How Tech start up Exerwise is keeping kids fitFollow article
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Exerwise is an exciting tech statup based in Galway, Ireland that aims to create a product that encourages young children to take 60 minutes of exercise in a day. We here at Mint Tek Circuits recently sat down with Exerwise’s COO, Nicola O’Sullivan, and talked to her about her startup and the challenges they face.
O’Sullivan told us that the idea for Exerwise came to her and her co-founders while they were in final year of their engineering degree – they had originally researched the idea as part of their final year theses but they discovered that a more appropriate path was to create a business around the idea and create a product.
O’Sullivan and her team are very much into exercise, and assistive technology, so the project seemed like a natural fit. They were also growing concerned about the growing obesity levels in children, and so decided to aim their product, an activity tracker, at children between the ages of 5 and 12 – “we noticed the growing trend of childhood obesity and were wondering what can we do about it. So why not apply technology that is out there and change it specifically for kids – activity trackers are not kid friendly, and we want to be able to have a product that encourages kids to be more active.”
Similar products exist on the market, but O’Sullivan discovered that even activity trackers that describe themselves as for children has designs that weren’t “necessarily child friendly”. Exerwise did a lot of research into, not only what products currently existed on the market, but also what customers really wanted from those products.
Initially they did a lot of customer validation surveys, particularly with parents as they would be the ones actually buying the activity trackers for their kids. They also looked to children and how they would respond to their activity trackers – they found, ultimately, that children “respond more to visual feedback, rather than me telling you you’ve done 12 minutes of exercise, or whatever.”
O’Sullivan also explained that during their research, they discovered that parents weren’t actually aware that the recommended daily activity level for children was 60 minutes. They found this surprising and felt it important to incorporate this fact into their product.
Creating the Prototype
Once O’Sullivan and the Exerwise team had nailed down the concept, they began to focus on the physical prototypes and testing. They originally began with Arduinos as they had “already used them” in college and so were familiar with the interfaces and coding languages needed to use them. They used Arduinos for their first proof of concept to “actually see if this was possible”.
Choosing a Microcontroller
Moving from Arduinos to smaller microcontrollers has been a “learning experience” for O’Sullivan and her team. They admit they don’t have extensive knowledge on microcontrollers but from using simple ones, like Teensy, they’ve been becoming more and more confident in using the devices. They find seeking feedback from fellow engineers to be invaluable, as they often have comments to add that makes the Exerwise team’s efforts more focused and efficient.
O’Sullivan explains that she gets a lot of feedback from engineers when they attended an ideation process, which brought together a group engineers and prospective end users to give them feedback on specific challenges they were facing in product development. Explaining her idea to experienced engineers, and the difficulties they were encountering, opened channels of communication and advice, and they got a lot of information on, not only microcontrollers, but the hardware tech industry as a whole. “We talked about things like accelerometers, and are we going in the right direction [with them] etc. It was those little bits of information that you got from people who’ve worked in the area. We took a lot away.”
Exerwise’s next challenge is to create a prototype they are happy with, and to that end they’re developing a KickStarter campaign to help them in this.
For a more indepth look into the Exerwise journey, you can read full interview transcripts and see video footage here: