"Hydration for us is another element which has significant possibilities beyond counting steps or looking at activity. Physiologically, in my opinion, it goes beyond heart rate monitoring."
Those are certainly bold words from David Miller, CTO at Halo Wearables, a startup that has spent the past five years developing and launching its first ever hydration monitoring wearable, the Halo Edge. The $150 device, which is worn on the wrist, is able tap into a user's sweat and tell them whether they are dehydrated or even overhydrated via the built-in multicoloured LED display or a companion smartphone app.
The concept of hydration monitoring isn't some new phenomenon that Halo Wearables has discovered. We've already been able to assess the body's water intake through methods like urine analysis or measuring body mass before and after exercise. The Edge alongside crowdfunding success story LVL and Graphwear's sweat sensor patch are the leading the charge to prove why looking into our sweat has the potential to unlock richer, more insightful physiological data.
Miller, who has a background in non-invasive medical technologies, explained why he believes his company's approach to measuring hydration goes beyond the deceiving process of only offering users net hydration data. He is confident that Halo's approach is unique and will ultimately prove the most reliable option available.
"We wanted to look at it in a compartmental way as opposed to a holistic way," Miller told us. "We wanted to look at the right compartments of where the body is dehydrated. There's been some that have looked at using impedance technology and some that have looked at light-based optical technology and they're both viable methods. I can state based on my understanding and years of doing this, that they are not going to get there. We looked at this early on and we know you're not going to get a good measurement. You will get a good estimate, but that's it.
What we have done is taken an approach where we say no one modality is going to be sufficient to give the full fidelity of data of what we want to see. We can't get there on the basis of impedance or optical alone. It needs to be a multi-sensor approach."
Testing the waters
Miller puts his faith in Halo's vision not only in that multi-sensor approach but also in the thorough testing the team have carried out right from the very beginning of the Halo story. From turning that lab prototype into a fully fledged wearable device that can be used in a professional medical or athletic setting and by the same consumers that might be interested in buying a Fitbit.
"We continue to do heavy clinical studies and have done over a 2-3 year period of time," Miller told us. "We've tested with big name teams in the NFL and top tier college teams. We've also done tests with the traditional medical players. We've also done formal clinical studies at the University of Connecticut at the Korey Stringer Institute and that one is ongoing.
What we've learned from the various case uses is what matters. What can we do to stave off dehydration or even circumvent it? It's very difficult for the body to hydrate in a short period of time. If I take an NFL player and they are in the middle of the game and they begin to cramp, drinking gallons of Gatorade or even taking an intravenous saline solution will probably not rectify the hydration within the length of that athletic event.
It's about thinking whether there's a way you can train that will give me a stronger preconditioning toward the event I'm going to participate in. So could I load the body with extra stores of water in an appropriate and safe way so the body has extra stores of water to call upon during the event?"
Breaking down Halo's hydration process
So how will someone who has never paid close attention to refuelling when training for a run or when they are trying to lose weight use the Halo Edge? Mike Jones, head of software development gave us an insight into how he expects owners of the wearable device can to put it to good use.
The device effectively learns and trains on an individual," Jones explained. "We call that baselining. The user gets the device, they wear it for a day or two just in their normal hydrative state. They can then download the data to their mobile device and view the data, which is colour coded so users know can identify see the various hydration levels.
After the user has baselined for a couple of days, the algorithms have had time to learn about your normal hydrative state. Say you're training for a marathon, after you baseline for a couple of days, you'll wear the device during your training regime and be able view that hydration data and the hydration zones. You can then modify training to take in more fluids prior to the race and continue to train and see how various hydration regiments affect training."
Having already broached this subject with the folks at BSX Athletics for its own hydration monitoring wearable, we were curious to find out whether Halo Wearables believed that the wrist was the best place to measure hydration.
"We chose the wrist for two reasons," Miller explained. "It is a physiologically a good place to do it. You've got the richness of all the elements there like blood flow and you've got good correlation with other parts of the body. It's convenient for users to engage from the wrist.
"Having said that there are certain athletic scenarios where the wrist may not be as advantageous as other parts of the body. We have tested on the upper arm and across the forehead, which is a good one. If there was an application with a helmet so that it could be worn up on the head, that would be a good application physiologically.
"We've done it down on the thigh but we've not gone down any lower on the body like the ankle for example, so that is a bit of an unknown. We've also done some exploring with the idea of hearables and taking measurements from the ear. That's definitely an area of interest. It does have a few drawbacks with the size and location but physiologically, the ear canal area is very good for looking for this kind of information."
Fuelling next gen wearables
The first Halo wearable has only just become available and like any ambitious startup, the team is already looking to the future and what comes next. Not only for its own device's hardware and software, but also for the wearable space as a whole.
"My belief is that you are going to see a progression towards more physiological based devices as opposed to ones that look at the mechanics of movement," Miller told us. "It's safe to say that's the impression we've got from the wearable companies we've spoken to."
"We are already looking at the next generation wearable," Jeff Lee, head of operations revealed. "We've targeted the end of 2017 to release another product. That will have additional functionality. It will polish the existing device by adding new features. There's a rich pipeline of things we can do with the technology. It won't just be a nicer, sexier version of what we have now.
Meet the bosses
We are looking at things like metabolic rates in the body," Miller added. "When you factor in metabolic rate into fitness tracking and how the body is burning the energy by looking things like at oxygen consumption, all of a sudden you get a more comprehensive picture of what your body is actually doing from a metabolic perspective."
What could prove more fascinating (and no doubt more lucrative) for Halo Wearables is the potential of its technology appearing in the products made by the Apples, Fitbits and Garmins of this world. It's something that, according to Miller, is on the cards and he's optimistic that something could happen.
"There are a number of very large players," he said. "We are talking players that are global, those $400-500 billion dollar type of companies that we are in significant talks with that are vetting the technology. It's not inconceivable that we could license that out to a few other players. So you might see our technology flowing throughout our own efforts but through some kind of dealings with others."