It seems that more and more often, we’re hearing about people adding computer functionality to existing products – turning so-called “dumb” devices into “smart” ones. While that’s understandable with electronic appliances such as fridges and washing machines, a lot of people might scoff at the idea of a smart ski pole ... wouldn’t that be sort of like a smart pencil sharpener or doorstop? It turns out, however, that software engineer Anthony Griesel’s Neva microprocessor-equipped ski poles could actually be kind of useful.
Although the product isn’t commercially available yet, Griesel did spend last winter skiing with a functioning prototype, in his home state of Utah. In each set, the grip of one of the poles will be the proprietary smart part, with everything else being being ... well, dumb. A partnering local ski company will be supplying the standard aluminum poles, which he describes as being of the “highest quality and lowest weight while staying affordable.”
The waterproof smart grip will be linked via Bluetooth to an app on the user’s iPhone or Android smartphone. Using that app, they will be able to select which functions are enabled on the grip.
Probably the most useful of these functions would be the ability to take phone calls. When a call comes in to the linked smartphone, the identity of the caller flashes on the grip’s top-mounted OLED screen, while the ring tone sounds in the user’s own Bluetooth headset (not provided). To take or ignore the call, they just swipe a gloved finger or thumb across an optical sensor embedded in the screen. According to Anthony, this should be considerably easier than stopping to take off your gloves and fumble the phone itself out of a pocket, then possibly dropping it in the snow.
Other features include the ability to receive and display short text messages, along with information such as the current time, temperature and elevation. Additionally, the poles can access Griesel’s SlopeScience website, to warn users if they're entering an area where an avalanche could occur (based on their GPS location). That locational data can also be used to generate a visual record of the day’s runs, on Google Earth. Future possibilities may include control of the phone’s music library, or text-to-speech messaging.
Power is provided by a rechargeable battery, which will reportedly allow for three days of use before it needs recharging. It’s good for approximately 500 charging cycles.
Despite the fact that most North Americans aren’t thinking much about skiing right now, Anthony is currently attempt to raise development funds on Kickstarter. A pledge of US$120 will get you a pair of his poles, when and if they reach production. They may, however, have some competition. Germany's Fraunhofer research group is currently developing a smart ski helmet, that incorporates a control panel mounted on the back of a Bluetooth-enabled glove.
More information on the Neva poles is available in the pitch video, seen below.