The digital gym
AKUIS (fitness sector)
Development of an innovative product in the fitness field: a gym enclosed in a single machine and managed by software
The team and the idea
In 2018, the Italian startup AKUIS chose NablaWave for the development of their flagship product: a robotic machine that promised to revolutionize the world of fitness by bringing the gym, in fact, into the digital age.
At the head of this startup are two young entrepreneurs, an architect and an engineer, both open-minded and full of enthusiasm for fitness and technology. We met the second one, Alessandro, during the university years as part of a project in which young engineers managed to build a well-equipped rocket for atmospheric studies: what a thrill was the first launch! Years later we found ourselves again working side by side on an even more ambitious project. One thing is certain: what has always united us is the passion for what we do.
The idea behind it is not too complicated, but it belongs to the category of the so-called “disruptive ideas“, those innovations that place a clear boundary between before and after. A gym has many machines and each one is designed for a specific exercise, generating a specific load along a specific direction. Now, ask yourself if it is possible to condense an entire gym into a single machine capable of generating an infinite number of different loads, intelligently combining hardware and software, monitoring in real time the workout execution, allowing us to understand if we are doing it correctly or not, keeping track of our improvement curve. SINTESI, this is the name of the machine, incorporates all these features.
The machine consists of two tubes installed on the wall (vertical configuration) or on a special platform (horizontal configuration), depending on the type of workout. A wire coming out of each tube transmits the force to the user by means of a variety of tools such as handles, belts, a barbell, etc.
The patented tube is fitted with two electric motors to generate tension on the wire (force control). The most interesting aspect is that the exit point of the wire from the tube is not fixed, but moves along the longitudinal slot of the tube. And there’s more: thanks to the internal mechanics and peculiar balance of forces on the wires (the engineers will have fun drawing the force vectors to understand how this is possible!), the machine is also able to control the wire direction (angle control). By combining these two functionalities and the electric motor control flexibility, we obtain an amazing result: SINTESI is truly able to simulate any type of load (gravity weight, oar in water, elastic, vibrating, eccentric loads, and many other). If this were not enough, in real time you have an infinity of information on how the exercise is being performed (the list is really long). This is the magic of software.
At the beginning of development, the prototype presented functional reliability problems, imperfections and had very high production costs. However, the internal layout was well designed, and the different subsystems were taking shape. The most important problems were related to mechanical reliability (the cable often came out of its seat jamming the mechanism), control firmware (which did not guarantee proper operation of the motors in all operating scenarios) and the interface app, which was substantially absent and is so essential to give that unique experience to the user.
The biggest challenge was given by the intrinsic complexity of the machine, due to the high interdependence of the different subsystems.
From prototype to product
The industrialization of a prototype is an uphill road, even more so when the object in question is the first of its kind. Right from the start, the need to create an R&D team including skills from outside NablaWave became clear. In the customer’s network, two high-level professionals were identified who could follow the development of the electronics and the engine firmware, while the mechanical-thermal subsystem was managed directly by us. Even AKUIS CEO, thanks to his engineering background, collaborated actively in all phases of the project. The relationship between NablaWave and AKUIS has further tightened over time.
The effectiveness of the R&D team was based not only on professional skills, but also on the climate of cooperation that we were able to create. Intense brainstorming sessions were condensed into new, innovative solutions, never tested before, which today make a difference and are proving successful. In this way, an AGILE development activity has been structured: we proceed in small “effective steps”, in which efforts are concentrated to bring home a new functionality/improvement of a small part of the system as quickly as possible (and thus demonstrate the feasibility of a new solution), without aiming at a perfect system the first time. The road to perfection is endless, as well as uphill. By doing this, many solutions can be evaluated in a short time: concepts, virtual simulation environments (mechanical, thermal, electronic), targeted experimental tests, beta tester feedback. These four elements have been the base columns of the development of SINTESI.
In addition, the overall performance of the product has been significantly improved, making the machinery more interesting and performing for the company’s customers. This allowed AKUIS to go into production quickly, increasing the perceived quality of its product, reducing post-sales intervention costs and ultimately increasing revenue and profit margins.
Through a study of the machinery problems and a direct and constant contact with our customer and its suppliers, NablaWave has helped AKUIS to solve the reliability weaknesses of his product, managing at the same time to improve machine performance and reduce production costs.
Some of the parts have been completely redesigned to solve the functionality problems at the root, others have been modified to increase performance. Some components have been replaced with others of lower production cost but in any case, with comparable if not superior performance to the initial ones.
An intensive software development activity was also supported alongside the customer’s firmware development group.
Two years have passed since NablaWave joined the project, and now the product is ready and has already debuted a few months ago with its first series.
After a careful analysis of the prototype and the selection of team of specialists, the continuous synergistic work between the people involved (including the customer), led to the partial and/or total redesign of all subsystems. The goal has always been to satisfy the functionality of the product while minimizing costs at the same time. This permitted to solve the main problems of reliability and functionality of the initial prototype, identifying innovative solutions able to preserve the entrepreneur’s vision.
SINTESI is an adventure that continues to offer something new and unexpected every day, which always keeps you on alert, hungry for new solutions to meet customer wishes. It still represents an authentic opportunity for us who find in NablaWave a happy place where specialists meet to discuss, cooperate, and look beyond.