I built an open-source robot that steps your steps when the steps you stepped weren’t counted by your step counter: Frequently Asked Questions

The future of fitness tracking is here! reStepper is an open-source, arduino-powered machine to walk your fitness tracker after those unfortunate workouts when your steps didn’t get logged. Did you have the audacity to take you child for a walk in a stroller? Get those steps back! Were you foolish enough to go swimming when you could have walked in aimless circles around the pool? Don’t let the credit drift away! Reckless enough to do something, anything, that might require you to take off your jewelry before working up a sweat? Let the reStepper sweat it all back! Maybe you just don’t want third parties to know where you run, or where your secret morel patch is, or how fast they need to make the people harvesting machines in order to catch Charlton Heston.

The reStepper, an engineering marvel.


It’s funny.

So what is it?

The reStepper is an open-source machine that “walks” a fitness tracker for you.

But why?

Personally, because my FitBit doesn’t log steps when I’m pushing my daughter in a stroller on long walks, or swimming, or pushing a cart, or participating in any number of activities that you really shouldn’t wear anything on your wrists.

Are you serious?

I mean, not really, obviously (though the reStepper does work exactly as promised). This project exists for two reasons:

  1. To push back against a trend towards quantifying everything we do by creating something ridiculous that does it better.
  2. Because this is a more fun way to learn to code in Arduino than just another “Blink LED” tutorial. Building a reStepper will teach you how to read digital rotary encoders and binary switches, output to an LCD, and control a servo. You’ll create a basic user interface that takes two forms of inputs and converts that into actions through an algorithm you can tinker with and tune. Use your own fitness tracking data to create a machine custom built for your own activity levels.

So how does it work?

The fundamental idea behind the reStepper is that you input the number of calories burned during an activity and the machine converts those into steps based on how many calories your burn during a light walk. Then you hang your fitness tracker in the basket and a very goofy florescent pink chaotic pendulum starts swinging.

Ok, but how did you make it?

The body is cut from 6mm and 3mm acrylic on a Glowforge. An Arduino micro-controller handles inputs and outputs. A heavy-duty servo drives the swing arm. There’s some fancy bits of electronics in there, but overall the system itself is pretty simple. The entire project is open-source, so you’re more than welcome to build your own.

What does open-source mean?

Open-source means that the software and diagrams are publicly available and that you are free to built your own, modify, and adapt as you see fit. I have everything up on my GitHub Repo as well as shape files on Thingiverse.

What’s GitHub?

The least accessible, most jargon-filled, inscrutable tool for distributing open-source projects ever conceived. It’s great for version control, though.

How do I build it?

Check out the Bill of Materials and build guide in the GitHub README file.

So, this is just a thing to cheat at FitBit, right?

If you want to use it to cheat, then sure, but if that’s your goal, this seems needlessly complicated. There are much simpler, cheaper ways to game the system. The reStepper is a precision instrument designed to help you reclaim real steps that you failed to log.

Shouldn’t you just worry about challenging yourself?

Sure, if that’s why you have a fitness tracker, enjoy.

But that’s not the only reason people have them.

At some universities, students are required to log 10,000 steps a day or face penalties. Employees who don’t log enough steps get fined. Life insurance companies set their premiums based on tracker usage. Health insurance programs tie deductible compensation to getting enough steps (a catch-22 if you get sick–the deductibles are only high if you don’t get enough steps, but if you get too sick to log steps, you’re probably also going to max out that deductible). And, yes, insurance companies have already been caught using data monitoring to deny coverage to their customers.

So yes, the world is bigger and more complex than just wanting to do your very best.

But honestly, I just like going on long walks with my kid. And fitness trackers don’t count anything when you’re pushing a stroller.

Well, that’s grim.

It doesn’t have to be. A good mariner knows that small changes compounded over the vastness of an ocean can dramatically influence where you end up. So if you look out beyond the horizon and see that we’re heading towards a future you’re not sure you agree with, give that tiller a little tap and see if that doesn’t just get us back on course.

The reStepper is just another weird little novelty thing that hopefully gets you thinking a bit about where we’re going. Think of it as a very tiny tap on that tiller.