Saturday, February 5, 2011

Treadmill Desk (Sort of)

About a month ago I read a post on my instructor David's (@DavidElectron) Twitter feed about "Treadmill Desks". Though I do make a point of getting out for a half-hour walk every day, the promise of being able to be productive while exercising was certainly enticing. In the weeks that followed I checked Craigslist periodically in search of a treadmill within my price range. I had pretty much given up hope on finding anything within my price range (< $100) when I lucked out and picked up a decent machine for a whopping $40. Cosmetically it's seen better days, but it seems to work okay and that's all I ask.

A trip to Rona this afternoon left me with everything I needed, and within fifteen minutes I had my "desk" assembled and in use.

Low tech? You bet! But you can't argue with results. Though typing while running isn't really in the cards, hammering out the odd short message while going for a jog is certainly manageable, and the rig works well for watching lectures and videos on YouTube.

The next step is, of course, to hack the controller on the treadmill and interface it to my computer. The controller looks sophisticated enough that it might have some sort of internal serial interface that can be tapped. Failing that, a simple optical pick-up and a small dot on the belt would be a cheap and easy way to get the data I'm after (speed and distance traveled). This particular treadmill also has a manual incline adjustment, so the addition of a tilt sensor to measure the angle the machine is set to is also in the cards. Though I can't afford one now, adding in heart rate data from one of those wireless wristwatch pulse sensors would be pretty nifty too. What can I say? I like collecting data!

The original controller uses a slide pot to adjust the speed of the treadmill, which while being user-friendly is still "old school" in my books. Having the treadmill automatically adjust its speed to create a more uniform workout would be neat, although the idea of implementing the speed control through software seems to have "Therac-25" written all over it...

That's about all that's new up here; at school we're gearing up for midterms so I doubt I'll be posting again until after reading break. Enough vegging in front of the mainframe, time to hop on the running machine and knock off a few Pat Hoppe videos before I pass out for the night.