It's an interesting time to be a connected-self startup. Crowdfunding titans like Pebble have been acquired, indie darlings like Jawbone are struggling and alternative companies like Misfit are now under big Fossil Group fashion tech umbrellas.
So you might think that wearable tech is entering its mature, boring phase where a handful of huge companies build frighteningly similar devices and compete on the teeniest of differences. Not so.
There are still plenty of exciting startups marking their mark, whether it's hydration monitoring or hybrids, women's health or personal safety. As you'll see, it's not just new wearable tech companies we're interested in but virtual reality, mixed reality and smart home startups too.
In no particular order, here are our 20 startups to watch for 2017.
As part of the tech vs stress trend last year, even Apple and Fitbit introduced breathing apps for their wearables. There are few companies doing mindfulness and focus better than InteraXon, though. The company's Muse headband guides you through breathing exercises and gives you real-time biofeedback to stay calm.
For 2017, the company is teaming up with the Italian Safilo Group to create a range of smartglasses, under the Safilo X platform, with that same brain-sensing tech. So instead of carrying a dedicated headband around with you, the first device, the Smith Lowdown Focus, due in September, is an accessory you'll wear all day anyway.
Now, the priority is enhancing mental performance, whether that's for athletes, doctors, drivers or office workers. As InterAxon's CEO Derek Luke tells us: "We've crammed a lot into these glasses: EEG, EMG, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, UV, temperature, pressure sensors. And a few surprises we're working on…"
VR is making leaps and bounds, but something still doesn't feel right… While better graphics and less vomit-inducing refresh rates are giving way to a better sense of presence, social VR can quickly fall down. MindMaze wants to be the step-change here with its Mask technology, a brain-tech interface that maps our real-time expressions onto our VR avatars.
It works by detecting these movements during the milliseconds between your brain telling your face to move, and your face responding. "You've got to make it more human, which is emotions and expressions," says MindMaze CEO Tej Tadi. "Being able to transition from a smirk to a smile to a scowl, is complex, and it's not easy to do, and no one's done it in the way we've done it."
This year, MindMaze plans to bring its technology to market, either by partnering with mainstream VR headset manufacturers or releasing the technology as an accessory itself. Time will tell, but however it gets to people, we predict it's going to blow a lot of minds in 2017.
A baby startup compared to some on the list, Christina Blach Petersen's three-person outfit is working with collaborators and advisors at Imperial College London to launch its Lys wearable light sensor autumn/fall 2017.
The clip-on Lys device, which will cost around £99, is designed to measure the intensity, timing, duration and spectral composition of the light we receive. It works with an app to help users set bright light goals, e.g. 30 mins of 2,500 lux early in the day and reducing blue light before bed. The aim? Better sleep, more energy and a healthier relationship with light.
"In the four months ahead we will be hard at work in the lab developing the next iterations of Lys," says designer & engineer Petersen. "Thanks to the results from the trials, collaborations with academics and feedback from over a hundred test participants we are improving the product and user experience. We are motivated by producing a human-centred desirable and wearable design."
You probably know Avegant from the Glyph, its wearable 'personal theater'/FPV drone viewer that we tested back in 2016. The Belmont, CA company's focus is very much mixed reality – specifically its just-announced light field display. This allows the user to view virtual objects at multiple focal planes at the same time.
Here's founder/CTO Edward Tang on what 2017 holds in store: "We're all in on mixed reality… Light field technology is an incredible experience that enables virtual objects to feel real for the very first time. We're excited to see mixed reality achieve its potential through the use of new display technologies. The next few years are going to be even crazier!"
Right now Avegant has a prototype headset to demo its platform. It'll be mighty interesting to see how Avegant's retinal projection tech stacks up to what Magic Leap, Microsoft and – eventually – Apple have planned for mixed reality. And, hey, it's certainly getting in early enough.
When this Texas-based startup opened up for business in 2012, its focus was on building wearables for serious athletes who could see the value of being able to detect lactate threshold without stepping near a lab. Last year, founder Dustin Freckleton and his team (along with some help from industrial design outfit Frog) launched LVL, a hydration monitoring wearable. It was a long time in the making, inspired by the fact that Freckleton suffered a stroke at just 24 due to dehydration.
