Steve Holmes, founder of Springfree Trampoline based in Plano, has an invention he thinks can peel your video game-addicted children or man-children off the couch, lure them into the backyard and trick them into soaking up some Vitamin D while exercising. He's built trampolines that incorporate tgoma, an interactive gaming system.
“We came to realize that selling trampolines was great,” Holmes says. “There is somewhere around six and a half to seven million trampolines in American backyards. Parents want to buy trampolines to get their kids out in the backyard. But over time there was a diminishing use of the product. How long can a kid be engaged if they just bounce?”
The tgoma technology, now available at Dallas Springfree Trampoline locations, has been under development for five years. It took a while after developing the idea to determine if a human's location and exact movements could indeed be detected on a trampoline. From there, the system had to grow sophisticated enough to tell players what to do and assess how well they do it.
The trampoline runs on a rechargeable battery and has to be powered on, much like a video game console. In this case, your screen is whatever kind of tablet you have mounted to the trampoline. Players operate it from a free app that connects to the trampoline through Bluetooth, so Wi-Fi isn't necessary.
There are four accelerometer sensors spread out across the base of the trampoline, detecting motion and identifying orientation. Sensors quickly calibrate and register the user standing in the center of the trampoline. After you bounce five times, the game starts.
“We were trying to minimize the risk of a false positive, a child jumping in a location and it telling us they were somewhere else,” Holmes says. “If that number is high, it won’t take long for the participants to say, It’s no fun. I’m not there and it’s telling me I’m over there.” Sharpening the sensors was a painstaking process that took 400,000 bounces on a trampoline.
Now the focus is the development of the fitness and educational programs and games. One of the first programs was Stickers, which is ideal for a young child. In the game, a player jumps and a sticker shows up where he or she lands on the screen. A natural progression through numbers, the alphabet and shapes means there's lots of opportunity for the program to be tweaked for several age brackets.
There are already several other games to choose from, with more to come. There is a program called Free Bounce that is very much like a pedometer for treadmills, keeping track of calories burned, how high you jump, how many times and for how long. Another game is similar to a game of Whac-A-Mole you might play at a state fair. Yet another has the player battling enemies by throwing and aiming tomatoes based on the way he or she jumps. If your enemy is on the right, jump right.
One program is made with adults in mind and has 26 different workouts. An instructor on the screen does a demonstration and then you try to keep up while the system keeps track of your stats. There are even number puzzle games and games that help you learn math.
Holmes plans to mix video games with other outdoor activities eventually, but he won’t say much beyond that he plans to keep it in the backyard. “Our focus is to try to build value within the family yard,” he says. “It allows parents to have close activity with their kids and be attentive to their needs while they are outside and active.”
With two grandchildren in Dallas, it is something Holmes is passionate about. “I know how hard it is to get the kids to want to go outside,” he says. “I watch my grandkids constantly increase their time engaged with technology inside. When I was a kid, you stayed outside until the streetlights went off. I do believe our kids are missing out. In order to get them outside we have to engage them in things that are more relevant to them. It’s not good enough to put a swing set out there.”
Springfree Trampoline is located at 3933 N. Central Expressway, No. 400, Plano