Can a Puma robot make athletes faster?

German shoe company Puma has engineered a new type of robot to help runners.

A new running partner will soon hit the track alongside professional athletes, with a spring and a cog in its “step.”

Puma has unveiled a new kind of raceable robot that will help pace runners to beat personal records or attempt to match records of previous champs. The new bot has the look of a Puma shoebox on the go and can achieve speeds that would challenge runners as fast as even Usain Bolt on the tracks.

The German shoe company designed and built the Beatbot with advertising agency J. Walter Thompson New York and several robotics experts, following the premise that having a visual competitor would help athletes push harder.

“Everyone runs faster when there’s something to beat, but how do you beat a record when you can't see it?” Puma questions in the release video (visible above).

"We found a lot of anecdotal evidence that head to head competition raised performance levels, even a few studies that showed an uptick performance," JWT New York executive creative director Florent Imbert told Fast Company. "But, to us, it felt like a human truth. Running against an invisible clock will never be as motivating as running against someone—or something."

But likewise, having to monitor a running partner would get distracting, fast. To use the Beatbot, all runners need to do is access an app to enter the distance they want to run and set the speed they want to track or beat. Once the Beatbot is set on a track line and the information is entered, it will count down the start and do the rest on its own.

Puma described the robot as “programmable, self-driving, line-following.” Inside, the bot uses an array of sensors to keep track of the line and counts the rotation of the wheels to gather information on speed and distance.

Other features include LED lights, Gopro cameras, and the ability to keep on the line even around a curve at high speeds.

The downside of the machine: cost and availability.

Mr. Imbert described as “prohibitive” for the average runner. In addition, the machine requires the well-defined lines of an official track to work. For now, that means the robot will only be available for Puma-sponsored athletes to train with, but later generations could be commercially produced.

The Beatbot is only the latest development in a growing trend of technology designed to improve athletic performance.

Kitman Labs deployed modified Xbox Kinects in 2015 to see how athletes ranging from members of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins to English Premier League's Everton FC responded to different stimuli and performed different maneuvers.

Software by Kitman also allowed coaches to see how much training individual players were putting in over the a season as a whole.

In preparation for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the US team employed a range of apps to help their athletes improve. The USA’s skeleton and bobsled teams used an app called Ubersense that helps record and break down performances as they trained for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

The US Ski Team employed AMPSports, an app that helps coaches and trainers keep track of team members during and outside of training, including diet and stress levels.

These new apps have “taken us from the ‘dark ages’ of using a video camera, computer, and hours of downloading video to a simple-to-use technology,” said Tuffy Latour, the 2014 US skeleton team coach, in an interview Smithsonian magazine. He added the technology was critical for getting athletes what “they need to succeed.”

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