an eight nor could it accommodate eight rowers. Zigbee allowed more than eight rowers with enough range for a Coach in a launch to see the force curves in real-time using the smartOar Coaches Tablet. The Coaches Tablet is costly but has some advantages. It is rugged, mounts easily on a launch and has a special display that is genuinely readable in direct sunlight. Unfortunately, it does not address the desire to allow a rower to see and adjust their own force curve in real-time. From a coaching perspective, allowing a rower to see their own curve in real-time has potential advantages. The Coach can initiate a change and a motivated rower can work on maintaining the correction while the Coach deals with the next rower. Obvious types of issues are catch and finish timing, cleaning up releases and the general shape of the curve. All of these well are indicative of crews that row well together.

As mentioned, the smartOar Coaches Tablet in not inexpensive so the primary goal in designing a new product was to provide a lower cost solution that allowed the Coach, coxswain and rowers to see force curves in real-time. It tuns out that there is a display device that is essentially free. An Android cell phone can be used as a display device. Given the pace of technology, there are many unused cell phones that are perfectly serviceable – even if not the latest and greatest version. Many are waterproof, all have decent display resolution, and many can be used in sunlight when anti-glare stick-on is applied to the screen. All have Bluetooth.

The smartOar App connects to the BTT via Bluetooth. Commands are sent by the App to the BTT which retransmits them to the oars via Zigbee which the oars can receive. In the other direction, the oars send real-time data to the BTT which processes it and sends force curves to the App, again via Bluetooth. The device running the App that controls the oars can act as a Bluetooth server sending force curves to additional Android devices running the App which is configured to work with the server. In this way multiple rowers can view real-time force curves

There are two version of the BTT. The higher end version is meant to go in the boat and contains GPS and an accelerometer. GPS provides stroke by stroke speed or split (selectable) as well as distance. The accelerometer can provide insights into crew performance coming into the catch. Kleshnev has published his insights on this in his books and Biorow newsletter. The second version costs less and lacks the GPS and accelerometer. It is intended for use by a Coach in a launch. The App has a “snoop” mode that allows it to pick up signals from the oars of multiple boats. This is needed because of the severe range limitations of Bluetooth.

The App allows one to record pieces, play them back and send files to be viewed by others or run on the smartOar Windows PC software