Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Future Purchases

I've been keeping my eye on developments in sports and fitness electronics lately. Garmin will be coming out with a new GPS models for athletes soon. I am interested in the Edge 705. It is not cheap, but it does much. On a suitably sensored bike, this single device can record heartrate, speed, cadence, altitude, location, and power, all wirelessly.

The enabling technology behind a multifunction "data recorder" is a new network standard called ANT+Sport. Some of you may be familiar with BlueTooth. Think of ANT+ as BlueTooth Lite for sports. Eventually, it is anticipated that chest straps, speed and cadence sensors, wrist units, foot pods, power meters, and GPS receivers will all possess ANT+ connectivity. This should allow you to mix and match your favorite electronic sports gizmos.

A new company will be releasing an ANT+ compatible power meter soon. It is the Quarq CinQo. It is very light and competitively priced against the SRM reference standard. Quarq makes claims that they are bringing ANT+ technology to the market, but I've read that SRM started this effort about two years ago. Indeed, SRM will also be releasing an ANT+ wireless power sensor soon too. Hard to say what the reliability of the new Quarq will be. I subscribed to their email updates, and it sounds like they have a solid team in place behind the new product launch. SRM has been in the power business a long time now, and their reliability record is impeccable. The current wireless PowerTap SL 2.4 hub is rumored to be ANT+ compatible, but the PowerTap website is silent on this issue.

I currently train with a PowerTap Pro model, which is not wireless. It will not work with ANT+. Further, it is a very heavy build, not suitable for hillclimb events, where I'd most like power feedback for pacing. The PT Pro has worked fairly well in training, but I only use it in good weather. There has been a bit of debate in the blogosphere lately about the value of training with power. This is perhaps a topic I'll have to take up in a future post. Suffice it to say for now, I have learned much about pacing myself using a power meter periodically, so even when I am not using the meter, I am able to exercise more restraint when needed.

For a GPS, I currently use a Garmin GPSMAP 76 model. It is big, heavy, and doesn't run very long on a set of batteries, but it has many features I like. The new Edge 705 model weighs about half as much, has color display, is much more compact, and will run longer on set of batteries. Plus, for the first time, I can use a single instrument to record all of my workouts - XC skiing and cycling. Right now I need separate GPS and HRM units for XC skiing with no way to merge the separate data files to see, for example, where on a trail my HR max'd. Garmin does have GPS models now in their Edge line that can do this, but the new 705 adds full power meter functionality. So when I dock the new Edge 705 on my bike, I will be able to correlate power and HR with location and altitude. No other power meter on the market has integrated GPS to my knowledge. Quarq is also developing the Qranium, their version of the Garmin Edge 705 display unit. But latest word is they are having problems with GPS antenna sensitivity.

Transmission over ANT+ is inherently coded, and only a single chest strap will be needed for all workouts. Right now I used coded Polar unit for XC skiing and non-coded for PowerTap.

My plans are to buy the Garmin Edge 705 as soon as it becomes available. I'll have to wait and see who comes to market first with an ANT+ power meter. My preference probably sides with SRM if they can produce by spring. I've had my share of PowerTap troubles, and the new Quarq will likely have it's own set of quarks to work out. Only unknown in this is how easy is it to use the 705 interval/lap functions, as found on a Polar HRM? I may still have to use my Polar for certain events or training.


Mieke@Quarq said...

Just to clarify, ANT+Sport was developed by a company called Dynastream ( in Canada, which is now owned by Garmin. We, like SRM, have licensed the use of the network from them. It is not our intention to infer that we are the ones bringing it to market. We merely want to promote the standard.

Thank you for considering us as an option for your next powermeter. Feel free to email us if you have any questions.

Hill Junkie said...

Thanks for the clarification. Quarq does spell this out clearly in their news releases. I did not know Garmin bought Dynastream. I now see Dynastream posted this news release a while back. This is good news I think. It appears Garmin is pursuing the fitness electronics market agressively. With Garmin's backing and investment, we can expect many others to adopt ANT+.

I happen to be an electrical engineer, member IEEE. I design communication chips. This month's IEEE Spectrum Magazine featured 2008 dream jobs. I was surprised to see an engineer from Garmin featured. He worked the software end of ANT+ and the new Edge 605/705 units coming out soon. Go to IEEE for the story.

Mieke@Quarq said...

Thanks for adding the link to the article on David. He has been very easy to work.