Sunday, March 05, 2006

Product Idea - The CamelBak Fluid Intake Monitor

In my on-going attempt to give product feedback/ideas to our favorite outdoor manufacturers (see the iPod t-shirt, brush guards, and the ever-popular Nut-Tsak), here's a new one that I would love to have. Let me know what you think!

If you like the idea, please link to it from your blog and feel free to add any thoughts on design or use. My hope is that if Camelbak, Jansport, Kelty, EMS, Deuter, North Face, Polar, etc., see a thousand bloggers linking to it, the market demand will be clear. My goal is simply this - get some new cool toys on the market!

Product Idea - The Camelbak© Fluid Intake Monitor

Every endurance athlete knows that carefully monitoring your fluid intake can be the difference between a great race and a DNF. So why hasn't anyone created a fluid monitor that can help you measure and track your hourly intake?


(Click here for full-size image)

A fluid intake monitor could help you measure and understand your fluid intake in different climates. Similar to a heart rate monitor, you could measure your pace, then put in a desired pace and be alerted if you are over/under. The monitor would also tell you when your last "sip" was and how much you drank.

The buttons on the side could be used for other settings too, such as manual entry for liquids consumed at aid stations (flat Coke!), setting notifications for salt tablets (either hourly or based on fluid intake, such as "alert me every 30 oz"), or adjusting your target rate based on temperature.

Let's use me as a case example. Once I moved up to the ultras, I experimented on training runs to find that 28 oz/hour is my ideal rate for a typical California day (low elevation, less than 70 degrees). By "ideal rate", I mean that I feel good, don't have water sloshing in my stomach, am peeing regularly, and after a 2-3 hour run, my weight is about the same as when I started. A Fluid Intake Monitor could have helped me measure this and dial in my ideal rate at various conditions, as well as measure it during races to make sure I'm keeping pace. I would definitely set alarms for salt tablets too, since I prefer to drink water. I could easily see the alerts reminding me to drink as I began spacing off in the latter half of the race, keeping me from getting into too much trouble.

My engineering buddies tell me that a simple fluid monitor running on a single AAA battery could be constructed for less than $25, but that fluid monitors are known to have all kinds of issues (clogging, sticking, etc.). If somebody like Camelbak could make it reliable, I wouldn't have any trouble dropping $100-150 on something like this. I spent well over that on my Polar S720, and I consider it one of the better investments I have made in training equipment.

Thanks in advance to all of you for your feedback!

- SD

34 comments:

  1. It's an interesting idea. It's hard to say how financially viable it would be for recreational camelbak users (maybe the majority of users.) I know I've been on long hiking trips with my bladder buried deep in my backpack, and it would have been nice to know whether the water was running out without removing the bladder. But as far as concern about my fluid intake, I can't say I've ever been too worried about it.

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  2. I think you've got a great idea. What would really get me to buy one is if it transmitted the data to my Forerunner so that all of my performance data (pace, heart rate, fluid intake) were tracked in one spot. Plus it would be easier to read the display on the Forerunner.

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  3. I would definitely use this for cycling. I like Kent's idea of being able to have the display on a ForeRunner, or perhaps a Polar HRM.

    Jill is right too though - it's not for everyone. It would be a good add-on to the normal Camelbak for those who are trekking all day.

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  4. Sounds great to me! It could even have an alarm you can set when the water is getting low or if you are drinking too much or too little.

    I have been wishing that Camelbak would come out with a compact pack with dual bladders - one you can fill with H2O and another for a sports drink. On long runs I find myself wanting both.

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  6. Forerunner display...dual bladders...great stuff, everyone! Thanks for leaving your ideas.

    DJ Chicken George, it's an honor to have you stop by! Jazztronica is already in the mix for the Way Too Cool 50k this Saturday. I will definitely check out the new mixes.

    SD

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  7. I saw on the Andy Jones-Wilkins interview that he drinks 80 oz/hour. He definitely needs your monitor~!!!

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  8. scott, as a new trailrunner and aspiring ultrarunner, i really appreciate the thought you put into your site. this is a very interesting idea and i have a suggestion on placement of the display and controls. it seems as if it might be somewhat tricky to work the controls from the gage attached to the tubing. what do you think about having the display/gage wrap around your waist belt from the back of the pack. my thought is that you could have a fluid monitor that is constructed within the bladder and then have a wire that runs from this internal montior that leads from the back and around the waist belt. a display would then be at your waist that you could angle toward your downward glance. i think control buttons would be easier to work with both of your hands in front of you at the waist location. just a few thoughts. let me know what you think. i love your ideas and would love to link to your blog from my site. would that be okay with you?

    thanks and keep up the excellent work,
    matt
    babbaum@yahoo.com

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  9. I've been trying to commercialize such a gauge for over 2 years now. Biggest problem is patent #4,489,616 which claims all the mentioned pacing functions AND using any portable flowmeter with a hydration bladder--a dubious claim but there it is.

