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Accuracy lacking in fitness wearables

21 Apr 2014  | Chris Van Hoof

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Some of the trendy wristbands in the market that health adepts wear to monitor their fitness are the Bodymedia Fit, the Nike+ Fuelband, the Up, and the Fitbit. These wearable devices could only become essential if they could give more accurate and usable feedback.

An independent comparison of the numerous fit devices on the market today has revealed that their results differ by almost a factor 10. They may be great tools to motivate people, but they are not yet accurate enough.

In our research groups, we look for solutions to create the most accurate fitness sensors. Our goal is to have you wear a fitness sensor that measures your real energy expenditure and that gives you relevant tips to improve your fitness and health.

You don't want to be seen walking around wearing today's most accurate fitness sensor. It's a mask that measures your oxygen consumption and CO2 production. With such indirect calorimetry, you measure the energy expenditure with 90 per cent accuracy. Our goal is to develop a sensor that is as accurate, but that is also comfortable and invisible.

Our current prototype is a patch worn on the chest. It contains an accelerometer, a heartbeat monitor, and—very important—algorithms that determine your activity. That way, it's possible to detect that you are sitting, lying down, walking, or biking. Your energy expenditure should be calculated in ways that depend on your activity level.

Fitness wearable

Imec's current fitness prototype uses a wearable patch and a smartphone app.

The system also takes your personal characteristics into account, e.g., your heart rate at rest. With all these measurements and calculations, this system is already as accurate as the standard, the indirect calorimetry.

In my opinion, most of us will wear a fit sensor in the future. It will be important for our health since it may motivate us to change the way we live.

Working a whole day at a computer, or lying in front of a television screen eating chips will certainly not add to good health. The modern living style leads to a worldwide rise in high blood pressure, blood sugar level, and body weight. The chronic diseases that result are heart diseases, strokes, cancers, diabetes, and more. A good fit sensor could motivate us to get rid of the bad habits that cause these diseases.

Our vision is that people may become their own fitness coaches. Imagine that you would wear a smart patch on your chest that sends your fitness parameters to your smartphone. That way, you'll see how much you've been walking, biking, or sitting—even how much energy you used while ironing.

Someday your smartphone also will tell you how far you still are from reaching your goal. It will tell you, for example, that you have to walk (or iron) for another 10 minutes before you may call it a day.

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