Quantified Self Expo, Part II

Here’s my second installment from the Quantified Self Expo in San Francisco over the weekend.   It’s too bad I have other work to do because I could write about this all day.

1. Vinod Khosla – The famous Silicon Valley investor spoke about the rise of algorithms as a contributor to our health care and their ability to help doctors and other caregivers deal with the massive quantity of data becoming available.  Psychiatry was a field he picked on as having a horrible model of using very small data sets (self-reported by the patient, no less) to make important decisions.  This is changing fast.  He commented that the FDA has been fairly progressive in trying to move faster on some of the new technologies, citing the example of AliveCor, which got approval within 6 months for its mobile ECG app.  He also referred to a meta-study of medical publications which found that fully half of them contain erroneous results – something that big data and artificial intelligence ought to help fix.  Bryce Roberts, in his Q&A with Tim Chang, seemed to lean more toward my own view of wearables + analytics + big data, saying that there would be a subversive (I love that word…) aspect to how it affects health care and the medical establishment.


2. In my first installment I mentioned Tim Chang of Mayfield Ventures.  He made several other good points about the development process, the most important of which was that you need a really strong VP of Systems engineering to ride herd over the hardware, firmware, and web service guys who want to point the finger at each other.  One idea he discussed was that of giving away the device and selling the data services around it.  I absolutely believe this is the future for a whole host of reasons.  As Bryce Roberts pointed out, it is very hard for hardware companies to give up the device revenue and make this jump.  I believe there is an opportunity for a middle-man to step in and offer up the data services and coaching around the idea of free devices with a monthly coaching commitment.


4. DataSense – There has been much talk about the need to aggregate and make sense of data, and Intel’s Research Lab cooked up a web service to do just that.  There is nothing particularly health focused about it, it’s really a very generic tool for pulling data together and displaying it in creative ways, but they happen to have chosen a few health trackers to start with.  I’m playing with a beta version now.   My favorite feature was the super intuitive slider for adjusting the time-binning of data so that you could smooth out noisy looking graphs.  Any former acoustician/signal processing buff has to love that.


5. Inside Tracker – a more user friendly and advanced form of blood testing than you might have used in the past (say SpectraCell), with more accurate reference ranges for values (like hormone levels) based on your age and activity and specific guidance on foods that can help correct imbalances.   Interestingly, during a presentation on the product Gil Blander pointed out that they sometimes end up telling customers to stop taking supplements, because they are overdosing on specific nutrients.


6. uBiome – there’s been a lot of focus in the last few years on the microbiome (that collection of bacteria in your gut and other places on the body) and the importance of keeping it healthy.  We’re now getting the ability to measure and catalog these bacteria, although when I spoke to Alexandra Carmichael she admitted that the science on this is still very early on this, and the ability to tailor behavior and diet in a deterministic way with these data is limited.  uBiome will tell you how your biome looks compared to others with particular lifestyle or dietary habits (Vegans, Paleos, etc.), which I think this is pretty cool.  As Khosla pointed out during his talk, much of your serotonin comes from your gut, so what happens there is pretty important to mental health.


I have a few specific posts in the queue following up on some of these themes, it was a great expo and I am already looking forward to next year.

Quantified Self Expo, Part I

My notes from the Quantified Self expo in San Francisco will require two posts, so here’s Part I, with an emphasis on topics that might be of interest to trainers, fitness center managers, and coaches:

