Facility Futures

by: Al Oberlander, AIA, Jack Patton, AIA, Kevin Stubbs, AIA, and Paul Klein, AIA
Published in Athletic Business Magazine
August 2005
The long-term success of the facility you’re planning today starts with your ability to imagine the impact of tomorrow’s technology.
It’s a typical morning at the recreation center of the not-too-distant future. At 6 a.m., a man approaches the center’s entrance scanner. The door opens immediately because the scanner reads the computer chip implanted in the man’s arm, identifying him as a member. Inside, he is greeted warmly by a robot: “Good morning, Mr. Allen. We missed you last week. Follow me, please.” Mr. Allen is off to the locker room.

By 6:15 a.m., dressed in his state-of-the-art “smart shoes” and “smart clothes,” Mr. Allen heads for the track. The shoes automatically adjust the heel cushioning to his weight and stride. The clothes tell him when he’s sufficiently warmed up and monitor his performance during the run. Time flies with each lap as he listens to his favorite music from the digital audio player embedded in his shirt, checks stock prices as they roll along on the windows lining the track, and reads a couple of incoming emails on the flexible display screen sewn into his sleeve…
Is this scenario possible? Considering that the basic technology to do all of this (and more) already exists, it’s very possible.
Predicting which of these sorts of applications will actually be embraced by consumers is another matter, of course. Without the benefit of a high-tech crystal ball, it is hard to know how future technology will impact the business of fitness and recreation. Even so, this topic should be a critical consideration when planning your new facility or developing your next business plan.
Opinions vary as to exactly what will happen and when, but one thing seems certain: there will soon be a host of new opportunities to use technology in fitness and recreation centers. Some may help improve cost efficiencies of the operation. Some may increase revenues by attracting more users and members. Others may simply become a necessary part of maintaining a competitive center.
How can you plan for what you can’t predict? The first step in planning for the future is to imagine the possibilities. (See the following pages for some examples.) Keep your mind wide open and stretch your imagination, but stay grounded; what sells will be whatever best serves the majority of users’ wants and needs.
Second, get good advice. Work with design professionals who have intimate knowledge of industry trends and customer expectations, as they have the best ability to anticipate future needs. Do your own homework about new technologies. And be sure to ask your customers what they want, need and expect. Have them help you evaluate new technologies. (Your youngest customers may know the most about this topic.)
Third, evaluate an innovation’s potential impact on business. Will it enhance long-term operating efficiencies? Will it improve marketability? Will it be deemed a necessary cost of doing business?
Last, incorporate some flexibility into your facility design so that accommodating new technologies will be easier and more affordable. Plan for ease of future infrastructure modification; hundreds of dollars worth of conduit installed under a floor now could save thousands of dollars later. Plan for raceways and routes for future technology. Don’t minimize mechanical room needs, and avoid interior load-bearing walls that limit future flexibility.
Future technologies will offer interesting challenges as well as exciting new possibilities. They will impact our lives and businesses and require innovative thinking and practical implementation. So, imagine the possibilities, plan for the challenges and be prepared for an exciting future.
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Imagine…
…many workplace tasks performed with robots.
Lest this seem more like an episode of The Jetsons than reality, consider the widespread use of robots already performing basic household chores, such as mowing lawns and vacuuming. A report issued by the U.N Economic Commission for Europe and the International Federation of Robotics states that more than 4.1 million domestic robots will likely be in use by the end of 2007. In addition, according to the study, there are currently nearly 700,000 “entertainment robots” around the world. For example, Sony’s digital canine, Aibo, has the technology to change its personality, skill level and moods based on its interaction with people and its environment.
Possible fitness and recreation center applications:
– Behind the scenes, a robot could serve as a cleaning assistant or security guard.
– Robots could work directly with clients in a fitness setting as the ultimate control desk employee, a jogging or walking partner, a personal trainer or a fitness class instructor.
– On the courts, robots could serve as a referee or umpire (with laser-sharp eyes!) or an expert interpreter concerning playing rules.
Imagine…
…complete personalization of members’ environment based on their individual needs and preferences.
