Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

We check out the wearable tech startups to watch across India
Ones to watch: India's startup scene

Watch a show like Silicon Valley and you could start believing tech innovation takes place in California. And comes exclusively from socially inept man-boys. The reality is a little more diverse.

We've talked to some of the big names in wearables in India to find what's going on elsewhere. From companies looking to take the humble fitness tracker into the next generation to others trying to make healthcare cheaper and more effective, there's a lot to look forward to in 2017.

Wearable tech in India

2.5 million wearables shipped in India in 2016, making up just over 2 per cent of devices worldwide. It's a country in which the low-cost fitness tracker thrives, making up over 70% of the market. Simple trackers beat smartwatches, hands down.

As in other countries, Xiaomi and Fitbit are also big names here, but according to IDC, it's actually India's own Goqii that commands the largest market share of a single company. With 15.5% of the pie, it may be the biggest wearable device maker most people outside of India haven't heard of.

As with other gadget categories, the proliferation of wearables is slower here than in the west and the wearable-enabling Apple Pay and Android Pay are not yet available in the country.

Samsung Pay is, though, and wearables are also starting to creep into India's infrastructure, with the launch of wearable smart payments on the Delhi Metro system. Carry on reading to find out about how that works as well as eight more promising wearable innovators in India.

Actofit

Location: Mumbai

Actofit is an ambitious wrist tracker, based on the idea step counting just isn't enough for many people's fitness regimes.

"Standard fitness trackers rely on evaluating fitness by counting the number of steps, which is an incorrect way to measure fitness, since not all exercises involve steps," says Actofit CEO Pratik Saraogi.

Actofit "tracks wrist motion in 3D space" using a combination of an accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope, much like a motion gaming controller. It then uses this data to recognise specific gym exercises, as well as your daily steps. Those obsessed with reaching 10k a day can still get their fix.

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

This seems like an ambitious goal, particularly when you consider the extremely basic metrics a normal band delivers. "We are able to track 75 exercises, which need to be configured with the user's form, but theoretically the number of exercises with unique hand motion that can be tracked are limitless. Users can add completely new exercises easily from the app," he says.

"In practical use, we've been noticing accuracy with end users of around 80% but we're always learning, adding more features, constantly improving and trying to get the tracking accuracy with real customers close to 90%," says Saraogi. If the team nails this, Actofit could become one of the most useful gym trackers available, able to tell a pushup from a dumbbell curl or lateral raise. It also uses "machine learning" to tweak its algorithms for each user.

Actofit is in beta, although you can download the Actofit app on Android right now for a closer look at how its software operates. Saraogi says it'll launch on iOS soon.

On top of the clever motion recognition tech, Actofit has an HR sensor, IP67 water resistance, an OLED screen and claimed battery life of up to five days. The project was funded on Indiegogo in late 2016, earning over 200% of its goal amount, with $139,572. Backers have already received their Actofit bands, and you can pre-order one from the Actofit website now, for $120.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Location: New Delhi

You might think London or New York would lead the way in terms of merging technology and infrastructure. But India's Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is out there at the forefront, with smart ticketing wearables that don't rely on Android Pay or Apple Pay.

In 2016 the DMRC announced its plans for smart ticketing wearables, and the first models are finally coming out from under the tracks. Austrian watch-maker Laks has teamed-up with the DMRC to release some relatively low-cost watches that take SIM cards, doubling as smart tickets for the metro system.

These Watch2Pay wearables cost 2999INR, or roughly $50. Laks has actually been working with the Indian metro system since 2015, when it first announced its intention to make these devices in association with the Hyderabad metro system.

Leaf Wearables

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Location: New Delhi

Most of the popular wearables have a fairly narrow remit. They track your steps, getting office workers to realise how much time they spend nailed to a chair. Leaf Wearables devices are different, more concerned with safety than the sedentary. It currently makes a GPS tracker for children, the Safer Kids, and a pendant for adults, the Safer Smart Pendant.

Both try to downplay the techy angle, with an ultra-cute look for the kids and a jewellery style for the pendant. The Safer Kids is, unlike some rivals, a subscription-free tracker. It has GPS and takes a SIM to let your child call one of seven pre-defined numbers without having a phone. There's also a red SOS button for emergencies.

