Tag Archives: tools
The excellent organizers of the London Quantified Self Show&Tell recently fielded a detailed survey about the self-tracking practices in their group. In the video below Ulrich Atz presents their findings.
Some of the interesting results from the survey:
- 105 respondents (22 identified as female, 76 as male).
- Over 500 unique tools were being used.
- 47% of the respondents are currently measuring weight (17% have in the past).
- Pen & paper is being used by 28% of respondents.
- 90% of respondents who answered a question about data sharing would share their data (or share it for medical research).
The presentation is available online here (PDF) and an aggregate view of the survey results is also available for you to explore here. We’re excited to see and learn more from this interesting data set in the future.
Stand up. Sit down. Walk. Run. Sleep. We engage in these activities everyday (well, maybe not running), but how much do we know about ourselves and our bodies while we’re in the midst of them? Are you standing up straight? Are you slouching at your desk while you read this sentence? In this Toolmaker Talk we’re going to hear from Charles Wang, one of the founders of LUMOback – a posture sensor and mobile application designed to support back health and improve body awareness.
Watch (or listen to) our conversation with Charles below then make sure to read our short interview to learn more about the story behind LUMOback.
Q: How do you describe Lumoback? What is it?
LUMOback is a posture and movement sensor that you wear around your waist. It gives you real time feedback in the form of a vibration when you are slouching, both when you are standing and sitting. It also connects wirelessly to a mobile application, where it tracks whether you have been straight or slouching, in addition to sitting, standing, walking, running, and sleep positions.
One key feature of our mobile application is LUMO, the real time avatar. LUMO mimics what you are doing in real time, and gives you real time visual feedback so that you can understand and be aware of what position your body is in.
Q: What’s the backstory? What led to it?
Andrew Chang, Monisha Perkash, and myself were funded by Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors to find a big problem to solve, and build a growth business around it. We didn’t have to look very far to find the right opportunity.
Andrew, one of the cofounders, has had chronic lower back pain for the past 11 years, and nothing really seemed to help him. He went to physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors, and tried acupuncture and other minor procedures. It wasn’t until he learned about postural correction by taking a set of posture classes where he started to understand how critical posture was in alleviating his back pain. In fact, once he began paying attention to his posture, his back pain significantly improved.
We as humans were designed through evolution to move, but now we spend most of our time sitting, and in most cases, sitting poorly. This means that improving posture and encouraging more activity can have significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing. Studies show that back health and posture are correlated, as is posture and confidence / attractiveness. It’s no wonder that physical therapists, chiropractors, and spine physicians stress the importance of posture.
The challenge of improving posture is twofold: 1) Most people have very little body awareness, let alone understanding their sitting and standing postures, and 2) Most people don’t have the resources or the time to take posture classes. This is where we realized that we could use technology to solve this problem, so we started prototyping and iterating, and this is what led us to create LUMOback.
Q: What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?
Users tell us that LUMOback has changed their lives, and either that their back pain has gone away through using the product or has significantly been reduced. People also frequently tell us that they are now very aware of their slouchy posture, which leads to posture correction, and again, awareness is the key element involved in making postural changes.
Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?
In addition to telling people whether their posture is straight or slouched, we can tell them whether they are sitting, standing, walking, running, and their sleep positions. The ability to differentiate between sitting and other activities is a clear differentiator for what we do.
Q: What are you doing next? How do you see Lumoback evolving?
We are constantly making improvements to LUMOback, from the application experience to the accuracy of our ability to detect different biomechanical states. We pride ourselves on being open to feedback and are constantly trying to improve and iterate on our product based on what our users tell us. This is the most exciting part — truly solving problems and needs that people have.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
We really are at a point in time now where mobile technologies will help us to solve challenging health problems in ways we couldn’t have imagined even several years ago. This is what gets the LUMO team super excited!
This is the 19th 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 please contact Ernesto Ramirez.
A quick post here to highlight some interesting developments in the heart rate tracking space. Tracking and understanding heart rate has been a cornerstone of self-tracking since, well since someone put two fingers on their neck and decided to write down how many pulses they felt. We’ve come a long way from that point. If you’re like me tracking heart rate popped up on your radar when you started training for a sporting event like a marathon or long distance cycling. Like many who used the pioneering devices from Polar it felt a bit odd to strap that hard piece of plastic around my chest. After time, and seeing the benefits of tracking heart rate, it became part of my daily ritual. Yet, for all the great things heart rate monitoring can do for physical training, there have been very few advances to provide people with a noninvasive method. That is, until now.
