Wearing good health

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Updated: Jul 15 2014, 13:44pm hrs
The wearables are here. We have the revolutionary Google Glass and a lot of very functional smart-watches. However, the first wearable devices that a lot of us will get to use, or be able to afford, will be smart-bands and other small activity trackers.

I have been using one, the Sony SmartBand, for the past couple of weeks and the insights this unassuming band on my wrist transmits is impressive to say the least. This band works in tandem with an app called the Lifelog, which tell you what you did during the day in terms of steps taken, calories burnt and hours slept. It is a great feeling to learn that you have burnt more calories passively, doing nothing, than you did with the one-hour brisk walk in the morning. However, not all of us are motivated enough to improve our lifestyle, at least not to impress a small band on your wrist.

This is where the new wearable companies see an opportunity. A host of companies around the world are lining up devices supported by platforms that help people take control of their lives and make them healthier. One interesting concept is being propagated by serial entrepreneur Vishal Gondal. He recently announced a device called GOQii, which does what any activity tracker would do. But it also links the user to experts who try and make sense of this data and coaches who help you make sustainable and incremental changes towards a more healthy and active lifestyle. When launched, GOQii will have a subscription model so that you keep getting your daily dose of health advice.

Another company with a different approach to the same problem is Tupelo Corporation, which will soon launch a small brooch-like 3D activity tracker called the MyMo in India soon. CEO Martyn Molnar says his device and platform will help caregivers intervene and ensure that the user is constantly improving his lifestyle. There is a dropout ratio of 15% among the sedentary population that uses activity trackers. We are building a device, software and platform that will reverse that engagement statistic, he added.

Tupelo wants to sell not just a device, but an entire programme that will be fine-tuned to what a person wants to achieve. Molnar says such a device will also help corporations keep track of the productivity of their employees and intervene if needed. GetActive, from Mohammed Hussains 2mpower Health Management Services, is another device that is hoping to tap into the corporate wellness programmes. It is a great opportunity with conservative estimates pegging the wearables market in India at a million units adding up to Rs 25 crore just in 2014. This is certainly achievable with the Sony SmartBand and other such devices being priced around the $100 mark.

But what the new trend shows is that activity trackers might have a big market as standalone, off-the-shelf devices, but will see growth when they start getting packaged as an integral part of larger wellness programmes. So, dont be surprised if, in a few months, your gym asks you to buy one of these so that they can keep a better eye on your activities and suggest changes as needed. While that is fine, you might not be all that happy if an insurance firm asks you to carry one around so that they can understand if you are taking good care of your life, and thus protecting their interests.

The positive side is when these devices start paying a role in healthcare, transmitting real-time data to you doctor or care provider. I am a diabetic and it would be a great help if my doctor can pull me up from time to time because I am skipping morning walks or not being active enough. The next stage would be when these trackers can start collecting other parameters like blood sugar and blood pressure levels, pulse rates and other vital signs. The current set of wearables are not capable of doing this, but I have already seen prototypes of phones that can directly read from sugar strip and send the reading to a doctor. What if a band on your watch could do that without pricking your skin What if instead of a band you had an embedded chip that was collecting and transmitting data to your doctor sitting in a hospital in some other city No, this is not science fiction this is your future and it is not that far away.