Run­ning Out of this World

Runso­cial co- founder and CEO Marc Hardy has high hopes for the mul­ti­player fit­ness app, which made it into lo w Earth or­bit this year

Prestige (Singapore) - - FE AT U R E -

Runso­cial has boldly gone where few have gone be­fore. The fit­ness app, built by a Sin­ga­pore­head­quar­tered com­pany of the same name, re­ceived a ce­les­tial stamp of ap­proval this April — Nasa in­stalled it on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) for Bri­tish as­tro­naut Tim Peake to at­tempt the Vir­gin Money Lon­don Marathon from afar. He clocked three hours 35 min­utes, a coup con­sid­er­ing he ran the 42km while strapped to a tread­mill about 350km above the Earth’s sur­face.

But rather than watch a live tele­cast of the race, as Amer­i­can as­tro­naut Su­nita Wil­liams did when she com­pleted the Bos­ton Marathon from the ISS in 2007, Peake got to ad­mire the scenery along his en­tire route through Runso­cial’s mixed re­al­ity video tech­nol­ogy, which is com­bined with the app’s on­line mul­ti­player ca­pa­bil­i­ties to make run­ning so­cial and fun.

The com­pany’s co-founder and CEO, Bri­tish-born Marc Hardy, ex­plains how its core prod­uct works: Users are rep­re­sented by avatars that ap­pear live within high-def­i­ni­tion videos of real out­door lo­ca­tions and play­back ad­justs to a run­ner’s speed. “So you are in Sin­ga­pore and could run a route in Tus­cany with a friend in New York — live!” Hardy says.

The so­cial as­pect of the app comes into play when users cre­ate vir­tual run­ning events that oth­ers can join on­line, or when they take part in pub­lic events such as the Prague Dig­i­tal Marathon or the Dig­i­tal Vir­gin Money Lon­don Marathon.

Runso­cial, for­merly known as Paofit, was born when its founders be­came frus­trated with run­ning on tread­mills. “My co-founder (An­drew Frank) and I were both reg­u­lar tread­mill users — in my case, it was partly for con­ve­nience and partly due to a knee in­jury,” Hardy says. “We found it bor­ing and won­dered why some­thing like Runso­cial did not ex­ist. Ini­tially, it was more ex­per­i­men­tal, but peo­ple re­ally liked it, so it [took off] from there.”

Hardy saw the op­por­tu­nity to do more than just record sta­tis­tics for run­ners. “The dig­i­tal fit­ness space has largely fo­cused on track­ing and data, and shar­ing the data after­wards,” he says. “We want to take dig­i­tal fit­ness be­yond this in the quest to make it more fun.”

Through sup­port from Spring Sin­ga­pore, NUS En­ter­prise and the In­fo­comm Development Au­thor­ity of Sin­ga­pore, and fund­ing from an­gel in­vestors and ven­ture cap­i­tal firms, Runso­cial be­came the first in­de­pen­dent app to be in­te­grated by ex­er­cise equip­ment man­u­fac­turer Life Fit­ness, ac­cord­ing to Hardy. But the Runso­cial team met with chal­lenges while build­ing their prod­uct. “This is real in­no­va­tion and while it is cool to in­vent some­thing, cre­at­ing con­sumer tech that is com­mer­cially vi­able re­quired a whole lot more in­ven­tion,” he says. “And the in­no­va­tive tal­ent we seek is the kind sought af­ter by ev­ery tech com­pany, in­clud­ing the very big­gest.”

Runso­cial projects in the pipe­line in­clude work­ing to­gether with a Nasa team con­duct­ing re­search re­lated to the Orion space­craft, meant to carry astro­nauts into deep space, to an as­ter­oid or Mars. The com­pany is also look­ing to ex­pand its sta­ble of ac­tiv­i­ties to in­clude more than just run­ning.

Runso­cial’s po­ten­tial is enor­mous, says Koh Soo Boon, founder and man­ag­ing part­ner of iglobe Part­ners, which first in­vested in the com­pany in July 2014. “[ By en­abling] run­ning events to scale be­yond the usual geo­graph­i­cal, spa­tial and fi­nan­cial con­straints, this could ben­e­fit not only the run­ners them­selves, but also event spon­sors, char­ity or­gan­i­sa­tions and spec­ta­tors,” she says.

“We were ex­cited by the mul­ti­ple com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions that could be made pos­si­ble with the [Runso­cial] tech­nol­ogy from out­door fit­ness such as bik­ing and row­ing, to games, to so­cial shop­ping, to dis­cov­ery and tours, to in­ter­ac­tive ad­ver­tis­ing.”

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