Tag Archives: Hind Hobeika

Toolmaker Talk: Hind Hobeika (Butterfleye)

At a recent QS-themed event at Stanford, 3-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond described the constant stream of new technologies that make bicycles lighter and more streamlined and that provide ever more detailed monitoring of the cyclists. In contrast, innovation in swimming seems limited to controversial bathing suits. Competitive swimmer Hind Hobeika aims to change that with Butterfleye, as she describes below and in her talk in Amsterdam last fall. She is also inspiring tech entrepreneurship in Lebanon, and is the organizer of the Beirut QS meetup group.

Q: How do you describe Butterfleye? What is it?

Hobeika: Butterfleye is a heart rate monitor for swimmers:  a waterproof module that can be mounted on all types of swimming goggles and that visually displays the athlete’s heart rate in real-time. Butterfleye has an integrated light sensor that measures the heart rate by reflection from the temporal artery (a ramification of the carotid artery that runs through the neck), and a 3 color LED that reflects indirectly into the goggle lens indicating the status relative to the target: green if the swimmer is on target, red if above target and yellow if below target.

Butterfleye is still in the prototyping stage, I am currently working on iterating the design to get to a market product.

Q: What’s the back story? What led to it?

Hobeika: I used to be a professional swimmer during my school and university years, and all of the trainings were based on the heart rate measurement. As a matter of fact, in all professional trainings, there are 3 main target zones that are dependent on a percentage of the maximum heart rate, and that lead to different results from the workout: the swimmers try to stay between 50-70% of their maximum heart rate for fat burning, 70-85% for fitness improvement, and 85-95% for maximum performance. In every single workout, the coach used to combine different sets of each of the zones to make sure the swimmer gets a complete workout and works on different aspects of his body. The problem was that there was no effective way of actually measuring heart rate during the practice! What we did is count the pulse manually after each race. Other options would have been to wear the watch + belt or use a finger oximeter, but both of these were very impractical for a swimmer.

I built the first prototype during the ‘Stars of Science’ competition, which is kind of like the Arab version of the ‘American Inventor’ initiated by Qatar Foundation. Following a Pan-Arab recruitment campaign, I was one of the 16 candidates to get selected among 7,000 initial applicants to go to Doha for the competition. Once I got to the Qatar Science and Technology Park, I was able to combine my passion for swimming and my background as a mechanical engineer, along with the experts and the resources available in Education City to build the first concrete version of my idea. After four long months, I won the third prize, and got a valuable cash award that I used to file for a US patent, start a joint stock company in Lebanon, and hire an electronics engineer and an industrial designer to get started on the prototyping process.

Q: What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?

Hobeika: The product is not on the market yet, so the reactions I have been getting so far are from swimmers and athletes hearing about the idea or testing the first prototype.

Swimmers I have talked to have commonly agreed that there is a very big lack of monitoring tools for practice in the water, and that Butterfleye would be filling a very big gap. As for people who have tested it, they are surprised of how lightweight it is and how they don’t feel it when wearing it in the water.

Here is my assumption on the impact Butterfleye will have: Swimming is a very solitary sport, and it is very difficult for athletes to get feedback on the performance if swimming without a coach or a team. It is the main reason why most people prefer practicing another activity. Having a practical monitor that can not only measure the heart rate but give all kind of information a swimmer would want to know (such as lap counting, stroke counting, speed, distance, etc.) will encourage more people to practice this complete sport and change its status of ‘solitary’.

Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?

Hobeika: Butterfleye is innovative when it comes to its sensor design: it is the first heart monitoring tool that doesn’t require wearing a chest belt, a finger clip or an ear clip, elements that would add a lot of drag in the water, and that would be cumbersome for the swimmer. Butterfleye’s sensor is integrated in the module itself, and measure the heart rate from the temporal artery.

Butterfleye’s design is also one of its competitive advantage: it is specifically designed for swimmers. It is waterproof, modular- it can be mounted on any type of goggles, light-weight and in the shape of a waterdrop in order to minimize the drag. It is also flat so it doesn’t interfere with the swimming motion. It is designed to be perfectly compatible with the biomechanics and the dynamics of swimming.

Butterfleye also stands apart by comprising a waterproof heads-up display, where the swimmer can visualize his target zone on his lens. This way, the swimmer would not have to interrupt the motion of his arms (as he would do if he was wearing a watch), and could visualize the heart rate in real-time, compared to using a pulse ox right after the race.

