Formula 1 fans may have noticed that many drivers practice their reactions before getting into their cars at the start of the race. For some, it’s that simple like working with a trainer and some tennis balls. But you may have noticed how 2021 champion Max Verstappen slapped on some light-up pods, like a wireless version of the old Simon game since the end of the 1970s.
Called Blazepods, they are Bluetooth-connected educational lights that originated in an interactive playground in Israel. Blazepod’s founder has developed a number of exercises for the system, such as capture the flag and relay. “It was such a success that they knew they had to make this wireless,” explained Brian Farber, Blazepod’s director of business development. “And then they started implementing it [them] and understanding the benefits – from cognitive to connecting the brain and body together, decision making, reaction time and actual analytics. It just took off from there.”
Blazepod offered to send Ars a set to test, and since I was in the middle of fitness and some remote part of my brain still thinks it might be a racer, I accepted the company’s offer.
Blazepods are sturdy gray-blue plastic pucks about 3 inches across. The tops are transparent and contain LEDs and a touch sensor. They fold up and fit into a USB charging base and have about 10 hours of battery life. As you’d expect, there’s a smartphone app that interacts with the capsules; There are many tutorials in the application, including sound tests and reaction time training as well as balance and core exercises.
You can refine the list of activities offered by the program by telling us which sports you are interested in – soccer, basketball, baseball, rugby, American football, racquetball, etc. In addition, you can program your own exercises. I did this with all six pods sitting on my desk and they would fire randomly in 30 second cycles.
The benefit, according to Farber, is that “it makes the brain work and process a little bit faster and more efficiently. It’s visual stimulation—everything you do as a driver, you do with your eyes, right? For the most part, yes, you have radio and you get information, but the dangerous part is not catching things with your eyes,” he said.
I’d like to say pods have revolutionized my training regimen, but to be honest, I’m not that dedicated. The six-pack is compact enough to travel with, and I’ve taken it on the go a few times. However, without accessories like suction cups, you won’t be able to do more than spread them out on the ground or on a table. My early tests were marred by pods sometimes failing to register a hit, making the reaction time data unreliable, but a software update seems to have fixed that issue pretty well.
The performance of the pods may have improved, but I’m not entirely sure that my reaction time has decreased, nor have I spent enough time with the racing simulators to know if there’s been any real improvement there.
When I spoke with Farber, he told me that while the technology was originally designed to allow kids to play, “we made a shift very early on, realizing that what we have here is really designed for an athlete, not necessarily a kid.” .
As I write this, it resonates—not because I consider myself a kid, but also because I know I’m not an athlete, and thus not exactly the target user. That’s especially true when you consider the cost—a six-pack starts at $329, and there’s a subscription service that lets you add more packs and share activities for $14.99 a month or $149.99 a year. For true athletes, trainers, coaches, and fitness instructors, I can see the appeal, but for the average user, this product is probably overkill.
List of images by Blazepod