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Hands-on: Nokia Push gamifies snowboarding on the Nokia N8

Nokia sent us to Switzerland, to take part in their latest alpha test. But this isn’t a new phone. We’re on a snowboard, going down a mountain; and our every move is being watched. And not just by the team boarder spinning round us, filming our every move.

This is the Nokia Push Snowboarding project, and we are dotted with sensors as we make our way down, measuring speed, altitude, heart rate, and how much ‘rush’ we’re feeling.

They’re also gauging how we distribute bodyweight across the soles of our feet, and the rotational forces we are putting on the board, which has its own accelerometer and magnetometer.

And this is all being orchestrated by a Nokia N8 in our pocket.

Having dodged skiers in tandem, and a near-missed ploughing into the freelance photographer, we reach the finish line.

Nokia’s Push project, having already meddled with balloon-powered aerial photography and mapping skateboard physics in 2009, has now moved onto snowboards, biometric sensors and more.

With help from development team and Burton, the aim is to connect your (Nokia) phone with what you do on the powder.

As it was the alpha test, we were filmed, and the data synced to it, with handy icons telling us exactly what was happening, making it look like some high-detail video game.

You can see the video here, and before anyone asks, yes, we were moving- sometimes up to a dizzying speed of 10 mph.

All that data on the left came from five sensors, ranging from boot pressure sensors, to accelerometers on the board, telling what your board is doing in all three dimensions.

Sensors also tracked your pulse, and your ‘galvanic skin response’, which measured, in micro amounts, the changes in sweat your body was producing, in order to measure the emotional response you were having during the test. We called it the sweat sensor. See more on the sensors in our exclusive gallery here.

Then there was the phone; the Nokia N8, which orchestrated everything else, using GPS to measure altitude and speed, and went straight into our pocket. No wires necessary.

Measuring the experienced snowboarders; and interestingly, the ‘rush’ would drop before attempting jumps or tricks, and only when landing did the euphoria hit and readings would spike.

Surprisingly, all these sensors communicate everything via Bluetooth. Clovis, one of the team, responsible for the phone app, told us that by tweaking how often sensors were communicating with the phone, they were able to cram this many Bluetooth readings into the N8. And no battery-life problems, either apparently. “We have been able to run the phone tests for around 20-28 hours non-stop”.

We talked to a few pro rider testers, who really rated the unobtrusiveness of the sensors, and the R&D team told us it was a conscious decision to make the sensors as subtle as possible. 

It’s taken time to find these sensors, and some ideas turned out to be better than others; there’s videos of wind speed sensors, flexibility measuring material, one of which froze due to the low temperatures. Not suitable then.

Another member of the R&D team, Adrian, said that the team was constantly poring over data on the sensors; ditching some, then returning to others, deciding to use the phones’ own GPS to measure speed and distance of the snowboarder.

The next step is to gather together everything that the phones had picked up, and release it all publicly, meaning anyone with an idea of how to use the sensors output can mess around and start creating.

But Duncan from the team told us, “It’s the alpha test; and that means no-one’s really decided what`ll be left at the end. Developers are full of ideas, and we’re really enthusiastic about what other people could bring.”

Ideas bounced between journalists, pro riders, the Nokia people and the R&D team have included social network-linked apps, where you would ‘tag’ a jump or edge with your jump or trick; the person who was in the air longest, jumped furthest, who was most sedate even, gets bragging rights, or map the slope into rush hot-spots.

The alpha test data (including our ropey contribution, see above) looks set to be available soon, (check their blog) and they promised to reveal some of the cool apps created at the the Burton US Open this March.

We’ll also have a picture gallery up later, revealing more about those sensors.

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