Industry Market Trends

Wearable Computer Goes Beyond Calorie-Counting

Jun 05, 2003

The first multifunctional body monitor can keep tabs on your entire lifestyle, including calories burned, caloric intake, activity levels and sleep states. Discover its many applications:

A dieter's inspiration and a medical researcher's dream, this new silver-blue gizmo does more than count calories burned—it clues you in on your entire lifestyle by tracking a broad range of physiological data, including body motion, heat and sweat. Strapped to your bicep, the lightweight SenseWear Armband can tell when you're exercising or sleeping (even how deeply you're sleeping), and it can obtain data about daily activities like eating and reading. And while dieters will derive motivation from the fact that it chimes or vibrates when a calorie goal is met, medical researchers will be amazed at the unprecedented precision of this portable device.

And there are benefits behind the numbers. This body-conforming wearable computer assists healthcare professionals and patients in counteracting diseases, in which lifestyle is an important factor. Diabetes, obesity and heart disease are all responsive to healthy living, but managing these conditions entails obtaining precise information about an individual's daily activities and physiological profile. "And you can't manage what you can't measure," says Astro Teller, CEO of BodyMedia, the Pittsburgh, PA company that makes the Armband.

Over a dozen partners and testers have already lined up to use BodyMedia's wearable monitors. For example, Roche Diagnostics, a $5 billion manufacturer of medical testing equipment, which markets diabetes self-exams through CVS and Wal-Mart, recently signed a deal to develop the company's sensors as exercise monitors for patients on weight-loss and cardiac regimens. Also inking an agreement with BodyMedia are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who view the Armband as a novel way to track athletic conditioning. As these customers suggest, BodyMedia is targeting both clinical and commercial markets, including weight control, fitness, diabetes management and assisted living.

BodyMedia's devices have already been well-received in the academic community. In 2001, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center invested $2.5 million in its lightweight body monitors. Additionally, last fall, an MD at the university, John Jakicic, announced the Armband's impressive test results at a medical conference. Evaluating results against those of a "metabolic cart," a machine that calculates energy expenditure while patients breathe via a hose, Jakicic revealed that the Armband measures calorie burn with 92% accuracy for a user on a treadmill and with 96% accuracy for an individual going up steps.

And aside from offering superior precision, the small monitor (only 0.8 inches tall by 3.4 inches long and 2.1 inches wide) also bests other medical monitoring devices in terms of the sheer quantity of data it gathers. It actually features 6 different sensors—with two tracking temperature, one keeping tabs on heat flux, a two-axis accelerometer detecting motion, and galvanic skin response (GSR) sensors gauging current differentials across the skin so you get an idea of chemical changes within the body. Additionally, the wearable computer can receive information from standard heart rate monitors and can exchange data wirelessly with scales, blood pressure cuffs and other medical systems. In short, this device is far from a one-dimensional, one-sensor contraption. "We see the Armband as a hub for gathering all kinds of body information rather than as a way to measure one thing at a time," says Teller.

The SenseWear Armband not only collects more data, but it is also more advanced in processing that data than most medical monitoring devices. No mere receptacle for information, the multifunctional monitor features a 16-bit Motorola processor and software algorithms that allow it to convert the raw data it gathers from multiple sensors into detailed portraits of the wearer's lifestyle. "Sometimes it takes information from five or six sensors to make a judgment," says Teller. For example, from temperature and motion readings, the device can determine that you're asleep. Also from composite data, it knows when you're exercising. And for activities like eating, reading and TV watching that it can't automatically distinguish yet, the device features a manual time-stamp button that lets the wearer demarcate such events.

Multiple sensors and advanced embedded systems aside, the device is also comfortable and practical. In contrast to medical monitors that thrive only in a lab environment, the Armband is intended for use in the everyday world—nearly undetectable under clothing and easy to strap on or off. Encased in a shock and splash proof thermoplastic housing, the 3-ounce device has adjustable straps that allow it to fit snugly around the wearer's right upper arm. And it will keep running for up to four days before its 3.7 V battery has to be recharged. "Because it's wearable and unobtrusive, the Armband 'sees' people in the context of their natural daily activities rather than from the constrained viewpoint of the lab," says Teller.

And because of its adjustable straps and specially designed housing, it can maintain skin contact through widely varying arm sizes and muscular tones, says Chris Kasabach, BodyMedia's vice president of industrial and mechanical design. The device's underside is dimpled and curved precisely to accommodate arm sizes ranging from 6 to 28 inches in circumference and muscular consistencies ranging from flabby to firm. "The same housing fits a child or a weightlifter," says Kasabach.

So what's the next step for BodyMedia? Going online. For now, the SenseWear Armband sends your physiological data to a PC or laptop from up to 10 feet away, but soon, you may be able to view your daily physiological record online in your own personal health portal. BodyMedia's customer Roche hopes to make its products more Web-friendly and is seeking BodyMedia's help in developing online functionality. In fact, for CEO Teller, creating an online presence represents his original vision for his company's multifunctional monitors—as the key component of an interactive website tracking an individual's daily life.

Sources: Armed for Success
Bob Parks
Business 2.0, April 2003,1640,47791,00.html

Latest BodyMedia Patent Stakes Broad Claim in U.S. Healthcare Space; Location and Comfort of Wearable Body Monitors is Key to New IP
BodyMedia Press Release, Mar. 26, 2003

Sensor Wear
Joseph Ogando
Design News, Aug. 5, 2002