The Movano Ring is one of our most hotly anticipated wearables – but the company is working on a lot more than just a smart ring.
While the first version of its female-focused smart ring is due to land in 2023, the company is also working on a new RF chip, which it says could herald better blood glucose and blood pressure tracking for consumers.
The company has put together a strong line-up of female senior executives, including former Fitbit exec Stacy Salvi and Nan Kirsten Forte, who developed the WebMD Symptom Checker.
And the ring is on track, with the company announcing successful trials of its heart rate and SpO2 sensors in a study with the University of California San Francisco.
We spoke exclusively to John Mastrototaro, Movano CEO, about its plans for its smart ring – and its forthcoming RF bio-sensor, which could herald a new era of biometric tracking.
Creating a smart ring for women
The Movano Ring was announced back in December 2021, and is aimed at women specifically.
Mastrototaro told Wareable that the company wanted to create a device made specifically for women, due to a lack of female-specific wearables on the market:
“There were a number of reasons why we felt that that was the right thing to do. First off, we think women have been grossly underserved by the wearable market today. We feel like a lot of the products look like they were designed initially for men, he said.
Smart rings have gained traction over the past few years, with Oura in particular carving out a successful niche. But we have seen many fall by the way, including the successful Motiv, and the Amazon smart ring, too.
But Mastrototaro said the smart ring form factor made sense for Movano, which could have put its tech in any form factor:
“Because we are focusing on women, we felt like why not go after a fashionable, aesthetically pleasing ring form factor for women so that it's something that they would enjoy wearing,” he said.
But making a smart ring does add challenges.
“Developing such a small form factor is not that easy. There's some challenges getting the technology scaled down, not only in terms of the outer dimensions of the ring, but also the thickness of the array,” said Mastrototaro.
The Movano Ring will initially track heart rate, heart rate variability SpO2, respiration rate, temperature, sleep and its state and activity, and levelling calories burned, as well as monitoring a few female related metrics. Not groundbreaking – but if it can do that in a form factor that women can use, it would be a great start.
However, Movano has plans to go a lot further – and future updates and versions will take it closer to a medical device.
A medical device company
“We are a medical device company,” Mastrototaro told Wareable.
“Over the next you know, three to five years, I expect six to ten different measures, that are all part of the one product, that are all FDA cleared,” he continued.
That means that the first-generation product will be improved in subsequent generations – and Mastrototaro said that over the air updates will continue to add medical features.
“There'll be over the air updates to that particular platform that add functionality over time. And then at some point, we may flick the switch for a new piece of hardware because we've added some new sensing element.”
Building a new type of chip
But it’s the sensing element that could be the most exciting part of Movano’s future in wearables.
It’s created and testing a new type of sensor chip, that uses RF instead of optical sensors – and Mastrototaro believes Movano has a “Good shot” at detecting glucose and blood pressure, non-invasively, from the wrist or finger.
The sensor transmits RF energy using millimetre wave technology – and it’s currently being testing in prototypes.
“We’re seeing pulse pressure waveforms with the RF energy. Then we’re looking at properties within the waveform and features within the waveform that we're trying to translate and correlate to the to the known blood pressure or glucose,” Mastrototaro explained.
The end of skin pigmentation problems
We’ve extensively talked about Rockley Photonics and its laser sensor, which the company says can track metrics as diverse as alcohol, hydration, glucose and blood pressure. And that could land on a medical grade device before the end of 2022. But Mastrototaro explained how the Movano sensor differs:
“There’s certainly other companies looking at this. Rockley Photonics has a souped up, more robust and higher fidelity optical solution, to try to make some of these measurements. [You can watch Rockley's CEO talk about its wearable sensor at Wareable's event from last June.]
“Our founder is an expert in RF. When we started initially looking at the RF data we could see the signal changes representative of glucose – and so that formed the genesis of what we were doing for our RF sensor,” Mastrototaro explained.
And RF technology could spell the end of problems faced by people of color, who have seen reduced accuracy of optical technologies due to skin pigmentation. Optical sensors power pretty much every wearable going – but are fairly rudimentary in terms of the technology used.
“We don't suffer from skin pigmentation issues like an optical sensor would, but we still have challenges pulling out that signal specific to glucose versus all the other constituents that make up you know, the interstitial fluid in the blood,” Mastrototaro said.
Focus on millions in the US with pre-diabetes
Solving the problem of non-invasive glucose tracking will take time – especially to get sign off by the FDA.
But Mastrototaro believes that we could see different, less perfect tracking of glucose aimed at consumers, before we reach the kind of accuracy needed for type one diabetics.
Mastrototaro talked about initial testing of partially invasive sensors, and revealed that even at lower accuracy, they could still be useful.
“Initial sensors were not as accurate, but still turned out to be very valuable and very useful in the healthcare space, because people could really see trends over time.
“Our focus, as a company, will not be on people with type one diabetes out of the gate. You've got Medtronic, Dexcom Abbott, and insulin pump companies, you know, really focused on that market.
“We're focused on tens of millions of people in the US who have pre-diabetes, type two diabetes or people who are pre-hypertensive. We really need to help people with improving their lifestyles subtly, in certain areas, to help avoid that from happening. That's what we want to do with a solution.”
Mastrototaro talks about wearables looking at trends of glucose data, and showing levels against personal baselines, rather than absolute readings. This would be akin to how Fitbit presents its body temperature and Estimated Oxygen Variability readings.
“I think there's opportunities to inform people of generalised what's going on with those particular metrics, and what subtle changes or modifications or things they've done and how it's affected those metrics over time so they can adjust moving forward.”
The Movano Ring is currently slated for release in 2023.
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