On a mission to democratise personal wellness, interview with LifeBEAM CEO

Biometric headphones are great for people who workout and want to check their steps, heart rate, distance traveled and calories burned, among other information. A report released by Juniper Research a few days ago predicts hearable devices in use will grow from their current level of 43 million to 285 million by 2022. This represents a nearly sevenfold increase.

Essential reading: Top biometric headphones

While having detailed data at your disposal is all well and good, the next step for biometric headphones and wearables in general, is going beyond justdisplaying health metrics and providing analysis of data and actionable information. This is where LifeBEAM Vi steps in.

These biometric buds are a true AI personal trainer that evolves to get to know you with each session. The gadget learns your habits, provides coaching and motivates you to stick with your fitness program.

I spoke to Omri Yoffe, CEO and Co-founder of LifeBEAM to find out more about Vi and where the company is heading.

Founded in 2011, LifeBEAM’s first products tracked heart rate and blood flow by embedding sensors in helmets. It is only later on that they transitioned to biometric headphones.

Yoffe says the company is on a mission to democratise personal wellness around the world.

LifeBEAM was initially founded with a goal to save pilots and astronauts during combat flight and space endeavours. The technology was originally delivered to NASA and the Air Force to measure Pilots’ and Astronauts’ biometrics and give them vocal feedback in real time on their body performance. After accomplishing this mission, we then understood that we have a much broader and ambitious opportunity to touch the lives of millions of people by adjusting the technology into the consumer space.

Today our mission is to democratise personal wellness around the world through machine intelligence and voice computing. We have built a voice/text powered trainer for body and mind called Vi that is designed to help users reach their health & fitness goals.

Vi is jam-packed with state of the art hardware. Under the hood you’ve got optical heart rate sensors in each earbud, an accelerometer and a six-axis gyrometer. There is no built-in GPS, but Vi is capable of tapping into your smartphone for readings.

The smart buds functionality is triggered by voice commands. For example, “Vi how am I doing?” will be met with Vi giving an update of current stats, while “Vi step to the beat” will trigger her cadence coaching capabilities. Plus, with 8 hour battery life you can enjoy your favorite music and talk on the phone without ever touching a single button.

The inner ear is by far the most rich and valuable area of the body for obtaining the information needed to power Vi for two main reasons. Firstly you have an almost invasive way to accurately measure the bodies biometrics (heart rate heart rate variability, saturation, motion, skin temp and more) and secondly you can deliver an intimate hand/eyes free voice interaction in your ear, without the need to touch or look at a screen.

The term “hearables” (i.e. inner ear commuters) is becoming more and more popular and Vi is one of the first pioneers to truly deliver a hearable that is more than just a ‘cool gadget’ – it’s both useful and beneficial.

We’ve come to associate fitness trackers with devices you wear on your wrist. But it is a little known fact that earbuds, rather than watches, tend to be the most accurate heart-rate monitors, outperformed only by traditional chest straps. Yoffe agrees.

That’s very true, and I welcome your readers to take Vi for a test and compare it to an ECG chest belt, together with all wrist based devices out there.

Yoffi adds that the reasons for this are very straightforward. Blood flow in the head area is, by a few magnitudes more powerful and stable than the wrist, which is a very peripheral area far from the heart. This means, the amount of biometrics you can extract from the ear is much bigger. In addition, the ear is much less sensitive to motion which is a big challenge to wrist based devices that are frequently subjected to waving hands during a workout or just day-to-day movement.

LifeBEAM turned to crowdfunding to fund development of the headphones back in 2016, and managed to raise a whopping $1.7 million dollars in the process. We’ve all heard of some crowdfunding horror stories, but Vi couldn’t be more different. They come across as a second or third generation product rather than a first generation crowdfunded gadget.

I think it [crowdfunding] was one of the most insightful and helpful assets our company has experienced to date. We actually went to Kickstarter less for the financing aspect and much more for obtaining a solid market validation and community partners, that would educate us on if/how Vi should be designed.

We went through a very transparent creation process with our loyal community and we are very grateful for their ability to contribute to Vi’s prototyping, testing and voting until we achieved a full working commercial product.

Fitness trackers and smartwatches are great at providing data, but in most cases it is left down to the user to sift through the statistics and draw meaningful conclusions. To stay competitive wearable tech companies will increasingly need to bridge that gap. And this is where Vi shines. In essence they are a true AI coach that evolves to get to know the user with each session.

Similar to a human trainer, Vi will take 2 hours to learn your patterns (goals, BMI, heart rate threshold, step rate, activity level, intensity preferences). Only then she will start giving you tailored suggestions, together with sending you a personal training plan tailored to your chosen goals.

The buds use audio beats to keep you in pace to burn more fat or avoid fatigue and can also connect to your Spotify account and suggest workout playlists. And there are some small details that help make this a truly personal experience. For example, Vi often starts sessions with a “pick-up” line relating to your own context such as the real time weather, what you did last session or what she suggests for today. She even goes as far as to ask if she’s pronouncing your name correctly!

Right now these headphones differ very much from the competition. This is because they unify three products into one – tracker, earphones and trainer. You get a fully featured fitness device (heart rate, motion and posture, elevation, temp, weather and activity stats); a pair of premium earphones with sound by Harman Kardon; and a free coaching service with personalised content.

Yoffe says beyond the device itself, you are also getting evolving software that gets to know your goals and patterns and grows with you over time. Very much like how a human personal trainer would.

A recent firmware update has introduced a treadmill mode, additional voice commands, off-training notifications, step count and heart rate zone insights, and more. Updates planned for the next two months include personalized training plans sent to you by email, social training, more step-to-beat songs and splits data. Later in 2018 LifeBEAM is planning on adding guided mindfulness sessions and all-day wellness guidance.

The customer satisfaction with these buds is very high as demonstrated by the 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon US. There is clearly a lot to like. Yoffe says this is mainly due to the quality of hardware (sound, battery life and tracker and aesthetics). He adds that once users hear Vi for the first time, they truly feel she’s not another generic audio coach or app and are ignited by this new type of experience.

We truly feel we have a bigger mission than just creating some cool tech. If Vi keeps evolving at her current pace, we see her as a major catalyst to democratise personal health and fitness, at a much lower pricing point than the human and technology services currently available.

Computers are no longer just for our desks and pockets. They are now proudly displayed on our bodies and will one day be merged with them. If LifeBEAM has anything to say, the ears may very well be the next big growth area. We are currently testing the Vi headphones so look out for our full review in the next couple of weeks.

Vi is available at www.getvi.com and Amazon.

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