Virginia Tech networking researchers and local technology entrepreneurs are working on a groundbreaking broadband-enabled health and fitness tool called FitGENI that is unlike anything currently on the market.

FitGENI pairs FitNet’s software, which allows exercisers to attend classes from any device, via a rich, interactive videoconference, with Virginia Tech’s link to the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI). GENI is a federally funded virtual laboratory for high-speed computer networking that will be used to resolve connectivity concerns experienced when FitNet is used over low-bandwidth networks. The goal is to create a virtual exercise experience where participants can reliably get real-time feedback from their instructor and interact with their peers, the same way they might if they had traveled to the class location.

Regular exercise, particularly in group settings with the support of a teacher or coach, has been shown to improve health, increase lifespans, and maintain mobility and quality of life, while reducing the overall cost of healthcare. Despite this knowledge, only a small percentage of the overall population currently participates in these types of programs. FitNet seeks to lower the barriers to participation by providing convenient access to group fitness classes via any consumer device over the Internet, making it possible for people to join a class and receive instruction from any location.

The FitGENI project will explore the advantages of high capacity, low latency, and deeply programmable networks on the reliable delivery of quality virtual fitness training. The project will also investigate the effects of varying the video quality on system performance and user satisfaction. Merging FitNet with GENI technology will result in a unique tool that will allow users to develop their own training program, connect with other users that have similar goals, improve their fitness, and track their progress using the most advanced network technology available.

The project is made possible through funding from the National Science Foundation's US Ignite initiative. Scott Midkiff, Virginia Tech’s vice president for Information Technology and chief information officer, notes, "The FitGENI project is the first collaborative activity to emerge from Virginia Tech and the Town of Blacksburg’s decision to join US Ignite." US Ignite is a White House initiative that is working to expand a national high-speed test bed for development of ultra-fast broadband applications. "We are at the brink of a new surge in networking innovation that will take the Internet far into the future in terms of its capacity to promote learning and help people connect with the topics, groups, and activities that matter most to them."

Mark Gardner, network research manager in Information Technology at Virginia Tech, will serve as principal investigator for the project. FitNet founder and CEO Bob Summers, and Senior Data Scientist Kevin Hill will be co-principal investigators.

Summers adds, “FitNet won an initial development award from US Ignite back in 2012, being recognized as ‘an app of the future.’ With this new funding, we are excited to have an opportunity to continue pushing boundaries, to see what is possible with gigabit Internet technology, and to benefit from working with some of the world’s top networking experts; who just happen to be right here in Blacksburg, at Virginia Tech.”

The FitGENI project team will begin work in January 2014.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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