A computerised “active punch bag” that gives users instant and accurate feedback on their performance has been developed by the EUREKA network project eFighting. The product has attracted the interest of sports clubs and fitness centres interested in offering tailored training programmes in a cost effective manner.
Fitness equipment and tailored training programmes are expensive, which is why the eFighting project sought to combine technological know-how with industry expertise to develop a cloud-enabled punch bag. Both partners – SMEs Etris from Slovenia and SSV from Germany –were supported in their respective country. The Ministry of Economic Development and Technology in Slovenia funded the Slovenian participant.
“When we first demonstrated the operation of the device, no one was using fitness devices connected to the cloud,” explains Emil Benko, Director of Etris, the main partner in the eFighting project. “So we saw an opportunity. Our product means that tailored workouts can be conducted without the presence of a trainer. The cost of professional sports equipment for training purposes has always been extremely high, so we also wanted to develop something at a reasonable price.”
"Virtually the entire project was an innovation so we really had to start from scratch"
Sensors on the punch bag – which is not secured to the floor or wall but is free-standing – light up according to a special algorithm, and the speed with which athletes turn the lights out is recorded by an integrated microprocessor to a one thousandth of a second.
A touch-screen monitor provides athletes with practice instructions in the form of a video and provides an instant read out of their performance once the work-out is over. The system can even suggest future training programmes based on factors such as age, gender and level of physical condition.
The German partner SSV contributed intensively in the sensor development to achieve a reliable product. Thanks to their efforts in marketing, sales of the product have continuously increased.
Fighting for market share
Developing this new product has been a major challenge. “Virtually the entire project was an innovation so we really had to start from scratch,” says Benko. “This involved pulling together computer technologies and software knowledge with 3D design and metal processing. Manufacturing silicone light sensors that can measure reactions to within a thousandth of a second was also a challenge.”
Once the product was designed and developed, the next step was to convince the fitness industry to try something new. “We found that the device was not as difficult to make as it was to sell,” says Benko. “Fitness owners tend to prefer to purchase something they already know about.” Since project completion in 2014, Etris has sold a little over 100 devices priced at € 12 000, mainly to the German market.
After two years on the market, Benko conducted an analysis in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the innovation. “As a result we have been able to prepare a second generation product line,” he says. “This addresses some of the issues we have had with cost, mobility and service. “For me the project is not yet really completed because we have not been as commercially successful as we can be.”
Indeed, Benko is confident that the second generation device will be a hit. The next step, he says, is to find an investor or strategic partner as achieving a breakthrough on the global market is very costly. “Without the EUREKA project we would not have even been able to begin to develop this device in the first place,” he says. “Innovating is a huge undertaking for a small company like us, which is why this project has been a great learning experience.”