Towards a better sleep tracker

Towards a better sleep tracker

Sometimes, a person’s biggest worry can simply be whether or not they’re getting a good night’s sleep. So it makes sense that sleep trackers have become such a popular and well-received technology.

The basic premise of a sleep tracker is straightforward. The device typically offers users two main pieces of information: how long they’ve slept and what the quality of their sleep was. These conclusions are reached by collecting various kinds of physical data during sleep, and through this information users can adjust their sleep schedules or sleep habits accordingly, leading to a healthier sleeping experience.

But tracking sleep is notoriously difficult; after all, most trackers are worn around your wrists or midsection, and not the brain–which is where all sleep activity occurs.

When it comes to tracking sleep, scientific sleep studies are considered the most accurate method. Participants in these studies are attached to wires that monitor brain waves, rapid eye movements, oxygen levels, breathing patterns, heart rate and more. One study can produce over 1,000 pages of data, and it’s no surprise that the direct analysis of brain activity by professionals is the definitive way to monitor sleep. But it is expensive and a hassle, while wearable or bedside sleep devices offer a convenient and affordable way to track sleep.

Since sleep trackers cannot monitor brain waves, improvements are focused on other data that is possible for the devices to record. The best sleep trackers are able to record much of the same data that sleep studies do, primarily tracking heart rate and breathing patterns to determine sleep behavior, and some sleep trackers can also provide environmental data including light levels, sound and temperature. Even further, trackers can prompt users to answer lifestyle questions that might affect sleep such as diet, stress, alcohol consumption and so on. Evidently, there are a multitude of ways that trackers can record sleep data, but the question then remains: If sleep studies are the most accurate form of sleep measurement, how close do sleep trackers come through their compensating methods?

The reality is that until sleep trackers are able to monitor brain waves, they will remain, as experts say, more of a guesstimate than an accurate measurement of sleep. However, this doesn’t mean that sleep trackers are useless. Sleep trackers still provide plenty of insight based on the other data it collects.

The main reason for performing a sleep study is usually to diagnosis sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. If a person is worried that they might have a serious sleep disorder, this is likely the best route to go. But for the rest who are just looking for ways to improve their sleep, the information and guidance offered by sleep trackers is more than enough to do so. In addition, the act of tracking increases mindfulness, which encourages people to make better sleep choices.

As technology evolves, it becomes able to perform more complex tasks with less effort. It’s not far-fetched to say that with time, sleep trackers could realistically become as accurate as sleep studies, giving consumers full control over their sleep.

How accurate are fitness trackers?

How accurate are fitness trackers?

Fitness trackers are everywhere. From Fitbits to Mi Bands to Apple Watches, tech companies are jumping onto the bandwagon, for better or worse. The results (and consequences) have been wide-ranging: on the one hand, fitness trackers do seem to spur people to exercise more. On the other hand, fitness trackers have also revealed the locations of classified bases when military personnel unknowingly shared the details of their workouts with other users.

But do fitness trackers really work in the first place? Aside from their role as an incentive for exercise, can fitness trackers live up to the claims of their manufacturers?

The answers are mixed. While fitness trackers can measure certain indicators very accurately, they don’t always do so well with others. For instance, a Stanford study found that although fitness trackers could measure heart rate very well (the error rate was less than five percent), this was not the case for other factors, such as calorie burn. Researchers found that when it came to energy expenditure, the least accurate device was off by an average of 93 percent. Even the best device had an error rate of around 27 percent.

Granted, the Stanford study was not the end-all of fitness trackers, as the sample size was fairly small (60 volunteers used the seven most popular trackers). The research team also found that even small factors, like skin and BMI, affected accuracy, raising a troubling question: are manufacturers making claims that don’t measure up?

