Providing useful, actionable insights is the dream of fitness trackers but so far, not many have been able to achieve such goals. Smart coaches that use the insight to help push you along in your daily fitness regime are also lacking.
Through the usage of algorithms and analyzing data over time, Microsoft Band 2 uses its Health platform to provide insight while Moov Now and Jabra Sport Coach provide routines and offer suggestions that try to improve workouts. However, none are quite at the caliber we want.
It could be our ridiculously high expectations of wearable tech and how we want these powerful, tiny computers to extract knowledge that will magically make us kings and queens of the gym.
But it's not so ridiculous if you factor in how close wearables are getting to actively micromanaging our fitness routines - so close that LifeBEAM's CEO and co-founder Omri Yoffe claims they have the "first true AI fitness trainer."
Science fiction made real?
It can better understand who you are and afterwards provide you with some much more personalized insights.
It sounds like a match made in heaven - artificial intelligence, wearables, fitness, coaching, what else more could you need? That's the idea behind the LifeBEAM's Kickstarter earbuds called Vi.
The privately-owned Israel based company is no stranger to wearable bio-sensing technology and AI having worked with NASA, US Air Force and consumer brands like Samsung, Under Armour and more.
With Vi, Yoffe wanted to approach the space differently without solely focusing on form factor. Think the movie Her in a compact package. Earbuds that are both functional and yet provide a warm presence that is encouraging and above all, smart.
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"We came up with our own experience called 'Awareable' - high awareness from a more accurate wearable. It not only draws stats and heart rate and steps, but really listens to the user. It can better understand who you are and afterwards provide you with some much more personalized insights.
"How do we take very accurate biometrics like heart rate, temperature, environment sensors, accelerometer and movement but six-axis gyrometer to really get your movement? In short, the wearable we've created in the last two years is a mix between fitness and AI."
To get the best picture of you, Vi connects to your Apple HealthKit, Google Fit, Fitbit, Strava and whatever device you use for exercise. While the full compatibility list is yet to be announced, it sounds like Vi will be able to sync up with several other devices. Music will also be a large factor considering LifeBEAM has partnered with Harmon Kardon to add on high-fidelity sound.
The rest of Vi features aerospace-grade biosensors including heart rate and heart rate variability, motion, elevation and other environmental sensors packed inside a device that sits around your neck.
Just how smart is Vi?
Hearables are on the up and up lately with Bragi Dash out earlier this year and Samsung Gear IconX on the way. Both target the ear for fitness training and Vi is no different - except Yoffe says their hearable is more personal.
"It's very cool, very human very compelling, almost sexy I would say. But on a level where you share with her your goals. After connecting it with Strava, or Fitbit and so on, Vi will tell you, 'Let's get to know each other so I can calibrate myself.' It's like a relationship where she wants to know you better so she can come up with more thoughtful, smart ideas.
"After two to three training sessions, Vi will start teaching you some very cool insights and suggestions, and anything that can help you get to your goal and motivate you."
The AI is also able to learn from your habits and physiology. If you stray from fitness routines mapped out for you, Vi can create new ones.
"If she recommended you something to achieve your 5K goal and for some reason, you decide to do free runs or are too busy and do her plan, she will absolutely relate to it and adapt to it. She will then give you prompts and insight related to what you actually do and not be a robotic automatic machine."
As for physiology, the placement of Vi in the ears is due to LifeBEAM's view that the ear is more accurate than the wrist.
"The ability to extract accurate data can be found from the ear. It's stable, much closer to the head and heart, and contains just as much information, if not more. It's simply a much more perfect place to measure."
Yoffe obviously isn't alone in stating the ear is better place to track you - other hearable companies also agree. It may also explain the growing popularity of hearable fitness devices - what better way to track someone, provide music and make sure the data is accurate? LifeBEAM however, went one step further and added the comprehensive AI architecture. But a smart robot is still a robot. To make Vi more human, LifeBEAM turned to the voice.
