Sports Technology Startup Spotlight

Startup Spotlight :: RunScribe

In this startup spotlight, we feature RunScribe, a running wearable startup that has developed a portable Gait Lab. We talk about how they started and evolved since their Kickstarter campaign to now focus on professional applications. Read on to learn what made them pivot and what they are committing to as they move forward.

Who Is And What Does RunScribe Do?

RunScribe is a wearable tech startup focused on capturing running motion data that allows run coaches or clinicians to analyse an athlete’s running gait. Their current (at the time of writing this) Gait Lab or gait analysis hardware/system comprises of 2 Shoe Pod sensors (one worn on each shoe) and 1 Sacral Pod (which can be clipped onto the waist band). Just recently (in March 2021), they launched an updated version of their Gait Lab hardware dubbed RunScribe Red. It has got improved specs which means there can be additional metrics, additional visualisations and so better analysis. Then all the data and visuals of key run/gait metrics and analyses are accessible on their mobile apps (iOS or Android) or web dashboard. Coaches, clinicians (physios, podiatrists, biomechanists etc) can use that data to help athletes improve their gait or running technique and ultimately minimising injury risk and improving performance. Similarly, researchers also use the system to conduct studies in sports or health science research.

Example of the RunScribe dashboard

The Why And How It Started

Back in 2011, Tim Clark (the founder of RunScribe) felt that sports wearables at that time were limited and unable to help athletes make meaningful change to improve their performance or reduce injury. They were mostly just tracking and providing users with measures of distance, speed, and step count. But there was an opportunity to use wearable sensors (IMUs) to capture so much more information and insights. Insights that could help runners understand how their gait could be improved and even how their shoes are affecting their run. That’s what led to the creation of RunScribe shoe pods. It was launched on Kickstarter in 2014 where it started off as one shoe pod sensor which can be secured on the shoe heel either by a clip or Sugru (a semi-permanent mouldable glue). The campaign was funded successfully, meeting their goals and hitting up to 3 stretch goals with close to 1400 backers. Being a Kickstarter project, there were some ups and downs, and shifting goal posts. At the same time, being a novel wearable product at that time, there were lots of “first-times” both from the users and the creators. Fortunately, there were enough dedicated users that formed up a community and that allowed the RunScribe team to make refinements based on lots of feedback and learning.

How It Has Been Going

After their successful Kickstarter campaign, they have continued to improve on their product offering, from hardware, software to additional user features and better usability, and to top it off, validating all that through research.

HARDWARE IMPROVEMENTS

  • From the one shoe pod sensor, they graduated to two shoe pod sensors (one for each shoe), which they call the RunScribe Pro and soon moved on to RunScribe Plus. The shoe pod sensors also moved from the heel to the laces.
  • Then they added the Sacral sensor to track hip motion. This came about from a combination of questions and requests from active professional users. They needed information that two shoe pod sensors were unable to provide which meant they had to make some assumptions. So adding the Sacral sensor provided the ‘complete picture’.
  • And as mentioned briefly above, RunScribe announced another updated hardware (RunScribe Red) in order to deliver even more precise readings.

SOFTWARE/DATA/METRICS IMPROVEMENTS

  • From the app and web dashboard, users get 13 kinematic metrics, and they have the option to run with different shoes and tag/associate relevant run data accordingly. From there, comparison of shoe (run) performance is possible and RunScribe lists out the top5/10 shoes that perform well in various metrics.
  • In the same vein, RunScribe came up with the Shoe Print metric which is like a 2D heatmap of where a runner lands and takes off.
  • As an extension of that, they brought out Shoe Ride Visualisation which aims to quantify the ‘feeling’ of the run by measuring and showing the entire process from heel to toe off.
  • Then with the additional of the Sacral sensor, the system provides metrics related to the pelvis/hip – i.e. angles of the 3 planes of movement (rotation, tilt, obliquity) in relation to the motions of the left and right foot. The goal of more and better data is always to help runners be clearer about what they could do or stop doing to run better.

FUNCTIONALITY/USABILITY IMPROVEMENTS

  • Connectivity of the sensors was mainly via Bluetooth smart at the beginning and RunScribe subsequently was able to provide support for ANT connection (Garmin devices) via ConnectIQ.
  • As a response to professional users, RunScribe created a database functionality so that each user account is able to create multiple users whether it is with one or more sets of hardware.

VALIDATION THROUGH RESEARCH

  • The RunScribe system has been used in multiple case studies, research and validation studies over the years. Most of the studies are published in various journals and they all contribute to the knowledge bank of understanding human movement of different demographics and in different settings and environments. Here is a list of those studies as compiled by RunScribe: list.
  • RunScribe also supports a databank, and on their project page, it showcases some interesting community projects built upon that databank.
Shoe characteristics project

THE RUNSCRIBE TEAM

Interestingly, with all the developments mentioned above, one would think the team has grown. On the contrary, the RunScribe Team actually shrunk in size. And at some point, it was just Tim, the founder running the operation. But more recently Tim has teamed up with Malc Kent, a biomechanist who focuses on the professional applications of RunScribe and providing professional training to users. Along with becoming a small team (or perhaps its a consequence), they have decided to focus on one thing where they have brought the most value -> gait analysis in professional settings. Where other wearable running devices are offering metrics such as running power, running ‘performance’ or pretty generic form analysis, RunScribe wants to help professionals & researchers in their job of analysing movement and preventing injuries.

Why Focus On Professional Applications

When RunScribe first launched on Kickstarter, their goal was to provide a tool to help people run better, run injury free and run for longer. The tools were not just the wearable sensors. More importantly, it is the data that comes from the sensors. Data informs the user what was going on in the run but it is up to the user to interpret that to identify the changes necessary to run better. In this case, background knowledge and understanding of running mechanics is required to diagnose that data and make use of it. That’s where regular runners without the relevant knowledge or experience could get lost in. When runners look at data that they can’t utilise or take action on, it becomes pointless.

On the other hand, useful data in the hands of an experienced coach or clinician means meaningful interpretation that leads to suggestions and tips that is relevant to the runner. The coach can assess the runner, identify the symptoms and prescribe exercises that help to correct techniques or postures, or they could even recommend shoes that might better suit their running gait.

This (pivoting to focus on professional applications) is really an outcome of knowing where their strength lies, and combining that with learning how the different groups of users are using and benefiting from the system.

What Next

Towards the end of 2020, when I had a chat with Malc Kent, I asked what else RunScribe would be working on next and if they would consider motion analysis in other endurance sports (e.g. cycling). His response was: in the foreseeable future, they really just want to get it right with gait analysis in running and particularly for professional users. So their efforts would be centred around delivering a kit/system that any professional user can pick up, set it up and easily deploy it; and they only need to look at the data provided and can give a proper diagnosis of the gait or run technique (of their client). One priority item on the list is to identify the barriers that are stopping people from using this technology/system (whether it’s user interface issues or missing features or functionalities), then work to remove those barriers.

From what we can see, everything they have been focusing on in the last 2 years really shows their commitment to that goal. For anyone who is interested in what RunScribe is doing or can see a possible partnership, feel free to reach out to them on their website. They also recommend those who would like to partner up to first get a set of the Gait Lab and try it out so as to get a better understanding of the RunScribe system. Besides signing up to their mailing list, RunScribe is also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. With that, I leave you with a video below of a Physical Therapist running through the RunScribe dashboard and how he would do an analysis. Thanks for reading!

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