Swimming technology, unlike all of the other sports, is widely unexplored to date, especially when it comes to monitoring and self tracking devices. Butterfleye is one of the first tools to tackle this market gap.

Q: What are you doing next? How do you see Butterfleye evolving?

Hobeika: My next target is to release a first version of the waterproof heart rate monitor in the market. After that, comes a series of other monitoring products for the swimmers, so they would be able to track calories, strokes, lap count, etc.

I am also planning on expanding this platform technology to models compatible with running, skiing, biking and diving.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

Hobeika: I participated in ‘Stars of Science’ when I was still a university student, and after winning the third prize I got a job at a renowned Lebanese engineering design firm. I was very scared of working full time on my project and giving up the sense of security I had, and was only able to do it a year down the line.

The entrepreneurship ecosystem is still very nascent in Lebanon and in the Middle East, and I am part of the first generation that is working on a hardware startup in the region. It is very challenging, simply because there aren’t many (or any) resources available. I have to ship and prototype everything abroad, which makes the entire process more lengthy and expensive.

However, I am also part of that generation who will, through our projects, develop and nurture the right resources to make it easier for the next crazy change makers! I am already working on a website An Entrepreneur in Beirut, which is a platform for all the resources needed for hardware development in Lebanon.

Product: Butterfleye
Website: www.butterfleyeproject.com
Price: tbd

This is the 16th post in the “Toolmaker Talks” series. The QS blog features intrepid self-quantifiers and their stories: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned?  In Toolmaker Talks we hear from QS enablers, those observing this QS activity and developing self-quantifying tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences? If you are a “toolmaker” and want to participate in this series, contact Rajiv Mehta at rajivzume@gmail.com.

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Toolmaker Talk: Eric Gradman (Facelogger)

This is the eight post in the “Toolmaker Talks” series. The QS blog features intrepid self-quantifiers and their stories: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned?  In Toolmaker Talks we hear from QS enablers, those observing this QS activity and developing self-quantifying tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences?

For me, some of the most interesting QS talks have been by those creatively repurposing existing sensor technologies for novel self-tracking applications — such as Mikolaj Habryn’s Noisebridge, at an early QS meetup, and Hind Hobeika’s ButterflEye goggles, at the QS Amsterdam conference. It’s fascinating to hear what the inventors are thinking long before their product is in the market. Here, Eric Gradman, master hardware hacker, tells how he is applying his skills to a focused life-logging application.

Q: How do you describe Facelogger? What is it?

Gradman: The Facelogger is a passive lifelogger that helps me remember every person I meet by creating flashcards of their face, name, where we met, and our conversation. Facelogger consists of an always-on videocamera necklace, a software suite to process the video, and a smartphone interface for reviewing the flashcards.

The camera is a commercially available Looxcie camera, which was modified with a prism so it hangs around the neck. This camera continuously captures activity, and has a button that allows you to save the preceding 30 seconds of footage (footage that’s not saved is automatically discarded). When I meet someone for the first time and they introduce themselves, I press the button. The camera preserves the previous 30 seconds of footage which hopefully includes a good video frame of the person, their name, and what they said about themselves.

When I next plug the camera into the computer, all the captured video clips are automatically uploaded to a server, and sent to Amazon Mechanical Turk. There, human beings identify the most representative faces from the video, determine their names, and even transcribe the conversation.

Facelogger gathers all the information and creates a Facecard, which can be reviewed later on a smartphone. A Facecard is like a flashcard, but it shows someone’s smiling face, their name, a map of where you met, a link to the video of the conversation, and often even a transcript of the introduction. I  can search the text of the Facecards, sort them chronologically, or by geographic proximity.

Q: What’s the back story? What led to it?

Gradman: Like any self-respecting geek, I’ve always tried to stay a technological step ahead of my peers and a technological leap ahead of my parents. But when I discovered that my parents use the same model smartphone I do, I realized I was beginning to lose my edge. To me, the next frontier for personal electronics is wearable technology, and the natural application is self quantification.

But what to quantify? As a hardware hacker and artist, my first foray into QS wearable technology was definitely more for entertainment purposes. Called the Narcisystem, it was a biosensor suit featuring sensors for pulse, heading, EEG, pedometry, and breath alcohol level. I used the output of these sensors to drive the lights, sounds, and ambiance at a party venue. Fun, but not really a form of human augmentation.