Last year, LVL raised over $1 million for its consumer-friendly wearable that also tracks fitness, heart rate and sleep. Set to launch in 2017, the other big talking point is the technology inside. BSX is using its own proprietary optical technology and this red light-based sensor approach could also go a long way to improving the reliability of taking heart rate readings from the wrist. Its application in LVL is just scratching the surface of what the technology could do in the future.
2017 will be remembered as the year that the big fashion brands and traditional watchmakers crashed the smartwatch party. That has made it more difficult for some of the newcomers to get the limelight, but Swedish startup Kronaby is making a big noise about its stylish collection of hybrid smartwatches. The line-up will no doubt get some admiring glances from companies with much bigger marketing bucks to play with.
Kronaby has quickly established its own distinct design philosophy and with a core of the team having plied their trade on Sony Mobile's smartwatches and activity trackers, it clearly knows what it takes to make a good or bad wearable. That means creating good-looking hardware and bringing something new to the table with the software. At a time when it seems like anyone can make a stylish hybrid, this startup is really trying to make these connected timepieces more useful.
VivaLnk has been on the scene for some time, breaking out with its partnership with Motorola on a digital tattoo back in 2014. Now it's just launched its own eSkin device, the VivaLnk Fever Scout, a medical-grade wearable for continuously monitoring temperature.
"2017 has proven to be a benchmark year for VivaLnk," CEO Jiang Li tells us. "For years, medical professionals have decried wearables for not having the capability to provide medical grade data and actionable feedback. We saw this as a great opportunity and believe that eSkin technology has the power to change the future of remote patient monitoring."
Things promise to get even more exciting later this year as VivaLnk looks to launch Vital Scout, another eSkin wearable but this time for monitoring heart rate, sleep quality and stress levels with – again – medical-grade veracity. In 2017 VivaLnk could prove that it's time for wearable tech companies to think more seriously about going beyond the wrist.
Motiv is giving fitness tracking the finger. No, not like that. It's actually creating smart jewellery for men and women, capable of tracking activity, heart rate and other metrics more commonly found in wrist-wrapping wearables.
"We're looking forward to the world of wearables expanding greatly in 2017 in capability, function and aesthetic," says Motiv CTO Curt von Badinski. "We see this year as the moment these integral components finally come together to give us a more meaningful, 24/7 look at our health. The technology is better (and smaller) than ever before, and the consumer's desire for functional devices is strong."
Badinski adds that Motiv wants to "resolve all the pain points" that have plagued wearables, and we're fascinated to try the final product. The 8mm-wide, titanium-made wearable could be another landmark in the quest to make technology "disappear" into wearables, and Motiv even promises five days of battery life. Expectations are high for this one in 2017 – fingers crossed.
As we await that smart clothing explosion, one startup based out of Canada is hoping its more mindful approach to making garments more connected will play its part in taking it mainstream. Sparked by founder Cindy Gu, who suffered from depression as a university student, the first Vitali smart sports bra has entered the crowdfunding realm, embedding sensors that monitor posture, heart rate variability and breathing with the aim of keeping a closer eye on stress and what triggers it.
Vitali has already tasted sweet hackathon victory and is being backed by the HAX accelerator program, which has ten years of experience getting startups to deliver crowdfunding projects on time. At a time when smart clothing is looking for fresh new ideas plus proof that there's more to the industry than fitness and Google and Levi's smart commuter jacket, this is one startup to definitely keep an eye on.
Brain zapping (well, stimulation) headphones might not be everyone's idea of a great wearable, but this team of doctors, neuroscientists, engineers and designers is quickly making a name for itself, particularly in the world of sport. The tech is already being used by track and field Olympians, NFL players and a whole host of elite athletes who are seeing the benefits of neuropriming. The San Francisco Giants recently announced they were integrating Halo Sport into their core training regimen.