The answer might be less straightforward than you may think. An earlier study conducted by Japan’s National Institute of Health and Nutrition had 19 subjects testing 12 trackers–at the same time. Over the course of 24 hours, scientists found that while participants burned an average of 2,093 calories, fitness trackers deviated from the norm significantly, by as much as +/- 200 kilocalories. When volunteers tested the devices over a period of 15 days, researchers still found that the trackers reported consistently lower outputs (up to 800 kilocalories) than the actual calorie burn as measured by the team.

Even so, the Japanese group concluded that for the average person, fitness trackers were quite useful. Unlike in a research setting, where accuracy is paramount, the average user simply needs relative results: so long as someone knows whether they’re burning more or less calories than yesterday or last week, it’s not a huge issue. Besides, a good fitness tracker could be what they need to help themselves build consistent, lasting habits.

Sleep, on the other hand, is a whole different story. Though trackers can distinguish when someone is sleeping or awake thanks to their accelerometers, they don’t really have any good way of determining whether you are in deep REM sleep or simply dozing lightly.

In a 2011 study, researchers compared Fitbit data to a polysomnography test, the gold standard of evaluating sleep quality. While Fitbits tended to overestimate the sleep time of adults by 43 minutes, they often underestimated the sleep time of children by 109 minutes. More importantly, as one scientist pointed out, fitness trackers have no way to distinguish between the stages of sleep, given that such activity occurs solely in the brain. Such brain waves are measured by electroencephalography (EEG) machines–not heart-rate monitors.

As in fitness, trackers can help people pay attention to the quality and amount of their sleep; at the same time, given that some sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, are life-threatening, false claims on a sleep tracker could have some serious ramifications. For instance, a patient could forego seeing a sleep specialist simply based on positive (and inaccurate) data from a tracker, allowing their condition to worsen over time.

In the end, fitness trackers are something of a mixed bag. While they can track the more obvious indicators of health (such as heart rate) very clearly, they are less adept at measuring more subtle (but equally important) factors, primarily sleep quality and calorie burn. It’s certainly possible that manufacturers will be able to refine their devices as time goes on, but as it stands right now, it’s best to take the claims of fitness trackers with a grain of salt.

5 Machine Learning Startups Revolutionizing Healthcare

5 Machine Learning Startups Revolutionizing Healthcare

The quest to crack the machine learning code has been a dream of scientists since the invention of the computer. In 1950 the Turing Test captivated the public’s imagination with a question that likely seemed more based in science fiction than reality: could a computer ever match human intelligence?

We’ve come a long way since the technology of the 1950s, but the goal for machine learning is essentially the same. And we are living into the age when machine learning is bringing the kind of solutions to life that have previously been relegated to sci-fi.

Computers that can learn and adapt autonomously have fast become the new gold standard. And the startups leading the way into our AI future are answering questions even more interesting than whether androids dream of electric sheep. One of the most exciting industries ripe for an AI makeover is healthcare. Machine learning has the power to revolutionize how we detect and treat illness, and also how we approach patient care. Here are 5 machine learning startups in the healthcare sector to keep on your radar:

1. ID Avatars

ID Avatars recently raised $1M in funding to create emotional intelligence aimed at improving patient care for people with chronic diseases. By using avatars to interact with patients directly, this startup hopes to lead the charge in creating technology capable of providing empathy. This would have a huge ripple effect across the healthcare industry and would be as useful to hospitals and pharmaceutical companies as to patients.

2. Arterys

The mission of Arterys is to make clinical care data driven with a machine-learning based imaging platform. They have developed the first 4D Flow Technology to measure blood flow more accurately and in a non-invasive way than current methods. The blood flow work can be done with any MRI. The tech is integrated with a SaaS platform for doctors to better interpret data on the go, and the potential applications for non-invasive blood analytics span across all kinds of medical needs.

3. Babylon

London-based startup Babylon has raised more than $30M, and it’s easy to see why because their idea is so simple but brilliant: remote app-based medical care. In other words, Babylon is your virtual doctor, nurse and pharmacy in one. Imagine how much more streamlined emergency and on-demand care could be through app-based consultations. It’s already the highest rated service in UK healthcare and aims to expand to areas where healthcare is even more essential, like rural Africa, where doctors are scarce but cell phones are becoming commonplace.