Thearn, an enterprising Github user and developer, has released an open source tool that uses your webcam to detect your pulse. The Webcam Pulse Detector is a python application that uses a variety of tools such as OpenCV (an open source computer vision tool) to “find the location of the user’s face, then isolate the forehead region. Data is collected from this location over time to estimate the user’s heartbeat frequency. This is done by measuring average optical intensity in the forehead location, in the subimage’s green channel alone.” If you’re interested in the research that made this work possible check out the amazing work on Eulerian Video Magnification being conducted at MIT. Now, getting it to work is a bit of a hurdle, but it does appear to be working for those who have the technical expertise. If you get it working please let us know in the comments. Hopefully someone comes along that provides a bit of an easier installation solution for those of us who shy away from working in the terminal. Until then, there are actually quite a few mobile applications that use similar technology to detect and track heart rate:
Let us know if you’ve been tracking your heart rate and what you’ve found out. We would love to explore this space together.
A month ago we showed you what we thought was the quintessential example of how Quantified Self is becoming more of a mainstream activity. During a trip to the Apple store we identified over 20 different Quantified Self devices. Another outing led me into one of the largest consumer electronics stores in the US: Best Buy.
Here, I counted over 25 different tracking devices on the shelves. I’ve split them into three categories here so you can get a sense of just how many different devices are available. With a bit of internet sleuthing I also found that additional devices are available at different stores so you might see something different in your local Best Buy.
Gary and I were inspired to start looking into activity tracker data by James Wolcott’s comment in his recent Vanity Fair Story:
According to Fitbit, I took 7,116 steps on November 27; Jawbone has me at 2,192, a bit of a discrepancy. I prefer to believe Fitbit’s higher tally is the correct one, because that is the cotton-candy cloud on which I dwell, but perhaps I’m fooling myself and Jawbone has me accurately pegged as a potted fern. Further testing is clearly indicated, as they say in those clinical trials.
Wolcott is talking about the Jawbone Up. Neither of us own a Jawbone UP (yet), but we were nonetheless curious: do common activity trackers agree? We know that this could be studied rigorously, but the first step is just to find out what happens in our own real use. Gary had a Fuelband, I had a Fitbit. Each of us bought the one we were missing. We focused mostly on step counts as this is one of the most common metrics that activity trackers provide.
This feels very fast. A year ago there were a small number of Quantified Self devices, and a sense of high geekery. I walked into the Apple Store in Santa Monica last Wednesday and this is what I saw. There isn’t much that’s more mainstream than Apple retail at the moment, and I counted twenty-two Quantified Self trackers for sale. (Two were baby trackers and one dog tracker, borderline cases, but our curiosity extends to these.)
A question for readers: What kinds of self-tracking tools aren’t here now that will be here when I take this photo next year?
Here is a key to the photo:
- Pocketfinder personal GPS locator
- Tagg GPS dog tracker
- Fitbit One and Zip physical activity sensors
- iPING personal putting coach and app
- Wahoo Fitness bluetooth heart rate strap
- Scosche Rhythm heart rate monitor armband
- Jawbone Up physical activity and sleep sensor
- Pear Training heart rate monitor and training app
- Adidas MiCoach bluetooth heart rate monitor
- Adidas MiCoach Speed Cell activity sensor
- Nike+ sports sensor
- Nike+ Fuelband physical activity sensor
- Withings baby monitor
- Philips in.Sight wireless baby monitor
- IZON Wireless Camera -
- Philips in.Sight wireless camera
- Lark sleep sensor wristband
- Lark Life physical activity and sleep sensor
- iBGStar blood glucose sensor
- iHealth wireless blood pressure wrist monitor
- Withings blood pressure monitor
- Withings wireless scale
Last week we brought you a look into some of the interesting Quantified Self tools that were debuted at CES. Here are a few more we noticed from the deluge of CES coverage. Thanks to MobiHealthNews, Gizmodo, Engadget and many QS friends for the tips.
Withings Smart Body Analyzer (WS-50)
The latest wireless scale from Withings adds some interesting new sensors: resting heart rate, ambient air quality (CO2) and room temperature. The combination of physiological and environmental monitoring, while simple in this case, opens many new possibilities for Quantified Self projects.
Measures: Weight, BMI, Fat Mass, Heart Rate, Room Temperature, Room CO2
The Zensorium Tinke is a small sensor and companion app for iOS devices dedicated to helping users understand their health and wellness. This is a really interesting variation on the emerging theme of Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability self-monitoring. The Tinke has no battery and no screen. Instead, the small optical sensor plugs directly into the iPhone.
Measures: Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, Blood Oxygen, Respiratory Rate
A similar approach is used by the Masimo iSpO2, where the focus is on blood oxygenation.
