Last weekend I was able to attend the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, Massachusetts in the USA – I was excited to go, both because I was racing in the Club 1x event but also because I knew that NK would be there and they would be displaying their new NK Empower Oarlock. Long time readers may remember it was this time last year that the oarlock was first announced and was on display then, albeit a non-functioning mock up. This time round it would be a fully functioning unit and so I was keen to get some time to get some hands on use.
As mentioned before, the NK Empower Oarlock is a wireless power meter that is designed to work with their current NK GPS 2.0 device, their own website has a lot of information listed here so I won’t go into too much detail other than listing some of the main points that came across in the discussions and that I found interesting when talking to the NK staff
- BATTERY LIFE – The Empower gate is powered by a single AA battery which can last for around 8-20 hours depending on the quality of the battery, they admitted that currently a low battery warning is only displayed on the back of the gate with a flashing red light (less than ideal) although they are working towards having the GPS show a low battery warning with a future update
- MULTIPLE CONNECTIONS
- One NK GPS connecting to multiple Empower Oarlocks (e.g. a sculler with two gates) – Technically possible, however at launch NK is limiting this so that you can only connect one Empower Oarlock to one GPS at a time, which I think is fair –since when you are sculling the output of the two gates would be largely similar (otherwise you wouldn’t go in a straight line) I would say even if it were possible it would only be worth the cost if you were seeking the highest world champ/olympic levels, the rest of us would get plenty of important data from just the one gate. One Empower Oarlock connecting to Multiple NK GPS (e.g. a rower and a coach seeing the same data) – This is where the discussions got interesting, currently it is not possible due to the use of Bluetooth smart which only allows a 1:1 linked relationship (see the description of disadvantages of BT smart here) and so if the empower gate is broadcasting to the rowers GPS, it cannot broadcast to the coaches. This, however doesn’t mean that the proposal of a coach seeing the data at the same time as the rower isn’t possible and couldn’t be added in the future (I talked through a couple of options with NK with how this may work in future, for example adding adapters to the GPS which can re-broadcast to the coaches device) it would just require additional hardware. Plus, as they described to me there, there is nothing stopping the rower and coach handing over the one NK GPS during an outing so that the rower or the coach is getting the data at different points in the outing.
- CALIBRATION – There are two measurements that need calibration
- Power – Measured through the pin and it is calibrated in house before the product is shipped, no need to re calibrate once this has been done in the shop
- Angle – Measured in relation to the metal plate at the bottom of the gate, this does need calibration but only once when the gate is added to the boat, first to align the plate at the bottom then you attach the adapter (included) which is used to set a couple of calibration positions and then it doesn’t need calibrating again unless you move the gate to another boat
- DISPLAY – There are two main ways that the data can be displayed, either the “classic” view or, as I think of it, the view which includes rate/split, or the “skill” view where it doesn’t show rate/split – removing rate/split might seem a little odd but often in a crew boat you might not want to see that and rely just on the power details. There are around 20 different data fields you can present and you can choose the one to display and then also scroll through the fields using the buttons on the GPS 2.0 – note that you can’t set the fields to automatically scroll through the fields, but NK are looking into doing this in the future and I think
- IN USE EXAMPLE – They actually described an example of how the demo units are being used now – the coach starts off with the unit and watches the crew to see what technical improvements can be made, as an example say the finishes are off – the coach can view the finish slip/angle whilst watching the crew and decide who should change and by how much – they then stop the crew and hand over the GPS along with the numbers they have to hit so that now the rower can row and see the numbers they are getting and aim to get the correct ones
Overall – I am still quite positive about the NK Empower Oarlock, yes there are some drawbacks to the product as a whole (mostly around people wanting more complex set ups like connecting multiple gates and overlaying multiple rowers data) but given the slightly technophobic rowing market they are entering (and also the complexity of the product in general) it is definitely wise for them to start with a simpler product and focus on easily quantifiable numbers first (watts, degrees).
On the cost of $649 – The cost may seem relatively high but is actually pretty comparable to cycling power meters and its generally a given in cycling that if you are looking to reach your peak potential, that using a power meter is the best way to do it, and in rowing you will actually also get the additional support for technical improvements (like being shown your catch slip and being able to work to improve it) in a way that cycling power meters cannot – essentially making the Empower Oarlock even better value for money than cycling power meters