1. Tim Chang of Mayfield presented lessons learned from his experience as an early investor in Basis, since acquired by Intel.  I could write a whole post on the topics Tim mentioned but I’ll first share two things stood out at me.  One was his focus on (essentially) the very same behavioral feedback loop that I’ve written about before – taking data and aggregating it across devices and activity areas to drive insight, then modifying behavior.  The other was his view that even as we get more machine learning and more data, there will always be a need for a human somewhere in that loop to help the consumer.  I think this is where personal trainers and coaches can play a much bigger role in what is essentially the health care system, and they can make an impact at much lower cost than hospital networks and big pharma.
2. Spire – this is a small device that goes inside the waist of your pants and measures your breathing rate.  I’ve long been interested in breathing patterns and this device has a nice design that I can imagine wearing all day.  Although it is not quite ready for prime time when it comes to exercise and training, due mainly to the motions and jarring of movement, it could be very useful in every day settings where you want to maintain a peaceful, present mind, such as meetings, stressful conversations, sitting in traffic, etc.  The app has built in reminders and encouragement to help guide you towards better breathing.
3. Sleep trackers – Sleep tracking is all the rage, for good reasons.  A lot has been written about the wrist worn devices (Basis seems to be the leader in this category) but I much prefer not to wear a watch to bed.  Beddit and emfit both have sleep trackers that slide under the sheet and monitor your movement, HR, respiration rate and HRV through the night.  Beddit seems to be a slightly slicker design, it’s a bit smaller and it interfaces to the smartphone over Bluetooth.  The app has an alarm function that will wake you at the optimal time.  It’s easy to travel with as well, for all you road warriors out there.  emfit is very similar, but without a smartphone in the loop (and without the associated alarm functionality).  It connects directly to the cloud over WiFi in your home.  I can see benefits to each approach so it’s nice to see them both on the market.
4. Genetrainer – Ralph Pethica spoke about the work they’ve done in relating your DNA to your athletic propensities.  Of particular interest is the ability to know what type of training you might most respond to.  Anyone who has struggled to dial in their training program might find some answers in their DNA.  This is a very active field of study, as Ralph scrolled through the backlog list of specific genes that he is analyzing to see if they matter to some athletic parameters.  One of the coolest things about this expo was talking to the folks with their sleeves rolled up doing research – this is definitely not a CES like show where, for the most part, everything is fully baked and ready for the masses.
5.  Body x Labs – they are building a software platform to do full 3D body scanning via commercial devices.  I can see so many applications for this, from motion analysis (golf swing, running gait) to bodybuilding (muscle growth, fat loss) to selling clothing (the perfect fit, every time, or better yet, custom clothing).
Overall there are a lot of tools – both devices and services – that are rapidly expanding the opportunities for knowledgeable experts to build business models and new services around.  If you are serious about training people and want to stay relevant and increase your value over the long term, you owe it to yourself to think about how to take advantage of these capabilities.
In my next installment I’ll share thoughts on other devices and presentations that are less oriented toward trainers and more toward self-monitoring or more health-care related aspects of the show.


Churchill Club Wearables Forum – My notes

Last week I attended the Churchill Club‘s forum, Wearable Technology: The Next Frontier (yeah, I’m behind on blogging).  It was my first time to attend one of their events and my only disappointment was in not doing it sooner.  Good conversation, great forum participants, good food, all 20 minutes from the house.
Here are my notes on comments or discussions that I found interesting or noteworthy, in no particular order:
1. Monisha Perkash, CEO of Lumo, said that  we are at or very near the novelty to necessity inflection point for wearables.  I think for a lot of folks we are getting there.  Someone defined necessity by the “turnaround factor”, IOW would you turn around to go get a wearable if you forgot it.  I was at that point as an athlete some years ago with my HRM, and I have to wonder what percent of the population will ever be that hooked on wearables although I think it’s a great goal to have as a product designer.
 2.  Justin Butler of Misfit used an analogy that I use a lot , which is that we have a lot of noise to turn into signal in terms of getting useful info out of our devices.   Combined with one of his other comments (which I also tend to agree with) that much of the hardware is commoditizing or getting close to it, and I think the smart money is focused on analytics and data analysis, which gets you a step closer to the holy grail of behavior modification.    Lately I’m playing with the Lark app, which is headed in that direction with a very easy to use conversational angle on coaching, but it’s not super advanced.  Exist.io is next on my list.
3.  I think it was Mike Bell of Intel who said that the market will likely remain fractured just given  personal desires and, just as importantly, the image that people want to project with their things.  This sort of contradicts the commoditization story and I think that it will be category dependent, for example watches will remain fractured but other devices, say adhesive backed HR sensors, will become commodities.
4.  The topic of data access, ownership, and platform openness came up several times.  Perkash said that Lumo had recently done an integration with Validic.  It’s clear that the apps and platforms (like HumanAPI) looking to do this are either not getting the word out, or folks have tried them and found them wanting.
5.  I think it was Yves Behar who made the distinction between “basic” vs.  “smart” wearables by whether there was third party access to the data, and I think this is a useful distinction.  Another way to slice it would be to say that if the device is paired with an analytic capability that guides behavior, it qualifies as smart even if the data are in a walled garden.   I can imagine niche applications that would fall into this category, especially where the device vendor might be leading the way in data analysis.
6.  The moderator asked which industries are not thinking about wearables but should.  Responses were aging in place, disaster response , injury prevention, and aggregating data across populations.