Platforms for active transport, fitness and exercise

In this signal post we will discuss some examples of platforms for (1) active transport, e.g. city bikes and scooters, and (2) fitness and exercise, e.g. on-demand online classes. These platforms are enablers for transport and mobility but also contribute to health and wellbeing. For the time being many suchlike applications remain somewhat limited in openness and interlinking with other services. But in the future, when integrated by e.g. wearable devices and overarching platform umbrellas, we can expect to get more insights and encouragement to help us lead healthy, active lifestyles.

Transport

In Finland, springtime means that city bikes reappear in the urban scene. In the recent years, city bike systems have grown very popular, and more and more cities and towns are setting up these services. The online platforms make using city bikes easy, as real time information and maps of stations and available bikes is readily available on mobile apps. Although most services are suspended in the winter, the growingly biking-friendly attitudes, and the fact that cycling is a ‘citizen skill’, explain the success of city bikes in Finland. In fact, Helsinki with their Helsinki city bikes has been shown to be the number one biking city in Europe, if we compare the number of trips per day and per bike (totaling 8.7 in Helsinki).

A newer thing in the urban environment is the emergence of electric scooters. In Helsinki, like many other cities around the world, these gadgets appeared rather suddenly and are already very visible in the streets. In spring 2019, already two commercial electric scooter service providers are present (TIER with planned 150 and VOI with planned 200 scooters), and the public transport authority HSL will pilot their own system (with 300 scooters). Operated with similar service platforms as city bikes, electric scooters are another fun and affordable way to move about in the city. There have been some minor challenges in the introduction though. After use, the scooters can be left anywhere in the city, and oftentimes poor parking decisions are made by users. Also, traffic safety issues have been raised, and not all users are aware that scooters are in most cases comparable to bikes when it comes to traffic rules.

Although these new transport services are often brought to the market as standalone offerings, they have already been integrated to wider mobility services. This makes sense especially because city bikes, scooters, etc. work well to solve the first and last mile parts of trip chains. For example, city bikes have been successfully implemented around the world in combination with public transport and MaaS packages (mobility as a service). In the future, the digital integration of different services beyond transport could also involve applications tracking health and environmental impacts. Aspects of and further potential with entertainment should not be overlooked either; many already seem to treat the GPS enabled hunt for the electric scooters as a fun game.

Excercise

Wearable devices, such as the wristband market giant and pioneer Fitbit or the Finnish smart ring design award winner Oura, are one of the most known examples of platforms relating to exercise and wellbeing. There are also numerous smart phone apps that use the phone or user input to track and guide healthy and active lifestyles. Interestingly, almost one half of Finnish youngsters aged 11-15 told in the LIITU 2018 study that they already use a smart phone app that tracks their activities.

But also more concrete linkages of the platform economy to physical activity exist already. Future potential in this sector is vast, and as one visionary tweet suggests, we should probably have a service and app that would give you access to gyms, swimming pools, fitness classes, climbing, etc. with one monthly payment. It is also worthwhile to acknowledge that even in Finland, where organizing sports and exercise has a long tradition of voluntary work and not-for-profit associations, the trend is towards business logics and profit making.

One example of digitalization and platforms entering the fitness sector can be found in the new service Les Mills On Demand by the internationally successful fitness brand Les Mills. They are better known for their pre-choreographed workouts that have been commercialized since the early 80s, by licensing instructors to lead classes in fitness centers around the world. The new on-demand service cuts corners by making online videos of customized workouts available for in-home use.

Another example comes from Peloton, again a well-known company in the fitness sector for many years. They are famous for their bikes and treadmills, but the new service Peloton Digital provides online access to live and on-demand classes, such as cycling, running, bootcamp, yoga and outdoor workouts, via their app. This new app doesn’t even necessitate purchasing a Peloton bike or treadmill, but is available to anyone, meaning that Peloton has now embraced business on the fully digital domain too.

Our third example is Mirror, an interactive reflective surface offering and streaming a wide range of fitness classes and one-on-one training. When exercising, the LCD panel, stereo speakers, camera and microphone are in use, and you can for example practice your boxing and even sync your heart rate monitor with the system. At other times the device simply works as a mirror on the wall.

Selected articles and websites

Aalto Maija, Helsingin Sanomat, 28.3.2019: Helsingistä kehkeytyi sähkö­potkulauta­yritysten taistelutanner: Uusi tulija polkee kilpailijansa hinnat.
Ahonen Anton, Urhes: Liikunnan kansalaisyhteiskunnan muutokset 80-luvulta tähän päivään.
Alue-ennakoinnin seminaari 21.-22.3.2019: Tulevaisuus liikuttaa! [Seminar materials in Finnish]
Auvinen Heidi (2018). Wearable devices, data and the platform economy.
Fastcompany: This $1,495 connected mirror turns your bedroom into a boutique fitness studio
Helsinki Regional Transport, 22.03.2019. City scooters to be available in Vuosaari this summer.
Helsinki, 2.4.2019. Helsingin kaupunkipyöräjärjestelmän suosiovertailututkimus.
Kokko Sami, Martin Leena (2019). Lasten ja nuorten liikuntakäyttäytyminen Suomessa LIITU-tutkimuksen tuloksia 2018.
LaVito Angelica, CNBC: Peloton launches an app that’s available to anyone—regardless whether they buy a bike or treadmill.
LES MILLS: LES MILLS On Demand.
Merle Karp on Twitter, January 2019.
Mirror. The nearly invisible home gym.
Peloton: The Peloton Digital Membership.

Heidi Auvinen

Senior Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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