Real-time health tracking the Tour de France

Tour de France stage map

In the face of the ongoing World Cup and the recently completed Wimbledon tournament (not to mention some extraordinarily early start times on this side of the pond), the Tour de France may be getting short shrift today with casual sport fans. But, the Tour is nonetheless getting underway, and there has never been a better year for those interested in health technology to take note.

Tracking athletes’ heart rate and telemetry isn’t new for sports, really, but with the recent rise in popularity of real-time search and GPS-enabled or “locative” applications (Foursquare, etc), not to mention health tracking applications for amateur athletes (Nike+) and those with chronic diseases, this year is just ripe for this stuff.

That’s where Google comes in. Not only can you drive through the Tour route using Google Earth, but you can also follow the riders of Team HTC-Columbia in real-time on Google Maps. Even better? The team’s telemetry data including speed, pedaling cadence, heart rate and how many watts they crank out going up a mountain, is all presented right along side.

google image

This is made possible by the riders’ health and workout data being tracked anyway by SRM — but Google is taking it a step further by mashing up that data with two of the hottest trends in web media: real-time and GPS tracking.

This sort of technology is already moving into the personal sphere; we can track our runs and cycling routes, as well as our speed and heart rate in a manner very similar to this. But even though we know we should exercise, behavior change, as Thomas Goetz points out, is one of the most difficult aspects of improving public health. It is a great shift to see the augmentation of sporting events with this kind of health data: turning idle spectator events into something that engages directly with the actual health and fitness of the athletes involved. (Isn’t that why we look up to athletes anyway?) As these tracking technologies become more mainstream, I hope it will serve as a true motivator to get out and try tracking a workout for ourselves.

If you’re up early this week, you can follow the riders here.

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