Smarty pants

Today, June 10th, Bruce Sterling and I started chatting on twitter about smart $300 yoga pants using machine learning. Before I even get going, let’s all admit this. These yoga pants are the funniest thing possibly ever made. That said, they are around in the nascence of machine learning and wearable design so I think they merit a think in the hopes of sparking debate and more creative ways of approaching the body using machine learning.

Full disclosure here — I don’t have their pants but I can take a guess at what they are doing. My guess from watching their nearly tech free #blessed style promo video is thus. These pants have stretchable sensors in them. They are using the data from these sensors to watch you move. The snaps are the connection between the sensors and the circuit board. That board is using bluetooth to send data to your phone. The ML stuff is all on your phone. I could be wrong. They might have it running on chip but it’s much more likely they’d be using the more powerful processor in your phone.

The data they send in from the sensors compares how you move to a set of “perfect” or a range of “perfect” yoga poses they have recorded previously into a neural network. This was most likely a recording of a yoga teacher practicing. Then using vibration, they try to hint at corrections for anyone wearing the vibration attachment they’ve made in order to guide you to better form.

For folks who still have no idea what I am on about 3 paragraphs in, let’s chat about what machine learning is. Machine learning really needs a better name. You could call it something like example comparison and you’d be really far closer to what’s actually happening. You give your computer sensor data from an example of something you are trying to achieve. For the sake of argument, let’s say this is standing on one leg. You can give it another example of your leg on the floor. Your computer can then look at that data as it comes in and see how close you are to either example and give you a score. There are many different kinds of machine learning algorithms out there but this the one that is common in motion tracking. It’s called a neural network. This again is a overly ridiculous name to explain some pretty straight forward math. If you got out of high school, you can understand it. I’m going to avoid going into it here but you can read about it here.

Now, if you’ve ever been in yoga and you have a non-typical body type, a disability or a limited range of motion the problem with the above situation should be really obvious. What is perfect? What is correct? Who’s body is right? Something that might work for a yoga teacher could seriously harm you.

For that reason, I’m going to take a different approach. I’m not going to correct motion, I’m going to augment it so a practitioner becomes more aware of it. This should let a person correct for their range of movement without having to have an example from someone else’s body. If you save data over a range of days, what you’d get would be your own unique model. You’d be able to hear your own practice deepen. You could get a medium best over a week and then you can push against this. It would be far more tailored and useful. It would empower anyone, of any ability level, to give this a go and set goals. Also, if I just leave this system really open, you can hack it to listen to any specific part of your body.

Also, you’ll get used to the sounds your body makes and learn to play with this in different ways. I think this would give you a far better sense of when you are making progress than possibly trying to correct you. There is no correct in yoga. That’s a gigantic crock and whatever your natural range of movement is on a given day is your most correct pose.

Next up let me just say this. Paying for yoga is not something you have to do. I have been practicing for 20+ years. I have a disability and for years I lived without the ability to afford health care for it. Yoga was my health care. I practice off classes online and before that off video. I practice based on the state of my body on any given day. I have done classes in the past but I have never learned as much as I have in the last two years of a solo practice. What I found from working alone is this. All the yoga in the world is already inside of you. It’s just a matter of unlocking your ability to be sensitive to your internal guiding mechanisms. Listening to your body is key. Anything that can help you do that might add to this could possibly be useful. Or it might just be annoying. I do not know so I’ll make it and see.

Ok now let’s talk about price. This $300 price tag is funny. I’m a bit of a hacker and for fun I’m going to open source my little project here. It will be a little hobby project and nothing I’m taking too seriously. Follow along if you want. I’ll be tossing it all on github. If I find it useful, who knows, I might take it on as a bigger project.

Use / appropriate this idea. Hack along. Leave suggestions. I want people to make interfaces which conform to the user vs asking the user to conform to them. Moving forward — the tech shall live on git. :D