LAES Alumna Transforms the Way Runners Train
Runners –- both competitive and recreational –- are always attempting to break their personal records. And in a sport where success is measured by fractions of a second, the need for consistent feedback is crucial. Alexandra Kline (Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies, ’15) came up with an idea that could transform the way runners train.
Kline is the founder and creator of TrackPacer, a digital track rabbit with two main components - an LED strip that runs along the inside of a track and a smartphone app that controls it. Runners input their desired pace into the app, and the LED lights act as a visual marker of the time they want to match or beat. The athletes can see the lights in their peripheral vision, so they don't have to look down as they run. They also don't have to count splits on their watches or pace themselves against other runners, who can be inconsistent. “It's very precise," says Kline, “It goes down to hundredths of a second. There's no limit to how finely controlled it can be."
The TrackPacer’s LED strip is operated by a complex microcontroller that powers nine smaller signal amplifiers to keep the signal strong as light travels along the track.
Much of the product was developed as part of Kline’s senior project in 2015, working with professors Jane Lehr and Michael Haungs as her advisors. Haungs helped her with the technical aspects of the project while Lehr worked to get her meetings with athletic departments. The flexibility to choose her interests in the Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies (LAES) program allowed Kline to use her coursework to develop her product’s technology as well as its marketability. “I spent a lot of time learning how to program an Arduino and how to program an app with no background in software engineering or programming at all,” Kline reflects. “It was really rough, but I made a basic app that worked. I also got the patent process started and made some business connections at CU Boulder, where we later set up the prototype.”
The biggest milestone for Kline was when she partnered with Viget, an interactive design agency, to film a video of the product for their website. Viget also built a 400-meter prototype for the video. “We had a couple of Olympic runners out there and a whole team of engineers there to help us set everything up; it took a couple of hours. We had the video guy with the drone and an ATV going around, and it was really cool to see everything come together.”
Another milestone was when Shalaya Kipp, who ran the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the London 2012 Olympics, praised the device in a tweet that shared the video she was featured in, adding, “Can’t wait to see TrackPacer around more tracks! Awesome digital pacing device with colored LEDs.” The tweet brought in inquiries from universities and high schools all over the country.
Can't wait to see TrackPacer around more tracks! Awesome digital pacing device with colored LEDs— Shalaya Kipp (@ShalayaKipp) March 5, 2016
Kline says that hearing praise for the device is encouraging. “Getting good feedback is definitely my motivation to keep going. I get calls all the time from people who want it.”
Kline, now living in Texas, will move to Colorado soon to devote all her time to refining and promoting the TrackPacer. She wants to make the LEDs easier to see in bright sunlight and for the system to be waterproof. To gain visibility, she’s working to get her product featured at NCAA track meets around the country.
“My ambitious goal is to have it in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020,” she says.
Her team now includes two more Cal Poly grads: Sterling Erickson (Biomedical Engineering, '15) and Dan Tran (Materials Engineering, '14).