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Photo by: Heather Coit

Adam Tilton has developed a gesture-recognition device to help athletes monitor what they've done in practice.

Using it, weightlifters can check on how many curls or hammer curls they've done during workouts. Sprinters can find out how many strides they took, and swimmers can keep track of how many strokes they used while doing laps.

The 26-year-old doctoral student at the University of Illinois planned to test a preliminary version of the product, called Rithmio, on campus this spring.

"Our goal is to have a mobile app ready to go by the end of June," said Tilton, who is building on research done in the lab of his adviser, Prashant Mehta, a mechanical science and engineering professor.

Algorithms in Rithmio's data analytics software were initially intended to be used for missile tracking and guidance. But along the way, Tilton realized they could also be used to recognize athletes' movements.

Equipped with accelerometer and gyroscope functions, the device can recognize motions in three dimensions. Using a sensor, the software can extract patterns of movements and recognize different motions of the arm ­-- up and down, left and right and clockwise and counterclockwise rotations.

Tilton first realized the possibilities of wearable technology when he and Mehta attended a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps training course in San Francisco last summer. The course was intended to help scientists and researchers discover broad commercial applications for their basic research.

While in San Francisco, Tilton happened to attend a demonstration of wearable electronics and noticed the product being promoted took a long time to detect motions and wasn't very accurate. He decided he could solve that problem.

The NSF I-Corps course required scientists and researchers to interview 100 potential customers over eight weeks about their technologies and what problems those technologies could potentially solve for them. Tilton talked with 150 people during that time, trying to get a better idea of what market segment was right for his product.

In the end, he came up with a gesture-recognition system that he says is "more accurate, specific and personalized" than other wearable-technology products.

In the months since, Tilton has continued to interview a variety of potential clients -- chip manufacturers, makers of smart fashion apparel, software houses, investors -- to see what they think of the technology, whether they think it's useful and, if so, what for. Exactly what course the company will take from here hasn't been determined.

"We're exploring all options," Tilton said. The company may end up collaborating with a larger firm, licensing its software or engaging in a joint venture -- or it may end up preparing to build its own device.

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