CEWeek NYC, Metropolitan Pavilion/Altman Building (@CEWeekNY)
Over in FashionWare-ville….
The Healbe GoBe 100% Automatic Body Manager turned out to be a big draw at this pavilion, for reasons that to the casual visitor were not apparent. Its claim: it automatically estimates both calorie intake and calories burned through measurements taken by an impedance sensor to measure tissue resistance, based on blood glucose being converted to liquid in tissues and the amount of liquid released. Having been through the now-vanished-into-thin Airo affair (with its fictional mini-spectrometer for detecting nutritional blood metabolites from food consumption, TTA 23 Nov 13), I was skeptical of Healbe’s claims and told co-founder and managing director George Mikaberydze (left) just that. He patiently explained how it works to me and seemed to be sincerely understanding of my skepticism. He briefly demoed the display on his smartphone, which was hard to track as it indicated negative caloric burn and was partly in Cyrillic, but these numbers were relative to…?
It turned out that I was not the first to question, and he was well prepared.
Healbe turns out to be quite controversial. The company raised over $1 million on Indiegogo this March/April, prominently featured in its well-produced GoBe materials and in its PR communications. It’s promising delivery in September. On researching this, I found that the funding campaign sparked a major–and rare–Indiegogo rebellion, represented in over 1,000 comments and then increasing demands for refunds, apparently not initially well handled by Healbe or Indiegogo. The rebellious funders’ pitchforks were further sharpened by crowdfunding-beat reporter James Robinson’s 14 (!) exposé-type articles in Pando Daily with many quotes from doctors, endocrinologists, dieticians, engineers and scientists that the technology as described was, in a word, impossible. Backing studies simply didn’t exist. The research was based on a few Russian studies. The prototypes were in poor shape. Mr Robinson also took Healbe to task as presenting itself as a US company when actually based in Moscow, Russia. Jon Phillips in TechHive’s Wearablog back in March and April also laid out the case on the lack of feasibility of Healbe’s (and Airo’s) science, in a slightly less opinionated and more measured fashion.
Countering this is an earnest 1 May article in Digital Trends. Christian Brazil Bautista walked through communication barriers to a demo (albeit limited and not a take-home) on how their impedance monitoring measures glucose through fluid in cells and that the ‘Flow Technology’ actually is an algorithm that indirectly calculates calories from carbohydrates and fat, as well as learning over time. This seemed to satisfy him, albeit with reservations.
We at TTA have previously covered the skepticism around whether simple blood glucose could be measured through tears (the Google contact lens still in clinical studies) or sweat (NovioSense). Measuring BG non-invasively is a Holy Grail. There’s millions of dollars (euros, pounds) going into research in that area. If Healbe can take the Russian research and commercialize a reliable measurement, even directionally, it might be a breakthrough. Translating that into calories, however, seems like A Bridge Too Far beyond what a simple wristband can do. I will end with my comment to Robin Raskin of Lifetime Tech and Living in Digital Times, the organizer of FashionWare and one of the event producers: “If GoBe does what it says it does, they have something really big on their hands. If not….”
More wearables, the Bands Battle
The Hexoskin tank top from Canada (Carré Technologies Inc.) measures heart rate, recovery, breathing rate, activity, calories (again), breath volume and more, reported on a smartphone app and online. It’s targeted to apparently elite athletes. $399 for the starter kit…..FashionTEQ’s Zazzi didn’t deserve to be in a corner as it’s quite the jazzy way to connect with your smartphone via stylish jewelry (cuffs, pendants) that alert to messages and calls, but not yet for sale….Skulpt analyzes body fat percentage and ‘muscle quotient’ through direct application of the device to multiple parts of the body and recording on an app. Pre-order now for the Muscle Beach crowd for fall delivery at $149…. GoQii Life somehow measures karma via more earthly measures of sleep, activity and food consumption. They lost me at karma….Actual clothing such as Dragon Queen, Vintage Green and The Biometric Bride undoubtedly showed on the FashionWare runway at 5:30pm but this Editor had another engagement.
The Battle of the Bands presentation proved to be a snappy midday hour presented by Living In Digital Times showcasing in four minutes each Wellograph (a stylish fitness watch with a sapphire crystal), GoQuii Life, Skulpt and Healbe GoBe–the winner by audience acclamation. Video here. Jane Sarasohn-Kahn takes a more detailed look in HealthPopuli. It was exactly enough for most of this press/buyer audience, and gave those wanting more a reason to visit FashionWare.
Robots as the future of computingMoving back to the day’s keynote presentation, Intel Labs‘ principal engineer Brian David Johnson brought a friend, ‘Jimmy the Humanoid Robot’ to demonstrate the new direction in robotics: a robot that interacts with you and is social. (See Mr Johnson’s manifesto and sci-fi here). Jimmy is the first iteration of the open-source 21st Century Robot was created in two weeks via primarily 3D printing by Trossen Robotics for $16,000. The second (non-operative as of now) Jimmy will be based on Intel’s Edison processor and retail for $1,600. Intel is also working with the USC (University of Southern California) Robotics Lab specifically on a 65+ project to assist aging in place, rehabilitation and autism. Video.
Telehealth going to the dogsWoof! Voyce, developed by i4C Innovations in Virginia and premiered six months ago at International CES, has taken the dog collar and GPS locator one very large step further into a complete telehealth platform for Fido. The six-ounce rechargable (weekly) collar measures and records activity, rest, distance, heart and respiratory rate and calories burned. This information can be sent to the veterinarian though it is not clear on how the files are downloaded or information shared. Customized information and reminders are sent to you based on your dog’s behavior, age, breed, care and level of owner experience. All for the not inconsiderable price of $299 for the collar and $12-15/monthly for monitoring, which may be an overreach except that spending on pets increases every year. Release is now being targeted for later this year. President Jeff Noce was previously CEO of telecare/telehealth company WellAWARE but departed well before the Healthsense acquisition. Based on the press action at the booth (having two dogs there helped), they are off to a strong start, but is the business model sustainable beyond worried, affluent ‘pet parents’ with a dog which they realize needs this monitoring? And is the technology expandable to cats and horses, as Mr Noce states? Video.
Additional CEWeek videos are available for free here and being posted shortly after they happen. Of interest will be panels (Thursday) on augmented reality in wearables, the impact of the CE revolution on healthcare and digital health.