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History of Activity trackers featured image

From Pedometers to Fitbit: The Journey of Activity Trackers

The history of devices tracking an individual’s walking distance and the number of steps they made in the 15th century when Leonardo da Vinci sought to track the distance a Roman soldier walked. Leonardo Da Vinci drew up plans for a device to do its intended purpose.

After the initial information of da Vinci drawing up plans, the history of pedometers became muddled. Abraham-Louis Perrelet, a Swiss horologist and inventor, was credited with creating the first pedometer in 1770. Still, it was also suggested that Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father of America, was the first to produce a mechanical pedometer in 1777. A website even cited other people who invented the pedometer, making it less clear to know which one was the actual inventor.

Pedometer technology progressed from other technological developments that were eventually implemented on fitness trackers as they evolved over the years.

History of Activity trackers Infographic

1921: Galvanic Skin Response and Polygraphs

The polygraph, or lie detector, was the first machine to have sensors measuring galvanic skin response or GSR, pulse rate, and blood pressure. The polygraph was invented before in 1921, many years before World War II, and was used by police to detect tell-tale physiological indicators of lying.

The technology is currently in use in multiple fitness trackers.

1965: First Modern Pedometer: Manpo-kei

The first proper activity or fitness tracker surfaced in 1965 with the Manpo-kei, invented by Dr Yoshiro Hatano, a Japanese professor at the Kyushu University of Health and Welfare.

The Manpo-kei translates to “10,000 steps meter” and was developed to help combat obesity in Dr Hatano’s country. He speculated that 10,000 steps with a proper balance of caloric intake and exercise to expend calories are enough to maintain a healthy body.

The pedometer was a simple gadget that can be worn around the waist and calculate the number of steps the individual walked. The Manpo-kei sold quickly as people started tracking their number of steps each day.

1971: Accelerometers

Ford managed to use accelerometers for commercial products in their automobiles. Accelerometers were widely utilized during the Space Race and the development of guided missile technologies. Such devices were instrumental in continuously calculating the position, orientation, and velocity of a moving object without external references.

Because accelerometers can detect a moving object's motion, they can detect a sharp deceleration of a vehicle and deploy the airbags to minimize the injuries the driver and passenger will sustain in a crash. Now, modern activity trackers use accelerometers for step counting, allowing people to see if they already made their 10,000 steps.

1982: Polar PE2000

The Polar Sports Tester PE2000 is essentially a combination of an electrocardiogram (ECG) and a radio chest strap. The Polar PE2000 was the forefather of all activity trackers, including watches for athletes. Its successor, the Sports Tester PE3000, was released in 1984 and was the first watch to introduce placing the biometric information live onto the display. In 1987, the PE300 introduced Target Zones for the athletes’ heart rate-based training.

1996: GPS Tracking

At first, GPS or Global Positioning System was only available for military use until President Bill Clinton opened it up for civilian usage. Now, fitness trackers use GPS to map a person’s exercise routine.

GPS is only possible thanks to the 31-satellite constellation that the US Government launched.

2006: Motion Sensing through Nokia 5500 Sport

The first consumer device to have a built-in accelerometer is the Nokia 5500 Sport. The built-in accelerometer records movement on three different axes: front to back, up and down, and side-to-side. The Nokia 5500 Sport can allow people to monitor the calories they burned, their speed, the distance they covered, and the number of steps they’ve taken.

2007 - Onwards: Fitbit

Fitbit was a hardware start-up in 2007 that transformed into a tech powerhouse in just ten years. Fitbit started with an idea, using sensors in small wearable devices. James Park and Eric Friedman saw the potential of turning the idea into a business.

Park and Friedman presented their idea at the TechCrunch 50 conference held on September 9, 2008 and received 2,000 pre-orders in one day. They struggled with the device's manufacture because they lacked experience in the field while also seeing issues with the technicality and the design of the device.

James Park said in an interview with Jeff Clavier that they “literally took a piece of foam and put it on the circuit board to fix an antenna problem.” The first device they used to look for potential investors is a circuit board placed in a wooden box. However, even with these setbacks and seemingly janky solutions, they managed to launch their first tracker towards the end of 2009 and ship 5,000 units to consumers while retaining a good profit margin. They then received about 20,000 more orders.

The Fitbit Classic was launched in 2009 and was a clip-on device. The first Fitbit was a wireless-enabled device with an internal motion detector to track the wearer’s movements, sleep, and calorie burn. Wearers can clip the device on their clothes. Even though it wasn’t a smartphone-connected device, its wireless base station enables it to sync to a Mac or PC, which is 10 feet within its range.

Fitbit then developed more devices with more features, including an altimeter, digital clock, stopwatch, motivational message system, a weight scale, and others across multiple devices. Its line of activity trackers currently consists of the Fitbit Ace 3, Fitbit Inspire 2Fitbit Charge 4, and the Fitbit Charge 4 Special Edition. Below are the features of the mentioned devices:

·         Fitbit Ace 3

Activity tracker for kids aged six and above. Includes Swimproof, Reminders to Move, and All-Day Activity Tracking features.

·         Fitbit Inspire 2

Easy-to-use activity tracker with 24/7 Heart Rate Tracking, Active Zone Minutes, All-Day Activity, Heart Rate Zones, Cardio Fitness Level, Swimproof + Swim Tracking, Real-Time Pace & Distance, and other features. Premium users can even get personalized guidance, exclusive insights, and sleep tools.

·         Fitbit Charge 4

Activity tracker with built-in GPS for Real-Time Pace & Distance, Active Zone Minutes, Floors Climbed, Reminders to Move, SmartTrack Automatic Exercise Recognition, Swimproof, 24/7 Heart Rate Tracking, and other features.

·         Fitbit Charge 4 Special Edition

It has the same features as the Fitbit Charge 4, but with a sleek reflective woven band and an extra classic black band.

Fitbit also has smartwatches like the Fitbit Sense, Fitbit Versa 2, and the Fitbit Versa 3.

Fitness is still vital in everyone's lives, and activity trackers can help people stay in shape as they track how many steps they made and monitor their health. Cork, Ireland residents can look for Fitbit Cork in trusted superstores in the country.

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