Wearable Tech World Feature Article
January 04, 2016

Health & Fitness Tech 2.0 is Upon Us

CES 2016, Las Vegas, Nevada – The next generation of health and fitness technology is upon us. You’ll hear a lot of shilling this week about the latest, greatest and most unique. Lines between "fitness" and "health" tech are becoming increasingly entangled and, unlike most new tech, opportunities will abound for trained professionals and Big Data website able to interpret the data and provide appropriate advice to users.

First generation fitness wearables provided the basics of activity with step count, time of activity, estimated intensity, and pulse monitoring. Here’s to my Fitbit Charge HR, the best example of one of a gazillion fitness trackers bought and given in last month’s holiday splurge.

Health and Fitness Tech 2.0 (HFT 2.0) is tackling body composition, heart rhythm, skin temperature, and stress levels to provide deeper insight and provide in-depth data.  But each deeper data point is going to require more insight than a simple per-day step count.

For instance, body composition analysis breaks down body weight into categories, providing a body fat percentage; your ratio of fat to muscle and bone, essentially.  The key metric is body mass index (BMI), providing a statistic of how much excess fat you are carrying around.  Back in Ye Olde Days, BMI would be done by using calipers (pinchers) to measure parts of the body or more properly obtained by putting a person into a dunk tank and watching how much water they displaced.

InBody's BAND wearable enables a near-instant BMI score using bioelectric impedance (BIA) measurement by simply pressing two fingers against the device when it is on the wrist.   More detailed analysis is available with the InBody 570, a professional-grade device typically found in hospitals, gyms, and professional sports facilities, providing a detailed breakdown of fat to muscle on the arms, torso, and legs.

Making sense of what a BMI means to total fitness isn't something that most of us can do at a glance; much less a more detailed analysis of what it means to have more fat on the torso than legs.  BMI measurements need to be taken into context with other measures of fitness and how the individual is – or is not – progressing in an exercise or rehabilitation plan. Expert matter websites may provide some insight, but a trained professional is more likely to put measurements into context and suggest relevant action.  

If you think BMI is complicated, heart rhythm monitoring is a whole ‘nother ballgame.  Last year, FitLinxx rolled out AmpStrip, a 24x7 flexible heart monitoring strip.  The company planned to market it at $149 list, but is now buying back all of its Indegogo campaign contributions and plans to move the product upscale into the medical field.   Given the list price of professional-grade heart monitors starting at nearly $1300 without AmpStrip’s ability to upload monitoring in real time to a smart phone and be worn in the shower, the AmpStrip could be a major homerun for FitLinxx if it can work its way through the medical establishment and into general practice.

Samsung’s Bio-Processor chip, announced last week, is going to collect temperature, heart rhythm information, BMI data, and a bunch of other stuff that will be great for medical professional and professional trainers to pour through, but could be information overload for novice consumers who try to interpret it themselves or through a company expert system.  Fitness wearable vendors will be faced with the choice of either saying “See your doctor” at the first signs of deviance from the norm or betting that a combination of legalease and Big Data analytics will protect them from lawsuits if a device doesn’t spot a potential life threatening condition.  False alarm “Wearable-Attacks” may become a nuisance in emergency rooms while enriching cardiologists over the next two to three years.

The meta-point is companies that just don’t collect data but successfully work with fitness and health care will be the big winners.  Big Data analytics will play a role in providing guidance to users, but there’s uncharted territory as to how collected detailed biometric data from wearables will interface with a device company’s cloud, the consumer, health care, and even insurance.  Hopefully, wearable manufacturers will proactively build APIs and SDKs for easy third-party interfacing, but I haven’t seen anything like that so far.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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