Airo ups the ante with passive nutrition tracking

By: Aditi Pai | Oct 29, 2013        

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AIROOntario, Canada-based Airo Health has announced a wearable sensor poised for launch in fall of 2014. Instead of steps, Airo tracks activity using heart rate, and instead of manual entry, Airo tracks nutrition passively.

Airo’s nutrition tracker uses wavelengths of light to look into the bloodstream to detect metabolites, which are released during and after the user’s meal. These metabolites will tell the tracker how many calories were consumed during the meal. Co-founder Abhilash Jayakumar told MobiHealthNews that after some internal testing, his team found that Airo is already detecting accurate calorie readings eight times out of ten.

“One morning I had a granola bar,” Jayakumar said. “The packaging said 170 calories, but within like 90 minutes Airo sent back it was 162. The exact caloric content of a certain meal is based on how each individual’s metabolism works.”

As soon as the company has prototypes of Airo, they will send the products out for more testing to researchers to validate the data, Jayakumar said in an email. Airo is already in talks with some researchers in the area.

Even the fitness aspect of Airo was conceived from an attempt to innovate outside of the “activity tracker” space, because “those devices are just digital step counters”, Jayakumar said. Instead, Airo tracks activity based on the user’s heart rate.

“With the step counting, as much as we prefer our users to have a more active metric of the heart, heart rate and calories burnt, we found that a lot of our users do want step counting capabilities,” Jayakumar said. “…When we are looking at all these metrics we can tell when a person is exercising, how intense it is, and at the end of the workout ‘are they recovering?’ It gives you a really strong idea of someone’s fitness level, and for average people heart rate is way more accurate at [determining] calories burnt than step counting.”

Jayakumar and the other co-founders, who are all University of Waterloo alums, left college with the hope of solving hypertension and heart disease problems with a pure stress monitor. After some customer feedback, the team learned customers were not interested in a single function device. At that point, they began developing Airo. The companion apps, which will be available on iOS and Android, are still underdeveloped compared to the hardware and electronics, but Jayakumar says they will show four components — nutrition, sleep, stress and exercise — to a certain degree.

“Tracking four different areas is just the first step,” Jayakumar said. “The market, we believe, is actually the person. The owner of a band who looks at all this data and makes sense of it. But, what we find is more helpful to users is if we can look at patterns, if we can look at habits and find a potential correlation in how to better create hypotheses. So if you give a person a leg up in looking at correlations, you can tell them what to look for specifically. That is a very powerful tool for behavior change.”

By the end of the year Jayakumar plans to make a smaller, sleeker form factor for Airo, ensure the reliability of the nutrition tracking function, and shift to mobile over the summer so that the product is ready for launch in the fall of 2014. As for potential competitors, Jayakumar is eyeing a lot of the big names in activity tracking.

“The obvious [competitors] are Fitbit and Jawbone — once they realize what we are doing, I do expect them to turn around, come up with a similar offering,” he said. “It may not be as well-rounded as ours, but they’ve got the brand to make it feel like it. More than that, I’m concerned about Apple. I definitely think that the iWatch is a health play, Apple has a massive 100 person team working on this in stealth and it’s not very Apple-esque to come up with a watch as an extension of your phone on your wrist.”

The company is currently bootstrapping the product with an $81,400 ($85,000 Canadian) grant from the Canadian federal government and University of Waterloo, which, Jayakumar said, has developed an interest in funding hardware startups after BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis began supporting the Institute of Quantum Computing, hoping to make Waterloo, Ontario the next Silicon Valley.

Eventually, Jayakumar thinks Airo will be a tool to help users change their behavior over time because of the technology’s learning capabilities.

“We can make recommendations and monitor whether people improve or not, and if they do, we can monitor how successful they are and our recommendation starts getting smarter based on what people do and how their body behaves,” Jayakumar said. “You spend more time  with Airo, it learns you, and it tries to give you little pieces of tidbits and advice that are very specific to you that get developed because it knows you over time.”

  • http://www.turnbullmedia.com/ Gregg Turnbull

    “The packaging said 170 calories, but within like 90 minutes AIRO sent back it was 162.” Could you have lost 8 calories in route? Such an interesting concept.

  • http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/ Ernest Semerda

    What wavelength spectrum is the mentioned energy signal? 100km to 10-6nm? Hopefully not in the latter for safety reasons. I assume getting your wrist bombarded too constantly wouldn’t be too smart longterm.

    Apart from that, very neat idea if the device can deliver on said promises. Having close to instant feedback passively on nutrition could help us understand the foods we eat. Information is power.

  • http://jenbsjourney.blogspot.com/ JenB

    It pointed out that everyone metabolizes food a little differently, so some people might eat the same things and come back with different numbers. I’d be happy with anything even close! I’m currently keeping a manual food log, and it would be so interesting to compare the two!

