Inside The Polar Factory – The History Of Heart Rate Monitors


– Most of us measure our training using some sort of device or app, and probably take for granted
the science behind it. Recording heart rate, for example, has become one of the more
obvious parameters to use when you’re analysing
your efforts in training or a race, but where
did all of this start? It was here in Finland,
that Polar designed the first ever wearable
heart rate monitor, way back in 1977, a
groundbreaking move at the time. So today, I’m gonna be taking a look inside this building,
glancing back at the history, discovering how we got to the
products that we use today. And going behind the scenes
to take a look at some of the rigorous testing
required to make such devices. (upbeat electronic music) Before delving into the testing labs, I want to find out a little bit more about the science behind
monitoring heart rate. And for that, I’m gonna be speaking to one of the directors here
at Polar, Raija Laukkanen. – There was a need from a sports coach, to measure heart rates of
athletes noninvasively. Because you cannot take ECG equipment into the field or forest
and so a professor invented a wireless heart rate monitor. And this wireless heart
rate monitor invention was based on the ECG measurement actually, so it was compared how you can measure with a small amount of
electrodes, heart rate, and transfer it automatically
to the wrist unit. So that was actually the ECG from lab, to the field was the base for the whole heart rate
monitoring in the beginning. This was the patented feature, and the patented creator,
the first one ever. (upbeat electronic music) – Anyway, enough talking,
I think it’s time I want to test out some
of this high tech kit. Okay, I have just discovered this quite amazing looking hole. Now, Vesna tells me this is a very serious piece of testing kit. Now Vesna, what happens inside here? What is this? What are these spikes for? – This is the anechoic chamber. We are using it for testing
our antennas for our devices, and in general it’s used
for antenna testing. Basically tests it’s performance, not to mention too many parameter
like efficiency and gain. – Okay. – Which will enable functionality of GPS and be on our devices. – And why is it, why does it need so much testing for a watch? Why is it different on a watch? – Yes, it’s interesting,
if you have a phone, the antenna will not
have so much body loss, but worn, like all the wearables,
which are worn on body, have this body loss which will
decrease it’s performance, so we need to optimise for the best performance on worn on the body. – Yeah, okay, and why these spikes? I want to touch them, I’m not going to, but what are they for? – (laughs) They are basically absorbing different frequencies of
electromagnetic radiation. – It looks like a human washing machine that’s really comfortable. (laughter) Okay, enough talking about it. Can I get my watch tested
then, can we put it in here? The M430 and see and have a look? – Yeah, let’s try. – So now what? – Now we close it so it means that this is completely closed. – Yeah – And now, – It’s like a magic trick, I expect something else to come out, other than my watch. – Yeah, I’m not gonna press a button. (both laugh) – I’m gonna have a rabbit. – Yeah, but basically then, we use our programme – Okay. – which communicates with that then. – So what’s happening inside of there? Is it moving around in there? – Yes, it’s moving around. – Okay. And you do the same
testing for all the products in here, all your wearable products? – Yes. Almost all of them. – Well, it’s best to mention
there’s a lot of emphasis on how the watch actually
works on the human wrist, but there’s only so much
you can expect humans to do. So, there are some alternatives. For example, take a look at this. It’s a robotic arm. Well, I’m not sure if you’ve
managed to work it out yet, but the arm is actually going for a walk, probably a fairly brisk walk. And as you can see, it’s wearing three versions of the M-430. And this is so they can get a
lot of data from replicating that movement hundreds
and hundreds of times. But, without any worry
of having human error. You’re probably asking why. It’s to develop the algorithm so that when we are wearing it ourselves, we can tell, for example,
if we’re running, how long our stride length
is, looking at the cadence. But it can also be programmed to do any different sporting activity, even working on swimming at that moment. And beyond sport, they actually
use it to replicate sleep. So, it can be kept still
with a slight movement like you might imagine in a night’s sleep. Having said all that though, sometimes, only humans will do (snap). (upbeat electronic music) Well sadly, there were no
running dummies to be found. So, here I am actually having
to do some work myself. Now, we’re underground in the
Polar factory in this bunker, but, we’re actually replicating
a pretty sunny, windy day. So, they use this area
for testing the equipment and a real life full, as real life conditions as you can get. And then on the screen in
front of me, behind you, we’ve got my ECG, so that’s
being very accurately measured from a belt that I’m wearing. With that, I can compare how
the equipment actually reacts to these real life conditions and as the athlete gets
a little hot, sweaty, or in my case a little bit out of breath. Obviously, myself, or
anyone else for that matter, can’t run at 40 degree heat, for example, for very long, or other conditions. So, there are, luckily,
other machines out there that will test such extreme parameters. But all this testing and
development happens for a reason. It’s to develop new products. So I think it’s time we went
back upstairs to just see how far Polar have come
with their development. (upbeat electronic music) – What we have here is the
very first prototype of wireless heart rate monitoring. What you see here on
this little wooden block is I got a prototype coil system. – Okay. – Where they were just
testing the apparatus to see how you can get the heart rate
off the chest, the signal, into another device that
was away from the body. – Got you. – Polar went commercial in the early 80s. In ’82, we launched the sport tester, and we had very first products out there. Probably embraced by the
triathlete community, you know, the Mark Allens and the
Pauli Kiurus and these guys. Very, very solid product that
really set the ball rolling and started to get more
athletes at various levels also embracing the technology. This is long before Windows came out, so we had to develop our
own computer interface and that kind of thing. So here’s a printer actually
where you literally print out the stats from the training session. Then you get into the, for
example, the Vantage series, see the black device there. What you start to see is
a lot of miniaturisation. – [Narrator] Right – The product get into a lower profile. – Yep. – This was a product that was really also embraced by triathletes,
simply because it was so easy to get the wet suit on and off. It was so low profile, it
made it very convenient. Polar was the very first
product, or company that released a heart rate
monitor that also gave you cycling speed and distance. – [Narrator] All right. – That was a cycle advantage. That was also still back in the 90s. So we were the world’s very
first company to integrate activity tracking into
a triathlete product. – Right. – Multi-purpose product.
What we were able to do then, is be able to provide the
athlete the overview of what happens also just beyond
the actual training session. – Yeah. – And this was really a boon
for a lot of coaches as well, you know, just to get
that overall perspective. I think we’re definitely
going into that direction where we’re going to be able to factor in more of the variables, give you more contextual
feedback, you know. If you think about the training load and recovery functionality,
make that smarter. Let it bring on more of the
inputs from how well you’re sleeping and how your
muscles are recovering, what type of training sessions
have you done further back, and then how has your
body responded to that. That’s an example of it. – Yeah. – Definitely, the algorithms
are getting more advanced, and then the computational power is definitely getting better. – All of that has
seriously opened my eyes. And to what goes into
something like this watch that I wear everyday to
help me with my training. And I must admit, I am excited
to see where the technology is going to head in the future. But right now, I think to
go and do some work myself because, apparently, I
have actually only done 49% of my daily activity target. But if you’ve enjoyed this,
hit the thumbs-up like button and make sure you don’t miss
any more videos from GTN by hitting that glow. And if you want to learn how
to train with heart rate zones, we’ve made a video on that, just here.

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