CHAMPAIGN — Adam Tilton has developed a gesture-recognition device to help athletes monitor what they've done in practice.
Using it, weight lifters can check on how many curls or hammer curls they've done during workouts. Sprinters can find out how many strides they took, and swimmers can keep track of how many strokes they used while doing laps.
The 26-year-old doctoral student at the University of Illinois hopes to test a preliminary version of the product, called Rithmio, on campus in the next few weeks.
"Our goal is to have a mobile app ready to go by the end of June," said Tilton, who is building on research done in the lab of his adviser, Prashant Mehta, an associate professor of mechanical science and engineering.
Algorithms in Rithmio's data analytics software were initially intended to be used for missile tracking and guidance. But along the way, Tilton realized they could also be used to recognize athletes' movements.
Equipped with accelerometer and gyroscope functions, the device can recognize motions in three dimensions. Using a sensor, the software can extract patterns of movements and recognize different motions of the arm — up and down, left and right and clockwise and counterclockwise rotations.
Tilton first realized the possibilities that lay in wearable technology when he and Mehta attended a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps training course in San Francisco last summer.
The course was intended to help scientists and researchers discover broad commercial applications for their basic research.
While in San Francisco, Tilton happened to attend a demonstration of wearable electronics and noticed the product being promoted took a long time to detect motions and wasn't very accurate. He decided he could solve that problem.
So while attending the course during the day, he worked on the technology at night.
The NSF I-Corps course required scientists and researchers to interview 100 potential customers over eight weeks about their technologies and what problems those technologies could potentially solve for them. Tilton talked with 150 people during that time, trying to get a better idea of what market segment was right for his product.
In the end, he came up with a gesture-recognition system that he says is "more accurate, specific and personalized" than other wearable-technology products.
"Adam had the vision and the skills to do it," Mehta said, adding that Tilton was invited to make part of the closing presentation for the I-Corps session and received "rave reviews" for it.
In the months since, Tilton has continued to interview a variety of potential clients — chip manufacturers, makers of smart fashion apparel, software houses, investors — to see what they think of the technology, whether they think it's useful and, if so, what for.
Exactly what course the company will take from here hasn't been determined. "We're exploring all options," Tilton said. The company may end up collaborating with a larger firm, licensing its software or engaging in a joint venture — or it may end up preparing to build its own device.
Rithmio took office space in the EnterpriseWorks business incubator in the UI Research Park in September. Last fall, the company received an I-Start grant that helped cover certain in-kind professional services needed by start-ups.
The company has also been working with Illinois Business Consulting, a student consulting organization on campus, and the UI's Master of Science in Technology Management program to help make decisions on marketing and pricing. Serra Capital is helping the company with strategic planning.
To test the product, Rithmio worked with Kim Seger of the UI's cross-country team and graduate research assistant Shane Ghiotto, who lifts weights.
Tilton, who is from Peoria and now lives in Urbana, earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical science and engineering from the UI in 2010. He said he has long harbored dreams of bringing a major product to market.
"This is my life, what I dream about," he said. "I'm an entrepreneur. A lot of graduate students have that disposition. I wanted to do something big."
Business: Developed gesture-recognition system for wearable devices that can help athletes keep numerical track of repetitive motions used in workouts
Location: EnterpriseWorks in the University of Illinois Research Park
President and CEO: Adam Tilton
Origin of name: Rithmio came from the "repetitive, rhythmic activity" the product monitors. The last two letters are shorthand for "input/output."