4. Nuritas

Utilizing machine learning to create custom diet plans, Nuritas will be a game-changer in preventative health and overall wellness. Based on AI plus DNA analysis, Nuritas is designed to identify the healthiest ingredients specific to your dietary needs. The future will be full of bioactive peptides.

5. Ginger.io

Developed by MIT scientists, Ginger.io uses predictive models to create a mental healthcare platform. This is a useful alternative model to traditional mental health care, which can be prohibitively expensive and frankly not that convenient for the modern world. App users can arrange a video call with a therapist, text with a health coach, learn coping strategies, and analyze their mood over time with the help of embedded sensors. This is mental health care for the 21st century.

Wearable Tech in the NBA: Too Soon to Hit the Court

Wearable Tech in the NBA: Too Soon to Hit the Court

2017 Agreement Between Players and NBA Says Practice Games Only

From Fitbit Trackers for the average consumer to the Zephyr Bioharness, which is allowed by Major League Baseball for players during actual games, wearable sports technology is hitting fields, tracks and gyms right and left. But not the basketball courts of the NBA, according to a recent decision between the organization and the Players Association.

The collective bargaining agreement released earlier this year states explicitly (and more than 250 pages into the document) that, “No Team may request a player to use any Wearable unless such device is one of the devices currently in use as set forth in Section 13(f)below or the device and the Team’s cybersecurity standards have been approved by the Committee.”

Section F makes it clear that players will only wear the device on a voluntary basis. The agreement further states that devices can be worn during practice— but not games.

Wearable devices for professional athletes measure everything from movement information (such as distance, velocity, acceleration, deceleration, jumps, and changes of direction), to biometric information (heart rate, heart rate variability, skin temperature, blood oxygen, hydration). Depending on the device, other health, fitness and performance information is gathered.

The technology is not, by today’s standard, new. The Adidas miCoach Elite Team System (one of approved devices for practice) hit the market in 2013. It’s touted, by Adidas, as the first of its kind “that uses physiological data in real time sending it straight to a coach’s tablet on the sideline. The system not only provides real-time insights during training, but tracks total training impact, collects and manages data and is highly portable.”

The goal of the system was to “offer insights into player performance and work rate, helping teams achieve and maintain peak physical performance.”

Apparently unconvinced about the need for wearable devices—but well aware that there’s no turning back from the wearable tech trend—the 2017 agreement sets up a committee to continue to explore the issue.

Wearable Tech Trousers for Trainees, Tradesmen and More

Wearable Tech Trousers for Trainees, Tradesmen and More

Wearable technology is far from limited to watches and glasses. Though smart clothing is admittedly taking longer to catch on, the possibilities are really endless when apparel is ascribed that “smart” quality that makes IoT products unique.

What if, for example, your pants were embedded with sensors that could tell you about your body, movements, and need throughout the day? Smart trousers are far from just a pipe dream. With various different visions in mind, several technology/apparel companies are developing pants that do more than just fit.

Sweetflexx, for example, sells leggings with “resistance band technology” to help wearers burn up to 255 extra calories a day, when worn. Their unique fabric technology is designed with comfort in mind, with crushed jade stone infused to lower body temperature by 10 degrees, and harness everyday movement to challenge muscles and tone your body.

Another type of smart athletic pants, developed by Athos, measures your muscular effort and maps it on a smartphone app. The app can tell you whether or not you are reaching your maximum muscle potential, if you are favoring one side of your body of another, or if some muscles are working harder than others.

There are also “smart tights” available for yoga enthusiasts. Sydney-based Nadi X comes with an app, and areas of the tights vibrate where posture and form need to be adjusted.

