We've been very critical of heart rate monitoring from the wrist recently so it's good to hear that startup Komodo Technologies believes it's come up with a solution to deliver more accurate tracking with its new AIO smart sleeve.
The activity tracking compression sleeve looks set to be a good fit for fitness folk and has been in development for eight months. It can be worn all day and night and will be available in two different fabrics.
The sleeve holds a small tracking device that's packed with sensors, a Toshiba processor and internal memory that slips into the smart garment. From here it can collect information on your heart beat, sleep and even deliver data on the intensity of your workout. That's all sent in real time to the AIO companion smartphone app.
Essential reading: My love-hate relationship using wearables in the gym
The key here is that unlike an Apple Watch or most other wrist worn trackers, it uses electrocardiogram (ECG) technology to monitor heart rate activity, detecting the electrical activity produced by a heartbeat. This is still considered the most accurate way to record heart rate activity and is used by the medical industry and found inside heart rate monitor chest straps.
Smartening the arm
We spoke to the father and son co-founders of Komodo Technologies Larry and Elvis Goren. The company has previously focused on developing and manufacturing personal GPS devices so this is definitely a step into a new direction for them. We got the lowdown on why they chose to build a wearable for the arm instead of the wrist and were able to come up with something that could deliver reliable ECG readings.
"I've always been a fan of the sleeves," Elvis Goren tells us. "I watch a lot of basketball and thought it looked cool."
"From a technical perspective, it's ideal," says Goren Sr. "Placement was the number one thing for us. It completely eliminates signal noise which can often be the problem with optical sensors. It's on your whole arm and you can get much more information from a larger area of the body."
So how exactly does the smart sleeve work? "There's a nano trace built into the sleeve," Elvis Goren explains. "It's a conductive material that's in a liquid form that connects one electrode to the other. That's how we can utilise the ECG from the point of the wrist to under the arm inside the bicep. The points need to be far away enough to measure the heart contractions. That was our number one challenge."
Dealing with data
While it's great to think we'll finally have more reliable data, Komodo is keen not to fall into the trap of throwing a lot of numbers at prospective users and not helping to make sense of it.
"Our number one goal was to have information that will really help," Elvis Goren tells us. "We wanted to create algorithms that will not only show you your heartbeat, but also explain what it means. We've been cross referencing different studies about what happens when heart rate spikes peak too high or too low. The first thing we are looking at is stress levels. We are also looking at helping to detect heart inflammation and coronary heart disease. The possibilities of ECG is endless."
The Gorens tell me they are working on algorithms to make the best use of that ECG data. So users can be warned when you skip several heart beats during a night's sleep take that information to a doctor.
Away from ECG, Komodo is also promising to measure metabolic equivalents or MET as it's also known. "We are using the same algorithms and same data as calorie burners," Elvis Goren explains. "We are using a different algorithm that instead of showing you how much calories you've burned, we show how intense your activity is on a numbered scale. So you going to be able see how active you are at the exact time."
Sizing up the competition
The AIO smart sleeve joins the recently announced Kardia Band as one of the few devices that can measure the heart through ECG from this particular part of the body, although the duo are unconvinced by the medical grade heart rate monitoring Apple Watch strap.
"The disadvantage of the Kardia Band is that it only measures for 10 seconds," Larry Goren explains. "That's not enough time. The benefits of the way we do ECG is that we can take long term measurements and can have multiple benefits like the ability to offer more in-depth sleep data.
Like the Kardia Apple Watch strap though, the AIO sleeve is not medical grade yet. But they do believe they have managed to get a 99.9 percent reliability on ECG readings and claim that it's really precise.
Beyond the sleeve
With its Kickstarter campaign only just up and running, Komodo has already set its sights on where they'd like to take the technology next.
"Our future goal is to have smart clothing," says Elvis Goren. "We've been looking at future models that include things like pulse oximetry. We could have something that monitors UV rays for joggers for instance, giving them recommendations to drink more water."
It's also giving keen developers the option to build on the uses of the smart sleeve by announcing its Linx platform letting others update the hardware, features and sensors.
The AIO smart sleeve ($75) and a slightly more expensive MD ($99) option are available to preorder now through Kickstarter. You can expect to slip it on you arm when it ships in the summer.