By Jonathan Battaglia
Edited by M. Caroline Riser
Runners in Columbia's Riverfront Park will soon have some new technology to help them lose weight or beat that mile time – access to digital chips that strap on to their shoes and track their pace.
The $90 chips can also go on bikes or strollers and track movements as people cross sensors that under the sidewalk. Then, digital scoreboards around the park will display a runner's time, offer words of encouragement and take pictures of runners crossing the finish line.
On Tuesday, Columbia City Council gave EnduringFX, a local startup online and mobile application company, the green light to install the system. The city is not pledging any money, but will allow the company access to electricity to install the sensors and digital signage.
Company founder and CEO Jim Stritzinger said this is the system's first installation.
"But we hope to launch this worldwide," Stritzinger said. "We're proud that Columbia is the first to try this out."
Jordan Lybrand, chief operating officer at Strictly Running, a Five Points store catering to runners, said the idea sounds good, but that the city should consider expanding it to other city parks.
"The Riverfront Park is a good place to test it because it has a lot of runners and it's a safe area to exercise," he said.
Stritzinger said he hopes nonprofits and companies will rent the chips out to their employees as part of health initiatives, but runners can also use their own digital sensors like Nike Plus to track their times.
Stritzinger said he hopes the system will be running by July. If it's successful, he wants to extend it to the track and swimming pool at the city's money-losing Drew Wellness Center.
Stritzinger said a mobile app is being developed that will store running times, weather forecasts, park information and trail updates on people's phones. Runners could also post statistics and pictures to social media by using the app.
"This is the third time I've seen this presentation, and every time I get more excited," Mayor Steve Benjamin said.
Allison Baker, an assistant city manager who oversees recreation programs, said the technology has the potential to bring more people to the park and the wellness center.