The prospect of implanting computer chips in humans (a technology currently in widespread use in pets) opens up a range of possible applications. The VeriChip, introduced by Applied Digital Solutions, is a grain of rice-sized microchip that, once implanted, can allow for cashless payments, building access, storage of medical records and the like. At the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain, 10 of its regular customers have been implanted with the VeriChip, allowing them VIP access. They can thus leave their cash and credit cards at home while making purchases via scanner.
Possible fitness and recreation center applications:
– Members’ workout performance will automatically be tracked and compared to previous workouts. Or, their workout regimen will be adjusted automatically.
– Exercise equipment will automatically adjust to members’ weight, height and preferred settings for their routine.
– The computer chip will track members’ entire workout and calculate total energy consumption for that event.
– There’ll be no more arguements about whether a member played the ball past the goal line or baseline. Cairos Technologies, a small German company, has developed a tiny radio chip that fits inside a ball (the system is being considered for the 2006 FIFA World Cup) and determines, for example, whether the ball has crossed the goal line and communicates the result to a referee wearing a signal receiver.
– Wireless connectivity will interface with members’ computer chip to notify them of available tickets for an event programmed as one of their preferences. They may select or decline to purchase tickets while they’re, say, on the treadmill.
Imagine…
…the ultimate sustainable building system where anything that can be captured and converted into energy will be used to power the facility.
The use of energy capture systems to harness power from the sun (photovoltaic technology) and wind (wind turbines) for use in buildings is on the rise. The Voltaic Backpack by Voltaic Systems Inc. even captures the sun on your backpack, converting it to seven volts of energy — enough to power your PDA, cell phone and other gadgets. As the need and interest in renewable energy sources grows, technology will develop to capture energy from other sources, as well.
Potential fitness and recreation center applications:
– Ceiling panels might capture body heat and convert it to energy for the building.
– Floor systems might capture and convert the dynamic energy of a step aerobics class to power the lights within the room.
– Fitness equipment could connect to the building electrical system and generate power for lighting while members exercise or send the energy back out onto the grid for resale to the electrical provider.
– Construction materials for the exterior of buildings could convert sunlight into power. Photovoltaic cells that look like brick, stone, wood, roofing and so on could turn the entire building into a solar collector.
– Gray water systems could expand for more irrigation and heat recovery.
– As water goes down the pipes in the building, the pipe design could facilitate conversion of the friction into energy.
Imagine…
…a building wall system that is capable of adjusting its shading and thermal characteristics in response to specific program and climatic requirements as the sun moves across the sky.
Like C/S Sun Control Products’ current skylight shutter system (which tracks the sun and directs solar radiation into or rejects it away from a building), foil systems will change the building envelope itself. These air-filled and foil-laden systems serve simultaneously as roof, wall and window. They are transparent, durable and lightweight, and have great insulating properties.
Possible fitness and recreation center applications:
– Increased openness will maximize views into and out of a facility.
– Lightweight building foil systems, combined with long-span, thin-structure building shells, will minimize structural columns in many buildings.
– The amount of sun coming into the space can be adjusted: You can have sun when you want it and shade when you don’t.
– The electrically charged LCD foil system can be used as a display screen to create 360-degree views of virtually anything (a rainforest, an underwater scene or the inside of a human heart, for example).
– Insulation quality can be adjusted to match weather conditions to maximize use of natural energy and minimize operational costs.
Imagine…
…windows of buildings also functioning as windows to the world of information and entertainment.
Just like the Chevrolet Corvette’s Head Up Display, which projects key navigation and vehicle information onto the windshield, combining inexpensive display and processing technologies with wireless connectivity could transform most any glass surface into a display screen. These surfaces could also be instantly switched from a clear view to an opaque surface to a projection-screen surface (like Draper’s First Surface Mirrors, or Switch Lite Privacy Glass, which can instantly change from clear to opaque) for displaying graphics or data. Or, for the best of both, imagine images and information floating on a transparent surface, providing the user with a continuous dose of CNN Headline News.
Possible fitness and recreation center applications:
– A variety of virtual landscapes could be created (seaside, mountaintop, rolling hills, wildflowers) that are themed with your current programming.
– Imagine broadcasting life-sized views of the Olympics, Super Bowl and other sporting events across the walls of your facility.
– Program-oriented health and fitness content, not to mention the ultimate message board, could be prominently displayed.