Now the technology is finding its way into other industries outside of sport, and it has been revealed that the US Navy Seals are testing out the wearable to see if it can help soldiers improve performance out in the field.
"For Halo, sports and movement are just the beginning of the journey," says Halo Neuroscience's cofounder and CTO Dr Brett Wingeier. "The brain is everything, and as a company we exist to help people unlock their potential in every way possible – with beautiful, functional, science-based wearable neurotech."
Wingeier adds that its team is already "hard at work on the next product based on our Neuropriming platform," and that it's also doing clinical research on "non-invasive brain stimulation for applications like stroke rehabilitation."
Duo AI had the internet – specifically us – all shook up recently with its awesome-looking Duo smart mirror that has an AI assistant and touchscreen display. The New York-based team has previous form building wireless earbuds and open-source laptops, and founder Jack Kim says they are getting a great response both in pre-order sales (for an October release) and development kits.
"We're focusing on expanding the team and building a solid ecosystem/community around [its custom OS] HomeOS," he says. "We want to make sure that when the product ships, a slew of useful apps and integrations will already be available for people to use right away. We're excited to see how different connected devices, from fridges to ovens, will be controlled through a central operating system."
The 27-inch smart mirror is the latest example of a hub that aims to blend into your home life, uses voice controls, works for families and talks to everything from speakers to thermostats to light bulbs. Ace.
Why shell out hundreds and hundreds for a fitness coach when technology can do it for you? That's the rhetorical question Lifebeam is posing. We've tried real-time coaching before in the likes of the Oakley Radar Pace, but Lifebeam reckons it's built a truly smart AI in its VI headphones that can not only go deep on insights, but also talks to other apps like Strava, Apple Health and Google Fit.
The headphones are designed to be worn all day long, delivering tracking information and letting you take phone calls – not to mention listen to music, something Lifebeam has thought carefully about by partnering with Harman Kardon on sound. Smart AI is one of the hot topics in the connected-self space, and Lifebeam is helping forge the path.
After $1 million in sales of its first women's health device, a connected pelvic floor tracker, London based Elvie has just raised $5 million in investment. "The wearable tech scene has had a tumultuous year in terms of interest and funding so we were keen to prove investors wrong," Tania Boler, CEO and co-founder says.
Read the review: Living with Elvie
"This year is all about execution. We know there is a strong demand for Elvie, our smart kegel trainer, and now we need to ramp up access. We want to extend sales to over 25 countries and get ready to launch our second innovative wearable product for women."
We're looking forward to seeing how Boler will repeat the trick of transforming what's essentially a medical device into an appealing, accessible lifestyle product. Women's health tech is still a huge area of potential and it looks like Elvie is staying one step ahead.
Injuries are one of the biggest problems in professional sports. Athletes move a lot, and when they move they tend to move in same way every time. That's a huge problem if those movements are inefficient, because they're quick to cause injuries. Leomo wants to solve this problem with motion analysis. Its first product, the Leomo Type-R, is aimed specifically at cyclists, letting them know advanced motion data like pelvic tilt.
After cycling, Leomo CEO Kaji Kunijiko tells us the company is bringing its technology to runners with new head, chest and upper body sensors. In the next year, Leomo plans to tackle as many sports as possible. Not only will coaches get a say in what kind of data Leomo produces, but it could help inspire the next generation of motion sensors to assist in minimising injury risk. A coach's dream come true.
If you're going to wear something on your face every day, it needs to be both useful and fashionable. Most companies haven't got that message. They've either been rather embarrassing, like Google Glass, or incredibly niche, like Snapchat Spectacles.
Most contenders are looking for a balance that can hit the mainstream. Vue is the closest thing we've seen yet. Not only do its glasses look good, they're actually useful. They pair with your eyeglasses prescription and can track your activity, subtly let you know when you have a notification and use bone conduction audio technology to provide music without earbuds or headphones.
Vue tells us that the company is currently focused on shipping out units to its Kickstarter backers, which will help "drive our R&D pipeline" as it gathers feedback from early adopters and integrates it into future products. As for the future?