But as we’re discovering more and more, wearables have application outside of just sports. As one example, wearable tech trousers for tradesmen have been designed to keep workers safe. Developed by Snickers — the workwear company, not the candy — the pants house a device that collects data to alert wearers about knee protection and loud noise levels. The idea is to improve the health and safety of the employees wearing them, who may not realize when their health or safety is threatened. The data collection element of these wearables can help employers make adjustments that ensure safer, healthier conditions for workers.

Does wearing smart pants, necessarily, make you a smarty-pants? Maybe! The whole point of wearable technology is to add value and function, and it follows that the more value an item of clothing has, the smarter an investment it is. Though the examples listed probably aren’t for everybody, they do a great job of demonstrating that wearable technology has potential beyond wristwear.

How Sports Teams Capitalize on Success To Up Their Tech Game

How Sports Teams Capitalize on Success To Up Their Tech Game

“There’s no better time to strike than when you’re winning.” That’s according to Cedric Brown, Interactive Marketing Content Manager for the Miami Heat. On a recent panel called “The Evolution of Sports Fan Experience, Powered By Technology, hosted by Social Media Week Miami, Brown and other Miami tech marketing specialists came together to talk about how Miami teams are modernizing the fan experience–and why a winning team can make all the difference.

Sports teams across the country are undergoing a shift from paper to mobile for tickets. In 2016, this is mostly a welcome change: as Brown points out, “people just don’t use paper anymore.” Four or five years ago, the Miami Heat introduced mobile ticketing at a time it might have not been so popular, if it weren’t for one fact: The Heat were NBA champions from 2011 through 2014. “We noticed that fans hate change,” Brown said. “It’s a lot easier to push a mobile app….when they come to see a great product on the floor.”

Ticketing is just one of many changes disrupting the sports fan experience, but it’s an important one. More people are getting tickets on their phones now than ever, with mobile ticketing expected to account for one in two tickets by 2019. The New York Yankees recently switched over to mobile ticketing entirely, and many teams have apps that makes purchasing easier.

Why make this shift to mobile? There are great benefits on both ends: for fans, there is an element of convenience, fun, and cool rewards; for teams and brands, it is an opportunity to energize fans, bring in additional revenue, and reach sometimes aloof millennial audiences.

Technology can get fans excited, sure, but what excites fans most of all? A winning team. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be excited about poor performance. There’s a cycle: winning teams energize fans, who enable marketers and developers to implement new user-servicing technology, which energizes fans even more, who in turn (hopefully) energize the team to continue winning. Wherever this cycle begins, the idea is simple: fans should have an awesome experience. And losing teams? Fans won’t come out for them, the team won’t profit, less technology will be implemented…. You get the idea.

The relationship between winning, fan experience and technology, of course, begs the question: where does money fit into the equation? The teams with the most wins have the highest payrolls, and are therefore more likely to attract talented CEOs, coaches, and athletes. According to Forbes, “the highly sought-after player is motivated by a combination of the following influences: big money, big money markets where a player can earn bigger-time endorsements, big lifestyles, and the opportunity to play for the biggest time-honored franchises in the history of the sport.”

In a ranking of 2016’s most tech-savvy sports teams, then, it’s no coincidence that the New York Yankees come out on top followed by the Dallas Cowboys.

Where do 2016’s champions stand? The Denver Broncos, who won the most recent Super Bowl, were ranked #14—the second most innovative NFL team. The Broncos having been betting on technology both before and after winning the last two Super Bowls. They have used augmented reality to partner with brands, implementing a “Twitter vending machine” to reward fans, and most recently to host a STEM hackathon.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who won the NBA champion and are ranked at #10, have adopted 3D mapping technology, virtual reality behind-the-scenes campaigns, and will provide play-by-play “augmented audio” to fans soon.

Then you have the Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series for the first time in over a century. Some have suggested it was their use of big data in analyze pitching performance that helped them finally seal the deal. We’ll have to see if the momentum from the win motivates them to lean into tech trends even more.

All things considered, the Miami Heat remains a great example of how winning empowers teams to take technology to the next level. Their multi-year success brought their fans from a local level to a global level, and ever since the team has been leveraging technology to reach fans across the world. They have redesigned their mobile app and are moving swiftly toward all-digital ticketing. Other winning teams should follow suit.