"Existing safety apps have a shortcoming in that they cant be used in emergency situations when a phone is not accessible immediately," says Leaf Wearables's sales and marketing director Paras Batra. "Thats why we turned to wearables, where the tech is on you and reaching it takes a matter of milliseconds."

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

"We, Avinash Bansal, Ayush Banka, Chiraag Kapil, Manik Mehta and Paras Batra, started this company when we were back in college in our final year in college in IIT Delhi and DTU," the team told us. "One of our co-founders, Paras, was living in Munirka at that time and got to know from one of his neighbours that he boards his bus daily from the same bus stop where the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 happened."

This was the terrible case of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh, who was gang raped and beaten by six men, including one juvenile, aboard a bus. She died from her injuries two weeks after the incident. Paras "discussed it with his four friends who had their own unique set of stories when their sisters had complained about the unsafe environment for women in Delhi. That's when the thought of building tech for safety came and Leaf Wearables was formed."

Leaf Wearables is currently working on a second-generation version of the Safer Kids watch.

Goqii

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Location: Mumbai/California

Look at a pic of the Goqii Life fitness tracker and it seems pretty ordinary. It's a black band with a simple display, and tasty features like two week battery life and WhatsApp notifications.

However, it is one of the few fitness bands sold as part of a subscription rather than outright, as the sort of device you might buy as a gift. Its USP is "motivation and guidance from experienced coaches and doctors."

As part of your $49/3 months sub, you can set up a call with an MBBS/MD-qualified physician. Those in India can buy a 12-month subscription for 3999INR (around $60).

Don't expect the equivalent of private healthcare at that price, and you'll need to do things like log your food to get better advice than "try not sitting at your desk for five hours without moving", but it's certainly outside the Fitbit norm. And presumably a way for young doctors to make a few quid on the side.

GetActive

Location: Bengaluru

It's easy to just think about the 'visible' side of wearables: Apple Watches and the endless fitness trackers that seem to promise a fitter, Pot Noodle-free future. GetActive is more of a behind-the-scenes operator.

It runs a platform that employers can sign up to, in order to make their staff more active, better motivated and all-round more healthy. Giant companies like Cisco and Microsoft have already used GetActive.

It doesn't make the hardware, though. "We integrate third party devices to work seamlessly with the GetActive platform. And we focus on wearables, which have features like activity & sleep tracking, sedentary alarm, and in-active time capture," says GetActive CEO Mohammed Hussain Naseem.

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

The approach is rather interesting, miles away from the classic image of a Japanese work force doing early morning callisthenics. "We do not position this as a health program," says Naseem. "It is proposed as a fun event. And a by-product of this program is better health. This is just like sports."

"We launch the program as a gamified initiative, which has competitions, challenges, recognition & rewards," says Naseem. It's like the challenges section of the Fitbit platform, but localised to people you might end up in a three-hour meeting with.

GetActive spices this up with 'games' like the location-aware Bounty Hunter, which Naseem describe as an "enterprise version of Pokémon Go."

You get to compete with Jim from accounts without an excruciating 'team-building' day and, according to a Cisco case study GetActive showed us, the multi-national you work for benefits with reduced absenteeism and healthier employees. As much as we're not fans of enforced corporate fun, it looks like GetActive is a cut above when it comes to employee wellness programs that actually consider the employees.

SenseGiz

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Location: Belgaum

India's answer to the Tile possession tracker, the SenseGiz Find is a Bluetooth gadget you attach to things you keep losing. Probably your keys, right?

It can send you an alert when the tracker goes out of range of your phone, and you can check its last known location using the companion app. A low-power, low-fuss wearable, a coin battery lasts for up to six months.

SenseGiz also makes a person-tracker called Safr. It's not a stalking device, though. Safr is a band that can detect when someone has a fall, be it the result of a seizure or a bike accident. There's also an emergency button on the band for manual alerts. It will then message up to three chosen contacts to let them know something's up. When not acting as an SOS device, the Safr also functions as a normal step-counting fitness tracker.

