Launching a new fitness tracker is a bold move for any company in a world that's currently being dominated by the likes of Fitbit and Garmin. Building an entire ecosystem made up of wearables alongside a virtual AI coach would be an ambitious move even for the biggest companies in the world.
But that's exactly how big Indian startup Boltt is dreaming. Its fitness ecosystem is made up of smart shoes, smart bands, custom headphones and that's just the beginning. It also has designs on creating a seamless connection between its wearables (and others in the future) and providing meaningful data not just for fitness, but for nutrition and all of the factors that contribute to living a healthy life.
"The idea was born about 18 months ago", Boltt CEO Arnav Kishore tells us. "It was during the days when we (co-founder Aayushi Kishore) were promoting our Globallite footwear brand. I'm a massive sport enthusiast and played tennis at a very professional level.
"During my training time I used to wear several trackers including a Garmin. Achieving my goals was a big problem for me and it was difficult to keep track of all my records and try to make use of the data. That's when this idea of being able to capture data in an intuitive way came to life with Boltt."
The Boltt blueprint
Kishore breaks down the business into three parts. The first centres around the wearables, which includes a smart band and a smart shoe. The band will apparently not shy too far away from existing trackers on the market, but the goal is to make it more affordable than its rivals. Unsurprisingly with its experience in the footwear business, Kishore decided that connecting the feet was a natural first move.
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"We decided to develop this smart shoe carrying out a lot of research and R&D in the process", Kishore said. "For the first time we had a prototype and it was our own. We tied up with Garmin for this platform using sensors that are highly specialised in tracking motion, which means you can track real time speed, distance and cadence. We implemented this technology into our shoe today."
"When you look at the smart shoe, there's only a few brands that have attempted something," Aayushi Kishore tells us. "There's Nike and Adidas, but for them it was just one product and it was exorbitantly priced. We are talking about bringing together a premium sports shoe with advanced technologies."
The second part of the Boltt plan is the intelligence lab and this is when we start to talk about AI. This is Boltt's solution to bringing more sense to your data and making it more personalised. The tech isn't quite as widespread in the fitness tech world with Under Armour's IBM Watson tie-up and startup Lifebeam and its Vi smart coaching hearable just a few examples of putting artificial intelligence to use. It posed a major challenge to build and for Boltt, there's always constant room for improvement.
The problem with AI, is that if you treat it like an AI, it will not work for long. We are trying to give a birth to a personality that doesn't feel like AI
"There's one type of AI and that's in the back end", explained Kishore. "We have one AI coach on the wellness side and another on the fitness side. To create this coach there was a lot of knowledge we had to gain. We went to coaches, teachers, mentors to gain that knowledge on how to impart that coaching. The problem with AI, is that if you treat it like an AI, it will not work for long. We are trying to give a birth to a personality that doesn't feel like AI."
"We have more than 700 workouts based on different principles of running. Those training plans are calculated on nutritional intake you'll need, the amount of sleep required for recovery for example. There's a voice coach and a wellness coach inside the app. You can chat in real time and it will take into account all of the data you log through the nutritional panel and the wearable. It doesn't feel like a robot."
Sizing up the competition
The more I learn about Boltt, the more I'm keen to know about the kind of challenges it faces pulling this all together into an easy to use platform that anyone can get to grips with. There's very few examples of great connected fitness platforms out there and there's probably a good reason for this. It's something the team is well aware of though and it's keen not to make the same mistakes.
"We feel the existing products out there are very primitive in the way they show the data or simply the user experience is not the best", Kishore tells us. "Under Armour claims to have an ecosystem but in reality those devices, while they connect to one platform, there is a very segmented way of displaying that data to the user. While you get the ability to connect multiple devices to one platform, it's difficult for users to use on a daily basis.
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"With Boltt, the technology we are coming up with and promoting is far beyond the existing platforms out there. We are trying our level best to give a very easy user experience and that's most important thing for us."
The final part in Boltt's ambitious plan to get us healthier and fitter is taking its hardware and AI smarts to other industries. It's eyeing up corporate wellness, physical education in schools and professional level sports tracking and analysis. There'll be mobile apps, but it's also taking a leaf out of GOQii's book by making coaching services available on a subscription basis. It's quite clear that the software takes priority over the hardware and its founders openly admit that.
Smarter coaching for all
The next step for Boltt is to get the first batch of products out to those who really want to make the best use of it. It's offering early sign-ups on its website. It's also going to be showcasing the platform at high profile startup events like TechCrunch Disrupt and Slush over the coming months.
For prospective users, it seems there's plenty to look forward to as well. There's plans to make the Boltt platform open source for other wearables to tap into the coaching elements within the next 6-8 months.While real time coaching will initially focus on running, there's already analysis available for soccer, rugby and hockey with plans to add further sports.
"The long term plan is to expand on the wearable category and extend the intelligence of our AI platform" Kishore explains. "We're beginning with just a limited number of sensors and form factors. Down the line we have a lot of room to innovate, not only in sport tracking and analysis but also looking at different wearable forms. We are already looking at apparel embedded with sensors.
"On the intelligence side, we are focusing on fitness and training at the moment. But we feel healthcare is a very big segment where automation is bound to happen. We feel somewhere down the line we will be able to get into the healthcare segment and automate the AI there as well."
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