It’s true that a majority of fans are destined for disappointment regardless of how innovative the fan experience is made to be. But making the journey engaging is worth the while. As long as teams can keep fans on board through the highs and lows that inevitably come, they should be able to make gains in technology too. Just like Brown said—strike when you’re winning, and hope that when you strike out, the fans will stay.

Smart Athletes Invest in Technology

Smart Athletes Invest in Technology

Professional athletes make great money—but only for a few years—and far too often their financial gains are lost shortly after they stop playing.

While it varies athlete to athlete, on average an NFL player’s career will last just under four years and Major League Baseball players get a whopping 5.6 years, according to The Bleacher Report.

During that time, these pros can make (again, on average) anywhere from $1.5 million to $4.8 million.

That money has to last them a lifetime. Savvy players (and their agents and managers) know this, which means they know that they have to invest. Interestingly, more and more athletes are funneling their funding towards tech start-ups, whether as straight-up investments or as full-on partnerships.

A recent article in Entrepreneur discusses the start-ups, everything from coaching to photography apps, that NBA stars Steph Curry and Kevin Seraphin are backing.

The National Football League Players Association is so supportive of sports-meeting-start-ups that last year the organization facilitated a “tech tour.”  Players toured companies in Silicon Valley, talking with game designers at EA, learning the ins and outs of businesses such as Uber, really seeing inside the innovations.

Why technology? There are several possible reasons. As the Entrepreneur article points out, these are athletes who’ve grown up with technology.  

There’s also the potential for high returns—which could appeal to the competitive nature of professional athletes.  Apple is still one best-performing stocks ever.

Regarding the start-ups, there’s evidence that playing a competitive sport makes you less-likely to be alarmed by high-risk investments.  

Besides, while 90 percent of start-ups fail that’s still better odds than going pro. The NCAA reports that less than two percent of college basketball and football players make it to the pros. The odds are better for baseball, at just over nine percent.

Whether it’s the appeal of a competitive marketplace, the thrill of the risk, or simply wanting to invest in their own financial future, putting money into technology does seem to be trending among athletes.

Which is great, given the long history of pros going broke after successful athletic careers.

While technology and start-ups might seem like a risk for people new to the investment game, investment pros and pro athletes know, the only shots you’re guaranteed to miss are those you don’t take.

Wearable Tech for Animals Provides Incredible Insight

Wearable Tech for Animals Provides Incredible Insight

“If only they could talk.” How many times has an animal lover, or a farmer, lamented over this lack of communication?

What if there were technology available that didn’t quite let animals talk, but it did allow for information—lots of it—to be shared? Today’s wearable and ingestible technology for animals is doing just that, in ways large and small.

On the home front, one study showed that microchipping a pet meant that it was more than twice as likely for that pet to be reunited with its owner, if found and turned over to a shelter.

But microchips, which are simple, implanted, identification devices, are the tip of the animal tech iceberg.

GPS tracking is doing wonders for preservation and conservation efforts. Since 2013, scientists have been using GPS, combined with satellite weather and terrain information (the Environmental-Data Automated Track Annotation, or Env-DATA, system) to track the migratory patterns of the Galapagos Albatross, a threatened species.

Scientists from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, put tiny GPS trackers on thousands of bees in Tasmania. The goal is to gather data about their habits (where and how far they travel) and to monitor disruptions that could indicate a problem with the swarm.

According to their website, “If we can model their movements, we’ll be able to recognize very quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause.

This will allow farmers and fruit growers to increase the benefit received from this free pollination service, and will also allow us to monitor for any biosecurity risks such as Varroa mite.”

Health is key not just in migratory or at-risk animal populations, but also in farm animals where illness can spread rapidly and cause huge losses quickly.

iNOVOTEC Animal Care has created a stomach sensor (as in, it’s in the cow’s stomach) that enables farmers to catch illnesses earlier, making for healthier lives for the livestock, and saving money.