ReTiSence

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Location: Bengaluru

The RetiSense Stridalyzer is the sort of wearable that could save you a dozen trips to the physio and months of pain caused by running, well, wrong. It's a smart insole that monitors how you run.

"I developed a passion for running relatively late, in my early 20's," says RetiSense founder Anshuman Singh. "Later, I tore my ACL in the left knee, and so I had to adapt to my new physical condition. As I talked with runners, I realised everyone had a similar story of going through years of trial and error. And the best of the experts couldn't provide good help, because they cannot be with you throughout your run. All this led me to start thinking about a solution."

That's how he came up with the Stridalyzer family, which now has three members that look with varying depth at exactly how you run.

"To understand the biomechanics, one's pattern of movement and forces need to be looked at - what impact forces are they experiencing? Where are they experiencing the major impact forces? How is the leg oriented during the points when the person is exerting most effort? How long are the feet on the ground vs in the air?" says Singh.

It's probably not the sort of thing you consider when starting a couch-to-5K programme. But Singh says "using a wristwatch to measure running form parameters is like trying to measure your heart condition using a thermometer."

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

The simplest of the Stridalyzers is the Marathon model, designed for "casual runners, joggers and walkers." It has a single sensor in the insole to assess the "aggregate impact forces on their feet and knees."

One step up sits the Performance Stridalyzer, where things really start to get interesting. It uses four sensors in the sole to find where the pressure in centred in your stride, giving it a fairly accurate view of exactly how you run, if you're 'doing it wrong' and whether you may need shoes that fix your pronation.

The newest member of the family goes even further. The Stridalyzer Insight is made for physiotherapists rather than runners, and is "currently in trials with multiple physio and training clinics across the world," according to Singh.

It uses 7-8 sensors for an even more intricate view of the situation, and can assess posture and gait as well as running form. Singh calls it a "trainer's tool" rather than a consumer product, but as anyone who has gone through rehab for a knee injury can attest, this could really help.

The idea is that your physio will diagnose possible causes of the problem using the Insight insole, then you'll use one of the less hardcore models so they can keep an eye on your progress. As part of the Insight package there's a "rich patient data management toolkit," as Singh describes it, so you may even be able to get a check-up without a face-to-face appointment.

Boltt

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Location: Uttar Pradesh

Look at Boltt's website and you could easily think it's your average California-based tech start-up, but it's actually based in Uttar Pradesh. It makes athletics-driven wearables, and also a simpler low-cost series of tracker bands that come with a subscription-based lifestyle coach service.

This offers recipes, audio coaching, meal plans and training workouts, similar to the paid plans for some of the more popular fitness apps. For those out to dig a little deeper, Boltt also makes a stride sensor and connected shoes.

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Both of these use a multi-axis motion sensor array, with the same SDM tech Garmin puts in its Footpod wearables. The main difference: you wear the standalone stride sensor on your ankle while the shoe embeds similar hardware in the sole.

These devices are up for pre-order at the moment. The stride sensor sells for €56, the shoe for €70. Of course, if you're a regular runner you may already have a favourite pair you won't want to bin in favour of these surprisingly affordable shoes.

Cardiac Design Labs

Wearables from around the world: India's startup scene

Location: Bengaluru

If you start experiencing some strange heart behaviour, like skipped beats or strange rhythms, your doctor may well sign you up for a "24 hour tape". Or a 48-hour one. This is a long-term echocardiogram to see how your ticker behaves over a day or two.

This isn't ultra-high tech stuff, but the equipment normally is often a bit bulky, always expensive, and uses ancient data storage methods. Well, the hardware we've seen in UK GP's offices does, at any rate.

Bengaluru's Cardiac Design Labs has designed a couple of more intelligent solutions to this diagnostic staple. In 2016, it won a Google Launchpad startup competition for its low-cost approach to heart diagnostics.

Its MIRCaM ECG hardware is less bulky than the norm, uploads your heart rhythms to the cloud for remote analysis by your doctor, allows monitoring via smartphone and spots and catalogues instances of strange heart behaviour.

Are you a wearable tech fan living in India? Or part of the tech scene there? Let us know in the comments.

TAGGEDWearables

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