  • mynameisearl

    I find it very difficult to believe this thing actually works. There are way too many variables… If they actually managed to get this to work it would be a revolutionary product that would sell for a lot more than $200… Instead they’re putting it in a dinky wristband? Do you know how much of a difference this product would make in the life of a diabetic? I need a lot more evidence than one guy’s testimony to ever believe this thing works like they say it does.

  • mynameisearl

    Nutrition packaging is not accurate down to the calorie.

  • everydayfella

    C’est des conneries! This is story is essentially the “cold fusion” of wearable devices.

    The technology is complete bunk, as the founders are reported (by Gigaom) as claiming to use technology similar to that of a debunked glucose monitoring company named C8 Medisensors. Sadly, there is no way to measure calories consumed (caloric intake) with optical spectroscopy. At best, all you can measure is a correlating variable that sometimes reflects calories consumed in some small way. Even if a clinical study is ever found to show an correlation coefficient of 0.8, it means nothing to the field of wearable fitness trackers, as 20% of the variance is unexplained, and a mere 3% difference in calorie counting can result in obesity.

    The one true thing I’ve seen reported by the founders of Airo is importance of tracking heart rate for gauging energy expenditure and heart rate recovery. But this is not in any way newsworthy, as Actigraph, Basis, Valencell, and Polar Electro, have (at least collectively) been touting this for years now. In fact, a few decades ago, medical researchers developed a very well-known formula between heart rate and energy expenditure that is in the public domain.

    Before publishing such tripe, journalists should spend some time reading John Smith’s paper on the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted by VC on “noninvasive” monitoring of blood glucose (and, in effect, caloric intake): http://www.mendosa.com/noninvasive_glucose.pdf.

  • BugoTheCat

    Many times I thought, if there was a device that can tell you by the end of the days how many calories, carbs and fat you have consumed, it would really help me. Cause I try to count to keep a track, but if the food is not packaged, I don’t know, I use a theoritical number and I could be even 100-200 cals over what I think. 100 from this snack, 100 from that snack, I think I have not climbed over my limit and yet I do. I would love a device that could tell me this is what you ate, so that I see what I did wrong. Else I get into excuse mode “Come on, I was under 2000 cals, why do I still gain weight? Did I calculated it wrong? I can’t say I ate too much stuff..”. And even the carbs/fat to know what I exceed more and what less.

    I dreamed and then I was like how the hell would that work? A chip inside your body? And I abandoned the idea, I didn’t even thought of searching, I believed nobody has done this or it’s not very possible.

    But this post about Airo raises my interest. Personally I don’t care if it’s 172 instead of 180 cals. I don’t think 3% of more cals makes me obese (and it can also be the carbs). My own estimation for foods not in packages might be totally wrong. I could be 50% off. Just a 3% difference and all done automatically would do a much better job. I know it’s the first of it’s kind, but I always dreamed about such a thing. You could even compare with friends and see why you keep getting fatter while friends remain thin. I know,. I am desparate sometimes, not being able to find a solution for years. But not being able also to be more sure about what I really eat (oh and I could even compare. My own naive estimations and what the device shows). It would definitely help!

    I hope to see this soon commercially and the impressions from the first users. I hope it succeeds and monitoring is improved in the future.

  • khadar

    khadarmadar I life in Hargeisa Somaliland in my telephone is 00252634425655 please celerity in this mobile health istill I am not Understand

  • khadar

    dreamed and then I was like how the hell would that work? A chip inside your body? And I abandoned the idea, I didn’t even thought of searching, I believed nobody has done this or it’s not very possible.

    But this post about Airo raises my interest. Personally I don’t care if it’s 172 instead of 180 cals. I don’t think 3% of more cals makes me obese (and it can also be the carbs). My own estimation for foods not in packages might be totally wrong. I could be 50% off. Just a 3% difference and all done automatically would do a much better job. I know it’s the first of it’s kind, but I always dreamed about such a thing. You could even compare with friends and see why you keep getting fatter while friends remain thin. I know,. I am desparate sometimes, not being able to find a solution for years. But not being able also to be more sure about what I really eat (oh and I could even compare. My own naive estimations and what the device shows). It would definitely help!

  • khadar

    But this post about Airo raises my interest. Personally I don’t care if it’s 172 instead of 180 cals. I don’t think 3% of more cals makes me obese (and it can also be the carbs). My own estimation for foods not in packages might be totally wrong. I could be 50% off. Just a 3% difference and all done automatically would do a much better job. I know it’s the first of it’s kind, but I always dreamed about such a thing. You could even compare with friends and see why you keep getting fatter while friends remain thin. I know,. I am desparate sometimes, not being able to find a solution for years. But not being able also to be more sure about what I really eat (oh and I could even compare. My own naive estimations and what the device shows). It would definitely help!