In March 2016, KuaiFit (formerly known as Kuai) raised almost $270,000 through crowdfunding to build its biometric sports headphones, which deliver heart rate monitoring, smart voice coaching, a built-in music player, run and cycling tracking and a whole lot more. Head back to its Indiegogo campaign page though and you'll notice that the hearable was expected to ship in October 2016.
After a number of delays, the KuaiFit headphones are now finally up for grabs for £159 or £209, if you opt for the cycling package that includes a bike sensor to record additional ride metrics.
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For those waiting for the fully waterproof version that offers the ability to monitor heart rate for swimmers, KuaiFit told us that this version is slated for a Q1 2018 launch as it fine tunes features including the heart rate tracking.
About those delays...
"We shouldn't have gone with waterproofing to start with," KuaiFit's CEO Carlos Marco Rider told us. "It has been a nightmare. The product has been done three times. It's been a real challenge. There's a reason why not all wearables are waterproof."
Getting the headphones swim-friendly hasn't been the only problem. Rider also cites getting the heart rate monitor up to standard was a challenge as well. Much like Jabra and Bragi's in-ear heart rate setups, KuaiFit uses similar optical technology to take readings, but as its competitors will no doubt agree, fit is everything.
"We offer a fitting to make sure the sensor is touching the concha," he told us. "We took the device to a high intensive testing facility in the US to test the heart rate sensor, testing it with different ear types, skin colours and people with different body types. "We really had to work on the positioning of the heart rate sensor to make it more accurate. We've even benchmarked it against Polar heart rate chest straps and achieved a 95% success rate with the fitting."
One way to improve that fitting would be custom moulds, something that Bragi currently offers for its Dash Pro smart earbuds. However this is not something the startup has plans to offer.
Tracking for all and looking to the future
The lightbulb moment for KuaiFit came to Rider when he was training for his first IronMan. Equipped with a watch, chest strap, phone, headphones and a piece of paper with his training written down on it, he first thought about headphones that could pair with other sensors. Then it evolved into something bigger and smarter. Now the team, which includes former engineers from Nokia, Beats and Huawei have built something that is much smarter and means you can cut down on carrying multiple devices.
Rider's business partners come from triathlete and IronMan backgrounds as well and while the initial idea was to pitch this to hardcore athletes, they decided to make it suitable for all levels of fitness. One way it's doing that is through its training plans that adapt based on your biometric data. "We have created plans for things like training for a 5K, losing weight all the way up to training for an IronMan," Rider told us. "We aim to have a marketplace for training plans where coaches will be able to create their own plans that are triggered by things like interval sessions or heart rate zones. We are recruiting top athletes and coaches to be part of the platform."
Next-gen sports tracking wearables
One thing the team has taken from their experience with endurance sports was the idea to keep data open. That means unlike other biometric tracking hearables, the recorded data can be exported to third party applications. "A lot of people have their data on a Garmin watch and are never going to want to change from Garmin,' Rider said. "It's your data and you should be able to do what you want with it. We did not want to be closed so it only works with this app."
That openness extends to the addition of ANT+ connectivity letting you stream data to smartwatches, sports watches, bike sensors, bike computers, power meters and compatible gym equipment.
Aside from getting its waterproof version ready for launch in 2018, KuaiFit is also working on a version that comes with GPS for next year along with a model that we're told will be more wallet-friendly. It's also seeking to improve features that are available through the app and hopes that the software push will help make these smart sports headphones even more of an essential workout companion.