    Selling the gauge alone (for $25) is very doable since patents don't apply to individuals combining off-the-shelf parts. But folks like CamelBak would need to make a deal with the patent owner and I've heard that he's asking for a large royalty. This is especially discouraging to would-be manufacturers because, as was mentioned, there are significant engineering and tooling cost hurdles to be overcome (some of which I've solved in the course of my development).

    So what could break this logjam? All we really need is an (public) example of a portable flowmeter with a portable reservoir from before August 3rd, 1999. That would invalidate the patents most general (and in my view, most undeserved) claim. Anyone seen that?

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  10. Whoops, patent number is 6,212,959 to Perkins. Number 4,489,616 was to Priddy and is expired.

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  11. What a great idea - problem for me is that I can't seem to trail run and drink from a hydration tube without gasping for air too much. I tried the Ultimate Direction bite valve that is supposed to help reduce the "sucking" but alas my toddler got a hold of it and put his new sharp teeth to use. If I had a hydration system that would pressurize the water so I didn't have to suck so much (story of my running life) then this intake monitor would be valuable.

    I too appreicate your input on this site as I check in from time to time. I posted a link to this and your Dean interview in my last two posts on the blog I run. FYI.

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  12. Wow, a lot of people have put a lot of thought into this! I really like Shane's idea about dual bladders. I think maybe I'll try that with the running pack I already have and just not fill the bladders up all the way.
    Scott, have fun at Cool this weekend!

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  13. As if you don't already have enough to be keeping an eye on....your heart-rate monitor, your GPS, and who knows WHAT else you have strapped to you....now you need a fluid intake monitor, too? Part of training is learning what works and what doesn't...all this monitoring technology takes the fun out of the sport...part of what makes running great is the freedom...all you need is good shoes (some of us need a good bra) and a path to run on. Proper training and learning to listen to your body is all you should need! Be an athlete, not a technician!

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  14. I found that the new drinking container call the Athletes' Oasis is the best way to stay hydrated while training. You use a set of container, one in each hand, that have a trigger and valve system and you wear them, not hold them. The containers are not weights because weights do not get lighter the Athletes' Oasis does. The product is much better than the CamelBak. www.athletesoasis.com

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  15. I love it! I'd buy one, though I don't know how many people would. It's a small niche but a good idea. Hopefully the technology added would require much change to the weight of the camelback. I also think the central display idea is excellent! It's 2006. The technology has to be there..

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  16. Great feedback, everyone! Thanks for all the links too.

    Mike Scherer - I'll be asking some of the Way Too Cool participants if they have seen such a thing pre-'99. Perhaps we can find you some prior art.

    Cheers, SD

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  17. I'd lean toward having hydration information on your heart rate monitor or Forerunner, without actually measuring the fluid throughput on the camelbak. If a Suunto or Polar knows the temperature, your body weight, altitude and heart rate it should be possible to calculate the appropriate fluid intake. You could set alarms just like you do with heart rate zones. The same software could calculate how much water you'd need to bring in the first place if you enter the anticipated distance, elevation and pace.

    Keep up the blog!

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  18. I can see how this could be useful for some people and I'm sure there is a niche for it.

    However, I believe that people should be able to monitor their fluid consumption without using any gadgets. This is an important part of listening to and understanding your body. Every training run and race is different, making it difficult to set a certain amount of fluid that should be consumed at particular time periods. Differences in weather, terrain, fitness, how hard you're pushing yourself that particular day all change the amount of fluid that a person needs to consume. For those that don't have a clue, "live and learn" is the best way to figure things out, though not always the most fun or feel-good.

    That said, I do think it's a good idea for those who are bad at making themselves drink enough or those who tend to "space out" towards the end of races due to fatigue.

    I'm sure there are plenty of people who would be interested in purchasing this. I hope that those people would try to learn more about what their bodies actually need and take into consideration the different factors of each training/racing day as I mentioned above.

    As for placement, I've never used a Camelbak, but it seems to me that it would be best to have the monitor on the tube itself. If it's on a belt that goes around the waist, it seems as though that has the potential for sticking into the body in an uncomfortable fashion and I'm not sure how much easier it would be to look down and see it without it being a fairly large monitor. Having it right on the tube seems easier to look at because before/after taking a drink, you already have it in your hand and can just look at it then. The monitor doesn't have to be as large either because it would be closer to your face.

