The Invisible Jogger

Photo by dafydd359

Today I had an interesting conversation with An Yu, a cognitive science major at UCSD. We were discussing the potential applications for understanding synchrony. Another graduate student we know has done some work on researching people’s ability to synchronize with each other. They measured how well they could keep a simple beat, even when the beat went away, and we were wondering what this could be applied to.

An said she’d noticed that when people walked near each other, you could tell in subtle ways whether they were friends or not based on how they synchronized with each other. I’ve noticed it too. In fact, I’ve found if you walk too closely synchronized with other people, they start giving you funny looks. You’re expected to walk faster or slower than them if you don’t know them, it’s weird if you walk at the same speed right next to or behind them.

This whole conversation reminded me of a very interesting idea called Jogging Over a Distance; a research project of Floyd Mueller, Shannon O’Brien and Alex Thorogood. The idea is to give runners living in different cities the feeling of running with a friend through spatial awareness. The runners wear headsets connected to each other over a mobile connection. They can talk to each other and the system processes the audio to give the runners a sense of running in front of and behind their friend. GPS is used to calculate their relative speeds. Basically it gives casual runners the sense of social interaction and pace which can be very motivating and enjoyable.

In fact, your simulated pace can be varied so that you could run with someone who is actually faster than you and still feel like you are running with them – this is similar to a handicap in some sports. With this feature, not only could you run with a friend in another city, but even one with whom you would normally not be a compatible running partner – someone much faster or slower.

I’m not a runner, but I find this idea quite fascinating. I wonder especially if the experience is intuitive for runners or if they will constantly be struggling to synchronize with their invisible jogging buddy. Also, what happens when one needs to stop at an intersection? Does your buddy need to stop as well? Or can you hit the catch up button? I’d probably be the one to hit the catch up button!

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