"We're looking into launching new styles to better fit our customers' tastes," Vue tells Wareable. "Long-term, we'll focus on improving the user experience for the features that people love, but we'll also launch new features that go well beyond what you currently see in wearables. Glasses are well-positioned to leverage many senses – sight, touch, hearing, speaking – and we're working on ways to create new experiences that engage each of those senses from a single wearable."
Brilliant's smart home controller aims to replace the light switch panel on your wall with a (hopefully) five-minute installation. It features a 5-inch, HD touchscreen and the controls allow you tweak the likes of smart lights, speakers and thermostats around the house.
With SmartThings and IFTTT integration, Brilliant will work with all the big home tech names: Philips Hue, Nest, Honeywell, Sonos, the Ring doorbell. Another big name, Alexa, also has its voice services built in to Brilliant. But what are the company's plans for the rest of 2017?
Well, its pre-order campaign for its first product sold out, with shipping now set for late summer. Chief product officer Scott Dunlap indicated to us that there will be two main areas of focus after that. First, it will be working with security partners, as there's a potential for it to work as a smart security cam, then the plan is to roll out software updates to make Brilliant, well, more brilliant.
Running is changing. Gone are the days where you sprinted out into the wild, armed only with a pair of marginally athletic shoes, as dedicated running watches and fitness trackers now track distance, steps, VO2 Max and more. The next step is real-time coaching, and Shft is aiming to join the pack ready to help you run smarter.
Its upcoming device is Shft IQ, a wearable pod that's designed to help beginner and intermediate runners track data and receive personal feedback. It can fit onto either shoe or attach to your chest, bringing you reports, stats, training drills and advice in real-time. The headline act here is Intel, though, whose tech will power the fresh iteration.
When we recently spoke with Shft CEO Tony Motzfeldt, he said: "We've been working with Intel for around eight months, and we're using the new Curie chipset with the artificial intelligence built into it. This will help Shft analyse things like your gait and tell you more about it in real time."
Hear us out. We're choosing Samsung C-Lab as a startup because we can see into the future. Right now, Samsung has spun out a whole bunch of wearable companies – Salted Venture, Innomdle etc – and we're champing at the bit for VR spin-off startups of some of the side projects we've seen and tested out.
Among the most promising to become their own enterprises are Rink, those Gear VR motion controllers; Monitorless, the remote AR & VR glasses; and the Entrim 4D headphones that let you "feel" VR. Plus, coming up later: Gaze-It, a lip and eye reading VR interface, and T.O.B., a heat and touch sensation generating headband accessory for VR games and movies. Samsung's new army of VR startups is going full Feelies and we're totally on board with it.
It's an area of tech that we wish wasn't necessary, but dedicated safety wearables from companies like Revolar are on the rise. Even big players such as Samsung and Apple have worked emergency features into their most recent smartwatches in order to help keep you safe.
And back at it again with its second device, Revolar's next step is the Instinct – a $59 wearable that's able to connect to your smartphone in order to provide real time GPS. Clicks of the button allow a wearer to contact family and friends, with personalised alerts and a feature that allows you to call your own phone also in tow.
Co-founder Jacqueline Ros designed Revolar to end the stigma of asking for help after interviewing "hundreds of survivors". The Instinct device has crossed its $50,000 target on Indiegogo (which is still running) and will ship this May.
Raising big funds with a smart earpiece that translates languages in real time, Waverly Labs' Pilot had one of the largest wearable tech crowdfunding campaigns of all time. It's also now around 10 months since the campaign ended, with the startup recently telling us that the device will soon enter beta testing before hopefully shipping before the end of the year.
With the hearable space rapidly growing, company CEO Andrew Ochoa indicates that it also has one eye on the future: "Some features we want to start employing soon are in offline mode. If you are in the middle of the desert and you want to speak to someone in a different language and you don't have access to Wi-Fi or data, we want you to be able to use it. That's something we are working on, we already making plans for that, maybe within the next 18-24 months."
Words by: Sophie Charara, Conor Allison, Hugh Langley, Michael Sawh, Husain Sumra.