    Good luck with your idea!

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  19. Well, I'll be damned! Turns out that there is a couple that is waaay ahead of me on this idea. Craig and Kelly Perkins, the folks who hold the patent referred to in a previous comment, have started HydraCoach to launch a product similar to the above. They even have a working prototype!

    Craig and I exchanged e-mails and he clarified the following:

    1) Kelly thought up the product in the late 90's, and they have refined the design through their many outdoor activities.

    2) Interest has been shown by a few hydration manufacturers, but any launch is TBD.

    3) They haven't had any royalty discussions with anyone yet, and would welcome such discussions to advance the development of the product.

    I will touch base with the Perkins later this month and get the full story!

    On an aside, I think it's very cool that half the time I try to suggest an "original" idea, it turns out some smart outdoors people are way ahead of me. Such a creative community!

    SD

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  20. The HYDRALERT Hydration Bladder Monitor is manufactured by DGI Outdoors and is available through our website at www.dgioutdoors.com, or through Adventure 16. Thanks!

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  21. Hey-
    Just weighing in on the pressurized hydration bladder comments. We make an add-onn accessory that pressurizes hydration packs. It is called the Pressure Pak, and can be seen/purchased at www.neversuckagain.com.

    The Pressure Pak is a lightweight, ultra-strong nylon sleeve that any hydration bladder on the market can be slid into (we make a 50, 70, and 100oz. size), dropped back into the hydration pack, and with a few pumps of the shoulder-strap mounted hand pump, you will never suck again (at least for water). This is super efficient aerobically speaking when considering that if you use a traditional hydration bladder, you have to suck to get your liquid. Plus, you can pinch the bite valve in your fingers an get a fine mist to cool off, wash off, etc. What do you runners think?

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  22. What a great idea!!

    I could also do with some kind of device that tells me how much I'm sweating, too...

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  23. Someone has finally done something similar to what you asked for.
    http://thegoat.backcountry.com/blog/2007/01/29/hydra-coach/

    Not for CamelBack though.

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  24. This is my Thesis project!!!

    I was just doing a search to try to find out about how many Personal Hydration System users there are in the world when I found this blog!

    I thought my idea was completely original until now. I am a senior at Murray State University and I am building this for my senior honors thesis. I don't know what kind of flowmeter your engineering friends were talking about, the lowest I've seen is $200 for what I need it to do (of course mass production would bring the cost down and the other costs of the build are minimal). I expect the final retail cost to be right around $200 so it was good to hear that someone would be a buyer at that price.

    I'm just doing a prototype/proof of concept for my thesis that will display a bargraph of how much water is remaining in the bladder, but I have contacted both Polar and Garmin in search of a job after graduation where I can persue this invention through to patent and integrate it into their systems. Any other company/other suggestions?

    Eric.Wilson@murraystate.edu

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  25. I'm glad I stumbled across this. I have always used a large fanny pack full of water bottles mixed with sports drink. The only thing that has kept me from moving to a bladder stystem, is not knowing how much fluid I am drinking.

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  26. Scott - I've been trying to develop a water bottle that straps to your bicep (like an iPod). That way, you don't have anything on your back bouncing around, nothing on your waist bouncing around, and your hands are completely free. Its called The Body Bottle - completely brand new and just on the market: www.bodybottle.com

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  27. i love the athletes oasis re-hydration system. extremely easy to use, also enhances your cardio workout.

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  28. Here's a water bottle that tracks fluid consumption!!
    http://www.ballyfitnessdirect.com/detail/HBLUE-Hydracoach-Intelligent-Water-Bottle.htm

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  29. [...]tesla coils, restored cars, homemade airplanes - we have it here, folks are smart. a project listed or written about doesn't mean people will do it or should.[...]

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  30. Scott,
    My partner and I have developed a product that launched at outdoor retailer this summer. Called the hydroid, it does all that has been in your blog. Check us out @ n2kh20.com!

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  31. Scott,
    My partner and I have developed a product that launched at outdoor retailer this summer. Called the hydroid, it does all that has been in your blog. Check us out @ n2kh2o.com!

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  33. interesting idea. I would love the info over a race or just in training so I could gague my consumption.

    Ant + link to Garmin would be great, maybe the meter could be a "sold separately' component that could be made to work with all hydration options from backpacks to hand held? Personally I only care about backpacks but the wider the market the more chance of it being produced.

    Imagine if it was as small as a 1/4 straw that could be use to drink through, then it could be attached to all sort of the straws and tubes.

    Great idea, keep them coming.

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  34. I'm sure you know this - but it is available now. Might want to update your post: http://camelbak.com/sports-recreation/accessories/flowmeter.aspx

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