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Reading on treadmill no sweat with ReadingMate

You just have to don goggles equipped with infrared LEDs and run in front of an infrared camera that tracks your bobbing head.

Purdue industrial engineering doctoral candidate Bum chul Kwon demonstrates ReadingMate, which adjusts text on a screen to counteract the bobbing motion of a runner's head.
Mark Simons/Purdue University

No diversion can divert me from the fact that treadmills are boring. Even if the weather is bad, I'm not much of a TV viewer -- on or off the treadmill. And I often find the most energizing music to also be the most annoying. Reading on a treadmill can be downright nauseating.

But thanks to an experimental system out of Purdue University, I soon may be able to catch up on my backlog of New Yorker digital issues while clocking time on the dreaded tread.

"Not many people can run and read at the same time," said Ji Soo Yi, an assistant professor of industrial engineering, in a school news release. "This is because the relative location of the eyes to the text is vigorously changing, and our eyes try to constantly adjust to such changes, which is burdensome."

So with doctoral candidate Bum chul Kwon and statistics associate professor Yu Zhu, the team developed a system they call ReadingMate, which uses an infrared camera to capture the LEDs in the runner's goggles and track the runner's head as it bobs. Leave your paperbacks and print magazines at home, as the system works only when reading text on a screen. An algorithm moves the text according to the runner's head motion. However, it doesn't mimick the motion exactly.

"You can't just move the text exactly in synch with the head because the eye is already doing what it can to compensate," said Kwon, who wrote the algorithm. "So you have to account for that compensation by moving the text slightly out of synch with the head motion."

In a study, the results of which appear this month in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 15 students performed a letter-counting task while using ReadingMate on a treadmill. They had to count how many times the letter F occurred in two lines of text within another 10 lines of text displayed on a computer monitor. Those using ReadingMate performed better than those who did not. Some students without ReadingMate gave up altogether, especially when line spacing and font sizes were reduced.

The Purdue team said ReadingMate technology could be applied in industries where individuals need to read in shaky environments, such as aviation or construction.