– Touch-screen technology could be employed to use a window as a PC – for inputting workout data, checking e-mail, shopping online or finding out when the next bus will arrive (down to the exact minute with global-positioning technology).
Imagine…
…an 18-inch-square display screen so thin and flexible that it rolls up to a radius of 2 centimeters or folds to fit in your pocket.
Flexible display technology exists today. Under development by Anteena, the Flexscreen 02m2 knows what you want it to display (a 10-key pad, video screen or text screen) based upon how you fold it. If used with a wireless connection, you would have the ultimate in anytime, anywhere access to voice, video and data.
Possible fitness and recreation center applications:
– Video screen: Members could watch their favorite movie or television program while they work out on the elliptical trainer.
– Electronic newspaper: Members could catch up on the day’s news while they use the recumbent bike.
– Wearable screen: Members could check their e-mail on the screen sewn into their sleeve as they jog around the track.
– Interactive map: Members could choose the best route as they explore a new bicycle trail, then use the “crumb drop” feature to find their way back.
– Coaching visual aid: Users could diagram and display plays for coaching their team, then save and recall their favorite plays.
Imagine…
…being able to show fitness clients the future results of the routine they’re starting today.
Fitness/body development forecasting, which has been developed and tested by several different companies, may offer a new dimension to visualizing members’ progress with a particular fitness routine after 30 days, six months or one year. Current fitness software can help members design a personal fitness program and track their results, while current makeover software can help in predicting everything from how a client will look in a new hairstyle or makeup application to what the results of plastic surgery will be. Currently, virtual models — like the MSN eShop — are programmed to mimic one’s specific body type and can be used to “try on” clothing when shopping at various sites online. Combinations of these technologies will allow for body development forecasting.
Some of the existing technology eschews predictions for actual representations of progress. BodyShape Scanners Inc., a British company that in 2002 seemed poised to make a dent in the U.S. market [see “The Shape of Things to Come,” March 2002, p. 98], scanned clients with directional white light at various intervals during their workout regimens, allowing a graphic comparison of their body shapes.
Possible fitness and recreation center applications:
– How do clients want to look and what will it take to get them there? Identify body development goals (achievable for a client’s body type), and a computer will generate various fitness routines to help him or her achieve that look.
– Conversely, the system can be used to forecast what a person’s body will look like if they fail to alter their diet or exercise regimen. Relevant medical histories (the client’s family history of heart disease, for example) will be programmable, putting an uncomfortably personal spin on the importance of exercise.
Imagine…
…smart clothing that can help enhance the fitness experience.
Many smart clothing technologies exist right now, allowing people to wear their brain on their sleeve. For example, the Adidas 1, the first version of smart shoes for runners, is already on the market. How smart is it? Smart enough to adjust the shoe’s cushioning to the runner’s weight, stride and running surface. A microprocessor embedded in the arch of the shoe is the brain behind the mechanism that adjusts the shoe’s heel cushion.
Also in the works are shoes and clothing that will sense body temperature and make adjustments to let in cool air when the wearer is hot, and shut out air when the wearer is cold. This specific fabric concept, developed through the joint research of the University of Bath and the London College of Fashion, was showcased in June at the AICHI Expo in Japan. It uses the latest in microtechnology to mimic the system used by pinecones to open up and emit seeds.
A collaberation between Burton and Apple has produced an “iPod” jacket with a flexible “SOFTswitch” control pad located on the sleeve, which allows a skier to control an “iPod” while on the slopes without having to unzip or remove gloves. Clothing embedded with entertainment and communication tools could be the wave of the future. Dianne Jones of SOFTswitch predicted in a September 2003 BBC News Online article, “Within the next 10 years we could see 20 percent of garments with electronic components in them.”
Possible fitness and recreation center applications:
– Smart shoes that automatically adjust cushioning (while the wearer is exercising) to optimize comfort and performance could mean an end to resilient flooring systems. Shoes may one day offer maximum performance right on top of a simple concrete slab.
– Workout wear may one day include built-in sensors to monitor and track performance, making adjustment suggestions in real time. Coaches will be able to monitor athletes to determine who needs rest or hydration, ensuring safety and better overall performance. Companies like Eleksen and Foster-Miller are beginning to incorporate sensors into clothing that are durable, lightweight and even washable.

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