The system is able to track pH, temperature, estrus—essentially most of the information needed to proactively deal with any health problem or concern.  

RFIDs (Radio-Frequency Identification), the small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna, are being used to huge advantage in India’s dairy industry.

From the home front of pet identification, to the migratory world of the birds and the bees, to the huge industry of dairy farming, it’s clear that the better the technology and data, the better the problem-solving.

E-Skin By Xenoma Could Change the Game for Athletes

E-Skin By Xenoma Could Change the Game for Athletes

Among the most intriguing innovations in wearable technology is high-tech clothing. Will we all be decked out in smart clothes from head-to-toe in the future? Will our shirts and sneakers be collecting data and making suggestions? Some people think so, and it could be athletes that are the first to roll up their sensored sleeves and getting down to business.

Companies are already designing high-tech clothing for athletes. For example, take “e-skin” by the wearable tech company Xenoma. This smart shirt tracks gestures and makes suggestions on form to athletes.

How does it work? E-skin is made with Printed Circuit Fabric, which has stretchable sensors and wires embedded into the textile during manufacturing. A centralized “hub” sits in the middle of the shirt, able to transmit data to a smartphone, tablet, or other devices.

Xenoma offers an e-skin software development kit so that developers can create apps that take advantage of e-skin’s innovative capabilities. The kit starts at $5000.

One use of e-skin that you can witness on video? E-skin for golfers. The shirt succeeds in analyzing the wearer’s swing, form and stance. Then it provides feedback to help the athlete improve. It could do much the same for any sport.

Xenoma also showed off e-skin this January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), this time for its gaming capability. Able to record data at 60-frames a second, e-skin can translate your movements into digital form, animating game characters on screen.

What more do you need from e-skin? Try machine washable (check), rechargeable (check), and long-lasting (it has a four-hour battery life). Xenoma is expected to release a consumer version for around $600 by mid-2017.

For gamers, especially of the VR variety, it could be an amazing way to get an immersive and active experience out of gaming. I expect it will be even better for athletes, acting as a very personal trainer that knows your body better than you do. For the rest of us, it can remind us to breathe and relax, let us know if our posture is poor, and encourage us to live a more active lifestyle.  

Amazing Sports Tech Products at CES 2017

Amazing Sports Tech Products at CES 2017

Every year, the Consumer Electronics Show unveils the hottest new tech products and trends, which predictably leave tech junkies drooling with anticipation. This is just as true for sports technology, which makes its debut in various iterations at CES to the delight of those like myself with interest in this growing field.

2017’s CES opened on January 5 in Las Vegas with just as much fanfare as usual, and with it a slew of amazing new products.

FitBit, which recently acquired Pepple, unveiled its new personal trainer app. It is also partnering with nutrition app Habit, indoor training bike company Peloton, and VR sports pioneer VirZOOM, and even Uber — though we may just have to wait and see what comes of these. Nonetheless, FitBit has proven itself an industry leader in athletic wearable tech.

Another product that cropped up at CES was Athlete Recovery Sleepwear, introduced by Under Armor. In partnership with Tom Brady, Under Armor’s product promises to help regulate body temperature and improve sleep for better daytime performance.

Other smart apparel at CES include the Pro Team Shirt, which comfortable operates as a heart monitor and GPS, a smart baseball training shirt from SwingIQ, and a smart running shoe by Sensoria and VIVOBAREFOOT.

Biometric data wearables are also proving to be a trend, and the less visible, the better. According to Sports Illustrated, a trend called “hearables,” as demonstrated by in-ear data trackers by Bodytrak, KUAI, and the Dash. These small devices are perfect for collecting internal metrics, like core body temperature, while also having the ability to play music. Fun!

All in all, it looks like another successful CES for athletes and for fans. It’s clearer than ever that as technology gets more advanced, so does the athletic prospects and fan experience of those that adopt it.