The LAB: Innovating the Treadmill with S.I.T. (May 2011)

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Academic Focus: Drexel University’s MS in Creativity and Innovation
June 5, 2011

The LAB: Innovating the Treadmill with S.I.T. (May 2011)

In 1817, Sir William Cubitt innovated the treadmill as a method of reforming prison convicts who got out of line. Today, that "torture" continues. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, fifty million Americans use a treadmill. Sales of treadmills are $1 billion annually of the total $4 billion fitness equipment industry. For this month's LAB, we will use the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., to create new-to-the-world concepts for the ubiquitous treadmill. S.I.T. works by taking one of five patterns (subtraction, task unification, division, multiplication, and attribute dependency) and applying it to an existing product or service. This morphs it into a "virtual product," which is an abstract, ambiguous notion with no clear purpose. We then work backwards (Function Follows Form) to find new and useful benefits or markets for the virtual product.

 In 1817, Sir William Cubitt innovated the treadmill as a method of reforming prison convicts who got out of line.  Today, that “torture” continues.  According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, fifty million Americans use a treadmill.  Sales of treadmills are $1 billion annually of the total $4 billion fitness equipment industry.  For this month’s LAB, we will use the corporate innovation method, S.I.T., to create new-to-the-world concepts for the ubiquitous treadmill.

S.I.T. works by taking one of five patterns (subtraction, task unification, division, multiplication, and attribute dependency) and applying it to an existing product or service.  This morphs it into a “virtual product,” which is an abstract, ambiguous notion with no clear purpose.  We then work backwards (Function Follows Form) to find new and useful benefits or markets for the virtual product.

Here are four innovations created by students at the University of Cincinnati as part of the innovation tools course.  They articulated these ideas in a dream catalog, a hypothetical, futuristic catalog that merges marketing insight with innovative design.  You can download it here.

Treadmill 1.  Extreme Runner:  The Extreme Runner provides the ultimate workout for the  athlete or experienced runner who loves a challenge. This special treadmill can provide an intense and unique training session or it can be used for extreme competitions.

  • Alternating Elevation Width Belt- instead of the tread staying the same width throughout the course of a workout, this treadmill challenges the walker or runner by correlating the width of the tread to the height of the treadmill. By starting out wide when flat, then getting smaller when the user decides to elevate the machine, this treadmill gives the feel of a rock climb or mountain hike in a matter of minutes.
  • SIT Tools Used: Attribute Dependency – creating a dependency between the width of the belt and the elevation of the machine; the belt speed and the price of the machine; and the time on the track and the position of the runner on the machine.


2.  Family Runner:  This treadmill features an additional attachment track for friends and loved ones to hop on. The tracks are adjustable so both adults and children are able to become a part of your workout. Family Runner is primarily designed to serve families at home.

  • Detachable tread becomes a yoga/exercise mat for a relaxing way to cool down and stretch after exercising.
  • Social networking software addresses the needs of workout/running communities as well as families who are separated. Family Runner Online matches your profile to find a workout companion.
  • SIT tool: Task Unification – by assigning an additional task to the tread to serve as a yoga/exercise mat. Multiplication – by multiplying the tread and using it for additional runners.

Natuarl treadmill 3.  Natural Runner:   Unlike traditional treadmills that enforce a pace based on a specified control setting, this product allows you to set the pace without touching a button. As you begin to move on the Runner, the motor begins to spin at the same speed you are walking. All you need to do is speed up or slow down and the motor instantly adjusts to your new pace. With the Natural Runner, there is no waiting for the machine to speed up or slow down when doing interval training.

  • Dynamic Elevation Control – the Runner will increase the degree of incline (15 degrees max) as you move closer to the back of the track. As you move closer to the front of the track, the degree of decline increase (-15 degrees max). Run in the middle of the track and the Runner levels out.
  • No Restrictive Control Panel – The control panel and stability bars do not rise up in front. The result is a more natural running experience. Use the built in projector to display your stats on a wall or plug in your laptop
  • Low Rise Profile frame keeps you closer to the ground.
  • SIT Tools Used: Subtraction to remove the stability bars, control panel, and monitor. Division to move the monitor screen to the laptop or projector. Attribute Dependency to switch the dependency between motor speed and belt speed.

4.  Virtual Runner:  Exercise in the Amazon forest? The Virtual Runner brings you a beautiful or historic destination to run through. The Virtual Runner gives a relaxed experience for improved mental and physical health.

  • Wide Angled LCD and Integrated Surround Sound System – The front monitor is replaced with the wide angled LCD screen. As you run on the virtual runner, the video on the wide angled LCD screen and the sound in your headphones simulates a walk through Egypt, a crowd in New York, or a country road in the springtime. Air blowers  provide fresh, hot or mild air, depending on what you see in the LCD screen. It provides workouts in all types of weather conditions.
  • Convenient Control Location – The control panels are located on the side handlebars for easy access. The sidebars help the runner  balance their body and feel safe. The left side bar can be used to control the time and the right side bar controls the speed.
  • Automatic Elevation Control – Based on the virtual path you select, the Runner automatically adjusts elevation as you progress along your route. Social Running – Using your online profile and our custom social networking software, you can setup and participate in online races (or friendly outings) with friends and family members.
  • SIT Tools Used: Division to move the control panel to side handle bars. Multiplication used to establish online running social groups and the wide angled LCD screens.