I have terrible trouble remembering the names and faces of people I meet. Its hard to say which is worse: my face-blindness or my memory for names. I’ll meet someone, shake their hand, and we’ll introduce ourselves. Moments later I realize with panic that I’ve already forgotten their name! And hours later, if they’ve changed clothes, altered their hair, or removed their glasses, I’ll blithely reintroduce myself like we’ve never met. At least I’m not shy!

I’ve always wanted to offload the mental burden of remembering people. When I was in school and I needed to remember something I used flashcards. Why couldn’t that technique work for people too?

Q: What impact has it had? What reactions have you had?

Gradman: Because the Facelogger is a first-stage prototype I am its only user. Has it helped me remember people I meet? You bet it has. I’m amazed by the quality of the Facecards and by how effective they are at jogging my memory. I get the general sense that reviewing Facecards a day or two after meeting someone gives me an opportunity to properly commit someone’s name and face to memory at my own pace … something I simply cannot do “on the fly” as we meet.

There’s another purely psychological effect: because I’m confident that my technology is taking care of remembering for me, I can relax into the conversation. I was never shy about saying “hi” to people before, but I did experience stress over the fact that I immediately forgot their name and face. Now with that interaction captured and searchable, I’m not bothered at all.

I’m sensitive to the ethical concerns with capturing someone on video without their consent. When asked what I’m wearing around my neck—and as you might expect, that happens a lot—I never lie. I explain that I’m wearing a video camera to help me remember people I meet. Invariably, I’m asked “is it recording me now?” I’ve been asked to turn it off, and I always comply. But a surprising number of people tell me they want their own Facelogger. It turns out there’s demand for a device to help remember people’s faces and names!

Some have questioned the legality of wearing a video camera. But there are already cameras trained on us wherever we go. You can buy a video camera hidden in a pen, or a pair of sunglasses. Will our social mores (or our laws) surrounding cameras trail so far behind the technology?

Very few have actually questioned the morality of wearing a video camera. In the age of pervasive social networking we’re living highly examined lives. For anyone with a camera on their mobile phone, its not such a stretch to imagine wearing the camera around their neck.

Also, I’m careful to remove the Facelogger when I’m not likely to meet new people:at home, in a business meeting, etc. I do this because the purpose of this device is not to have a record of every conversation I have.

Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?

Gradman: Life-logging is always something that fascinated me, but I felt that an ever growing cache of unsearchable video of my life would just be a huge burden. Facelogger is an experiment in constrained lifelogging. By only capturing moments that share a particular characteristic and have common features Facelogger allows for a well-defined process of data extraction and collation that address a specific shortcoming.

Gordon Bell, the pioneer of life-logging described his always-on MyLifeBits image recorder as “write-once, read-never.” For me, the decline in storage costs is not sufficient reason to record my entire life on video. Huge amounts of unprocessed video is just video I’ll have to review someday! That’s why I find it so easy to resist the temptation to press the “capture button” more often. Unless I have automatic tools to convert video into a compact searchable representation—in this case, a Facecard representing a person I’ve met—the video just isn’t worth saving.

There are other tools out there designed to help remember names and faces. Evernote recently released Hello, a mobile app to record people. What distinguishes Facelogger is it’s passive form of information capture.

Q: What are you doing next? How do you see Facelogger evolving?

Gradman: Currently, a Facecard only expresses information captured in the 30-second clip. But APIs for face identification are getting really good. Soon the Facelogger will dig through my social network, and connect a Facecard to the social profile of the person it represents.

Next I will passively capture my meals, and use Mechanical Turk to help catalog my meals.

Face logging and food logging are only two well-defined applications of life-logging. I intend to identify others, and make them available as software for anyone wearing a compatible life-logging rig.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

Gradman: Face-blindness and poor memory for names are widespread problems! I designed the Facelogger with my own shortcomings in mind, but I’m now examining how I can make these tools more widely available, perhaps as a subscription service.

If you’re interested in updates on this project, have ideas to improve the system, or want to be contacted when the Facelogger service is available for beta-testing, please join the mailing list.

Product: Facelogger
Website: http://www.gradman.com/facelogger
Platform: Currently, iOS.  Coming soon to any HTML5 enabled smartphone.
Price: not yet for sale; to be contacted for beta-testing, please join the mailing list

(If you are a “toolmaker” and want to participate in this series, contact Rajiv Mehta at rajivzume@gmail.com) 

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