With Peloton Guide, the Fitness Company Bets Big on Body Tracking
No, and yes. But Peloton has plans for the Guide and the new software experience that comes with it. The company wants to count your workout reps, study your progress over time, see which areas of the body you’re fatiguing more than others. It wants to expand its tracking tech to other “modalities,” which means Peloton will eventually apply this intelligence to yoga, or pilates, or other forms of exercise. And it plans to charge $24 a month for this service, on top of the cost of the Guide hardware and any weights or heart-rate tracker you want to use with it.
“That’s where we’re putting our resources in AI,” says Tom Cortese, a Peloton cofounder and the company’s chief product officer. “We want to understand the body, understand movement, and figure out how to incorporate that into an interactive workout.” By the end of my Guide workouts, I was not yet completely sold, but I was definitely sore.
The Peloton Guide looks like a set-top box, like an Apple TV or a Roku box, though Cortese bristles at the phrase “set-top box.” A set-top box “does this dumb thing of just streaming one-way content,” he insists. “The Guide is a high-powered computing device that’s trying to create connection and connectivity.”
He has a point: The Peloton Guide is truly gadget-chic, smooth and solid, with that tight fabric covering and a nifty, adjustable magnetic mount that allows you to angle the device so its camera can see you properly. The Guide’s remote is well-designed—with the bare minimum of buttons and a rubbery, sweatproof finish. (Still, when Peloton eventually shipped me a Guide on loan, I attached it to my TV using an HDMI cable … like I would any other set-top box.)
Following the Guide’s initial reveal last fall, a lot of people—myself included—assumed it would work something like Microsoft Kinect, the body-tracking camera that plugged into the XBox and let you interact with video games by hopping around in your living room. But unlike the Kinect, there are no infrared sensors in this kit. There’s a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera, which streams 4K video at up to 60 frames per second. The camera is powered by Qualcomm’s QCS605 system-on-a-chip. This SoC was first introduced back in 2018, so it’s ancient by chip standards, though Peloton says it collaborated with the chip maker to customize the system for Guide. This includes image and digital signal processors that crunch your biometric data directly on the device itself.
“On device” has become something of a crutch-phrase for tech makers using AI to process potentially sensitive data. The term simply means that for any data that’s collected, machine intelligence is being applied on the hardware itself instead of on some distant cloud server. In Peloton’s case, this data includes the literal movements of your body. So during my demo of the Guide, Schultz and other executives stressed privacy. Not only would the video and audio captured by the Guide stay inside my house, but there are physical privacy guards as well: The Peloton-stamped piece of plastic on the front of the Guide is a camera shield, and the Guide’s microphones can be physically switched off.
And while the camera is capturing your live-streamed body data and making inferences about it, Peloton says it doesn’t store image or video data of you while you perform the movements. It does, however, collect and store metadata—the fact that you worked out, which class you took, how many reps you completed.