Fans of Formula 1 may have noticed that many drivers take part in reaction training before getting into their cars at the start of a race. For some, this is as simple as working with a trainer and some tennis balls. But you might have noticed 2021 champion Max Verstappen hitting some light-up pods, like a wireless version of the old Simon game from the late 1970s.
Called Blazepods, they’re Bluetooth-connected workout lights that have their roots in an interactive playground in Israel. Blazepod’s founder developed a series of exercises for the system, such as capture the flag and relay races. “It was such a success that they knew they needed to do this wirelessly,” explained Brian Farber, Blazepod’s director of business development. “And then they started implementing [them] and understand what the benefits were – everything from the cognitive to connecting the brain and body, decision making, reaction time and then actual analysis. It just took off from there.”
Blazepod offered to send Ars a set to test, and since I’ve been in the middle of a practice kick, and some far-off part of my brain still thinks it might be a racer, I took the company up on its offer.
The Blazepods are durable gray-and-blue plastic pucks, about 3 inches in diameter. The tops are transparent and contain LEDs and a touch sensor. They stack and fit on top of a USB charging base, and they have about 10 hours of battery life. As you might expect, there’s a smartphone app that communicates with the pods; the app has many training programs, including beep tests and reaction time training, as well as balance and core exercises.
You can refine the list of activities the app suggests by telling it which sports you’re interested in – soccer, basketball, baseball, rugby, American football, racquet sports, and so on. In addition, you can program your own exercises. I did this by using all six pods as they were placed on my desk and they lit up randomly in 30-second cycles.
The benefit, according to Farber, is that “it makes the brain fire and process a little faster and more efficiently. It’s the visual stimulation—everything you do as a driver is done with your eyes, right? For the most part, yes, you have a radio and you get information, but the dangerous part is not catching things with your eye, he said.
I’d like to say that the pods revolutionized my exercise regimen, but truthfully, I’m not that dedicated. The six-pack of pods is compact enough to travel with, and I took it on the road a few times. But without accessories like suction cups, you won’t be able to do much more than spread them out on the ground or on a desk. My early tests were marred by the pods sometimes failing to register a hit, making the reaction time data unreliable, but a software update seems to have fixed that problem pretty well.
The pods’ performance may have improved, but I’m not really sure my reaction times have decreased, and I haven’t spent enough time with racing sims to see if there’s been any real improvement there either.
When I spoke with Farber, he told me that while the technology was originally developed to allow children to play, “we made a shift very early on and realized that what we had here was really aimed at an athlete, not necessarily a child.”
As I write this, it resonates—not because I think I’m a kid, but also because I know I’m not an athlete, and therefore not really the intended user. That’s especially true when it comes to cost — a pack of six pods starts at $329, and there’s a subscription service that lets you add more pods and share activities for $14.99 a month or $149.99 a year. For actual athletes, trainers, coaches and fitness instructors I can see the appeal, but for casual users the product is probably overkill.
Listing image of Blazepod