wearables

Body Analytics: Can it track pushups?

My wife and I are trying to get into shape.  She's much closer to in shape than I am.  In light of that, we've taken to doing various things.  We started the year with a round of P90X 3, which we completed.  She moved on to something called 21 Day Fit, while I started running since the weather has gotten nicer.

At heart, I'm a measurement geek.  I work for a mobile analytics company and I tell people day in and day out how to measure what users do in their apps.  I'm also a technology geek.  I work at a mobile analytics company, so I get to keep up with all of the latest and greatest technology that adorns our bodies.  So, it was with some delight that I sat at Flurry's Source 14 conference in San Francisco and listened in on the wearables round table.  As I looked down at my Pebble, I realized with joy "OMG! Analytics for my body!"

I barely repressed the urge to jump exultant from my chair shouting and whooping.  I hear this is not kosher at tech conferences...

You can see the whole talk here.

I dove into the Pebble app store to find something that would act as body analytics.  LetsMuv quickly swept to the top.  I installed it and immediately marveled at how sedentary my life really was.

My first steps into a new obsession had been taken.

Fast forward to Mother's Day.  Since my wife is trying to get in shape (did I mention she's really pretty much there?) I thought, what a better thing than to give her body analytics.  I knew she wouldn't wear a Pebble, but a FitBit...  This had promise.  (I even convinced two buddies that they should get their wives FitBits...)

With many cards from the kids and myself, we presented her gift with a flourish (including the new phone to go along with the FitBit, since FitBits don't work with iPhone 4).  She was genuinely touched, but I could tell there was some hesitancy.

After the kids had filtered out, we started to talk about what the FitBit could do.  I regaled her with tales of the beauty of measuring ones calories during the day.  Of integration with the great mythical calorie counting apps in the great wide interwebz.  Of the Nirvana of the perfect, calorically balanced life.

She dismantled me with a single question:  "Can it track my pushups?"

I tell you friends, it was near a mortal blow!  This house of cards I had constructed around my world of body analytics nearly crushed me as it came crashing down.

My defeated answer: "No."

See, she's not a runner.  She does workouts via video, which involve pushups, weights, jumping around and doing yoga moves.  The FitBit, which ostensibly relies on impact and acceleration to track movement, will only track the jumps and likely badly at that.  This means that she would get done with her workout and have no idea how many calories she had burned.

But my wife, she is wise my friends.  "I'd much rather have a heart rate monitor."  By tracking exertion, not movement, it's easier to predict calorie burn.

To Google/Amazon I went!  I found virtually nothing.  Sure, there were plenty of heart rate monitors, but very few that connected to a phone via bluetooth, and most of those had poor reviews due to connectivity.  

However, a more important thing happened:  I began considering what would be required to really do body analytics.  After a brief conversation with a doctor friend of mine, I came to the following thoughts:

A good body analytics device (or set of devices) should track movement, exertion, and aerobic level.  With these three categories, one could reasonably track what kind of effort is going into a workout or life.

Pedometers, and specifically body mounted accelerometers, serve the purpose of tracking movement well, though not perfectly.  As the device in question goes through a series of starts and stops it tracks activity.  This works particularly well for things like walking and running.

Heart rate monitors work well for tracking exertion.  Through years of medical usage and fine-tuning it's very easy to say that they work well.  They typically need to be skin mounted.  They track how hard your heart is beating, how many beats per minute.  Exertion is the name of the game here.

Now, aerobic vs. anaerobic is interesting.  Turns out that your body burns fuel differently depending on whether or not you're exerting yourself aerobically or anaerobically.  Google the Krebs cycle if you want details.  

So, calories burned are vastly different if you're aerobic vs. anaerobic.  You burn many more calories aerobically by accessing stored energy, which is fat.  You can track this with a pulse ox.  If you're not familiar, that's the fidgety thing that shines a light through your finger in the hospital.  It measures oxygen in your blood based on the light that gets through.

Based on my completely non-scientific suppositions, I would hazard to guess that a device that can do all of this would be a wildly accurate (or, at least, much more accurate) body analytics device.

It might even track your pushups!

So far as I can tell, there are none on the market at the moment, but I know of one specifically that will be making its debut in August, and I've heard rumors from the interwebz of another.

The one that is making its debut in August is the Amiigo, which comes to me via my good friend @j_nelsn.  You can preorder one now for the price of $179, though I don't know what it will be when it launches.

The other, and the one that is talked about far and wide, is the Apple iWatch, iWearable, or whatever it's going to be called.  But, as with all things Apple, who can really tell with this one?  It might be just a watch that does notifications.  Or it might be a competitive health tracking device.

So keep your eyes open, my friends!  There will one day be a great vast Nirvana of body analytics devices, ones that are better than the ones that exist today.  And with them, we will all know just how much we sit.

Wearables: What the Future Holds

Allow me to dream.  About the future, about our never-ending quest, as a human species, for health, and where we stand in that quest.

You step out in the morning for your daily run.  Perhaps it's spring in the Southeast, the mornings are cool, the pollen is thick in the air.  A bay is miles off, but its influence on your weather is unmistakable: temperate winters with evenly hot summers.

As always happens, your central unit is cataloging your every move.  Your shoes provide data, your light pants provide data, your shirt provides data, your watch provides data.  As you begin your 6 mile trek, your central unit processes not only your movement in terms of kinetics, but also in terms of absolute position upon the earth.  Your every stride is cataloged in terms of energy spent.

Your new eye contacts display the distance run, the time it's taken, your average pace.  You notice that you're a few seconds off your best, so you start pushing it.  Pretty quickly, your drenched in sweat, but your personal HUD tells you that you're on pace for a new personal record.  It's going to be a great day.

You dial up that latest music you've been listening to, or perhaps your favorite podcast (though, really, none of the kids now-a-days call them podcasts.  What an anachronistic term!).  All of this with a few quick flicks of your eyes in concert with your teeth and jaws.

And quickly, over the next hour, you bang out a personal best.  It feels good to be greeted to the sights and sounds of victory as you end your run.  It's pretty amazing to reflect on where technology has come from.

You leave your run and head in for breakfast.  As you eat, the implants in your teeth catalog your caloric intake, updating your daily nutritional log.  You check it quickly to see how you're doing at maintaining your weight, and you see you're doing well.  So long as you keep up the daily activity, you should be fine.

Once again, as you move through the house getting ready for work, the various sensors take stock of your movement, and what it means in terms of your daily health.  Even the small things are cataloged, not a movement is wasted.  You know, within 10 kilocalories, how much energy you've expended.

After you eat, the nano-network you have floating in your bloodstream goes to work checking that things are working well.  While each individual nanocite is pretty dumb, as a network, they can measure an almost perfect picture of your blood health.  They can catalog your insulin levels, your blood sugar levels, the number of lipids in your blood stream, so many things.

A few weeks ago, you were warned about a possible cold you had contracted.  Your doctor's office, the same place that all of your data is daily uploaded to on a regular basis, contacted you with a prescription for heading it off at the pass.  Luckily, you didn't have to suffer through it.

Of course, nano-networks need updating as new bugs are found and old bugs are retired, so you have to visit your doc every quarter or so for a new rendition.  Luckily, the rendition is taken via pill format, so not too bad.  They've been getting pretty good in the past few years, but there is still a long way to go.

As you head off to work, you reflect on what you know about yourself from technology at the age of 90.  Your able to monitor and assess your daily health with the input of the vast array of sensors that now adorn your body.  Your every caloric intake and energy expenditure is kept in balance.  You have an early warning system within your blood that can detect an incredible array of sicknesses.

You are the healthiest you've ever been.