Fans of Formula 1 may have noticed that many drivers engage in reaction training before getting into their cars at the start of a race. For some, this is as simple as working with a trainer and some tennis balls. But you might have noticed 2021 champion Max Verstappen slapping some illuminated pods, like a wireless version of the old Simon games from the late 1970s.
They’re called Blazepods, and they’re Bluetooth-linked training lights that have their roots in an interactive playground in Israel. Blazepod’s founder developed a series of exercises for the system, like capture the flag and relay races. “It was such a success, they knew they needed to make this wireless,” explained Brian Farber, Blazepod’s director of business development. “And then they started implementing [them] and understanding what the benefits were—everything from the cognitive to connecting the brain and the body together, decision-making, reaction time, and then actual analytics. It just kind of took off from there.”
Blazepod offered to send Ars a set to test, and since I’ve been in the middle of a fitness kick, and some distant part of my brain still thinks it can be a racing driver, I took the company up on the offer.
The Blazepods are hardwearing gray-and-blue plastic pucks, about 3 inches across. The tops are transparent and contain LEDs and a touch sensor. They stack and fit on top of a USB charging base, and they have about 10 hours of battery life. As you might expect, there’s a smartphone app that communicates with the pods; the app features plenty of training programs, including beep tests and reaction-time training, as well as balance and core exercises.
You can refine the list of activities the app suggests by telling it which sports you’re interested in—soccer, basketball, baseball, rugby, American football, racquet sports, and so on. Additionally, you can program your own exercises. I did this using all six pods as they were arrayed on my desk, and they lit up randomly for 30-second cycles.
The benefit, according to Farber, is that “it’s getting the brain to fire and process a little bit faster and more efficiently. It’s the visual stimulation—everything you do as a driver is done with your eyes, right? For the most part, yes, you do have a radio and you are getting information, but the dangerous part is not catching things with your eye,” he said.
I’d like to say that the pods revolutionized my training regimen, but truthfully, I’m not that dedicated. The six-pack of pods is compact enough that you can travel with it, and I did take it on the road with me a few times. However, without accessories like suction mounts, you won’t be able to do much more than spread them out on the ground or on a desk. My early tests were marred by the pods occasionally failing to register a hit, which made the reaction time data unreliable, but a software update appears to have solved that problem quite well.
The pods’ performance may have improved, but I’m not really sure that my reaction times have decreased, and I haven’t been spending enough time with racing sims to see if there has been any real improvement there, either.
When I spoke with Farber, he told me that although the technology was originally developed to let kids play, “we took a shift really early on, realizing what we had here was really aimed at an athlete, not necessarily a child.”
As I write this, that resonates—not because I think I’m a child, but also because I know I’m not an athlete, and therefore not really the intended user. That’s particularly true considering the cost—a pack of six pods starts at $329, and there’s a subscription service that allows you to add more pods and share activities at a cost of $14.99 a month or $149.99 a year. For actual athletes, coaches, trainers, and fitness instructors, I can see the appeal, but for casual users, the product is probably overkill.
Listing image by Blazepod