Human versus robot voices
We will make sure Vi is sending messages in a thoughtful and meaningful way - we're not trying to saturate the experience.
The robotic voice, which we noted in the Moov Now review as too monotonous, doesn't give us the same experience as a more human voice. Even the likes of Amazon Echo, Siri, Cortana and Google Now are auditorily becoming more human. It creates a more personable experience with a machine, and probably tricks us into thinking they're smarter than they actually are. While it's unclear how well Vi speaks, it sounds like a lot of work has been put into selecting the right voice for the job.
"After two years of downloading human intelligence, we interviewed hundreds if not thousands of consumers and fitness trainers to make sure the narrative and the language and experience itself is refined to make sure it's something compelling.
"Most people think it's just about the technical prompts or insights but half the thing is making sure what we call the Vi persona is something that will be compelling, warm and welcoming in the way we are coaching people. We tested over 100 voice actresses and we chose one who's an amazing voice."
Beyond who's speaking, you'll also get what Yoffe says is a hands-free, eyes-free experience - similar to the digital assistants previously mentioned - where you can ask Vi to switch music, answer calls and more. Despite this, Vi won't understand or say everything in the human language. Instead, she's been restricted to certain patterns related to fitness.
"We're intentionally not going for free speech and natural free language interactions - we're going for commands for fitness designated experiences. Within the fitness, we have tons of dialogue that you can say.
"Here's an example of something she would say if your goal is to burn fat. We will pace you up or pace you down to get you within the most optimal heart rate training zone. Taking into consideration your environmental sensors, temperature, location, elevation and heart rate, if you're a bit fatigued from your training, she will ask you, 'You look a little bit tired, do you want to slow down a bit.' To which you can say, 'Sure.'"
Vi also has the ability to communicate via text. Before or after training, she can send messages related to the weather and other external factors. But Yoffe says you won't get bogged down with redundant or pointless observations from Vi.
"We will make sure Vi is sending messages in a thoughtful and meaningful way - we're not trying to saturate the experience."
AI is the next step for wearables and hearables
According to Yoffe, Vi won't be the only hearable employing AI - he thinks the whole industry will make the move to incorporate it somehow.
"This (AI) is absolutely the future of the wearable industry. The AI era is what we've been experiencing within the last few months and has been growing in the last few years. It's going to enable us and other teams to make products much better and much more personalized and able to adapt to each user."
But how long that takes, is still up in the air considering many companies both large and small are just beginning to make strides with artificial intelligence, where a few like Microsoft's odd 'teen girl' on Twitter taking a turn for the worse.
Essential read: What's next in voice, gesture and haptics
For the time being, there's Vi which Yoffe says will succeed its fellow wearables and hearables because of its abilities that surpass hardware - but it doesn't seem to be having issues in that department either. Most questions like comfort and how well it works will be tested later, but Yoffe says Vi can be worn all day.
"One of the big trade offs we're looking at, which the whole industry is looking at is battery. The form factor enables all day wear so it can give 8-10 hours of battery life which is huge. You can have it for training and other activities and it will fully recharge at the end of the for usage again."
Beyond hardware, Yoffe believes the killer feature lies with of course, getting people to be more active by providing a real AI trainer that is likable and helpful. There's even a hint from Yoffe that Vi will live in non-earbud form later on despite his remarks about the elegant accuracy of the ear.
"It's not just about form factor - though you do need to have a beautiful, well- designed, ergonomic product. At the end of the day it's about what people are getting from it. I think this is the main missing part from the industry. People (in the industry) are too focused only on the device itself but it's not only the hardware itself but how we really jump ahead.
"If we want to change people's habits and make them happier or healthier, you really need to know how to analyze the information and extract accurate information. The vision behind Vi is to become a true AI trainer, not necessarily only through earbuds but through other form factors as well.
But mostly, we really need to be sensitive and respectful towards what people are trying to achieve. This will be our main goal. Not to sell another piece of awesome hardware."
Vi is on Kickstarter now with an estimated ship date of December 2016.