Measures: Blood Oxygenation, Heart Rate, Perfusion Index
The Mio Alpha boasts of continuous and strapless heart rate measurement. Using technology developed by Phillips, the Alpha uses optical heart rate sensing at the wrist and a soon to be released mobile app. What once seemed like difficult technical magic is on the verge of becoming commonplace.
The Mio Measures: Heart Rate
Sync: Bluetooth 4.0
I’ve been curious about tracking physical activity since I was an undergraduate. I remember traveling to a local middle school with a researcher interested in how physical activity was taught in low-income Native American communities. Back then, the best we could do was have the children wear simple electromechanical pedometers to count their steps during their physical education classes. Fast forward about ten years and I’m still working with pedometers and physical activity sensors – but much better ones. Quantified Self toolmakers are experimenting with many upgrades to the old digital pedometers, including new ideas about syncing, more fashionable design, and – of particular interest to self-trackers – integration of optical heart rate monitors. (No chest strap.)
Below are some of the notable Quantified Self tools recently announced at CES. Did I miss one? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it! I’ve also written a bit about what I think are some notable trends below.
The Flex appears to be Fitbit’s answer to the growing trend of wrist worn wearable activity monitors. Interestingly they’ve chosen to focus on the wireless syncing capabilities and eschew a traditional display; there is just a small glanceable LEDs to highlight goal progress.
Measures: Steps, Distance, Calorie Burn, Activity Minutes, Sleep Time, Sleep Quality
Sync: Bluetooth 4.0
Withings Smart Activity Tracker
In 2013 Withings is stepping in to the activity tracking space with their Smart Activity Tracker. While it appears to be just another accelerometer-based device Withings has also packed a heart rate pulse sensor into the small form factor.
Measures: Steps, Distance, Calorie Burn, Sleep Quality, Heart Rate
Sync: Bluetooth and Bluetooth 4.0
Omron Activity Monitor
Omron has long been a staple in the low-cost pedometer market. With the launch of their Activity Monitor they’ve shown up with a wireless activity tracker of their own. Omron is semi-wireless; syncing requires that you plug a USB accessory into your computer, then place the pedometer nearby.
Measures: Workout Time, Steps, Distance, Calories burned, Pace
Sync: NFC Plate (USB)
Omron Heart Rate Monitor
Integration of pulse tracking into activity monitors is a current trend, and we’re very curious about what we’ll learn from having continuous heart rate data. Omron’s new heart rate monitor uses optical sensing on a strapless watch, with eight hours of storage capacity. The press announcement promises pace, calories, and distance, which means the watch probably has accelerometer-based actigraphy on board as well.
Measures: Heart Rate, Pace, Distance, Calories Burned
Sync: Micro USB
The Orb is new small and sleek device that builds on their already released Fitbug Air wireless pedometer. The new pebble-like Orb is a screenless activity tracker that uses Bluetooth syncing to a mobile app in three different modes: Push for updates on demand, Beacon for timed updates on a regular interval, and Stream for real time updating. The Orb’s small form factor works with a variety of different wear options, including wrist straps and lanyards.
Measures: Steps, Distance, Calories Burned, Sleep
Sync: Bluetooth 4.0
BodyMedia Core 2
The BodyMedia armband is known for its accurate activity tracking, which comes from integrating the data off multiple sensors. A new device, the Core 2, has the same measurements that are currently available (core temperature, heat flux, galvanic skin response, and tri-axial accelerometry) in a smaller package. A version with an integrated heart rate monitor will be also be available.
Measures: Temperature, Heat Flux, Galvanic Skin Response, Activity, Heart Rate (optional)
Sync: Bluetooth 4.0
Bonus Non-Activity Device
This last device kept popping up on my various feeds yesterday. The HapiFork is designed to help you understand how you eat by tracking how many bites you take and how long it takes you to eat your meal. It will also alert you when you’re eating too fast. Will the first person to use this please give a Quantified Self show&tell talk as soon as possible?
Measures: Fork “servings”, Eating Time
Sync: Bluetooth or USB
In my current work I’m really interested in how real time information about physical activity behavior can be used to help people change their normal patterns. In our little corner of the research world we understand that self-tracking devices are wonderful tools to help people change their behavior. But, what we don’t know yet is how the data gathered by these tools can really help people in the moment. The newest crop of tools and devices may start to help us answer that question.
By now if you’ve seen one physical activity tracker then you’ve seen them all. At their core they use the same technology that’s been used for almost a decade – actigraphy. That is, most devices are based on an accelerometer, a tiny little sensor that measures
gravitational force acceleration. These sensor pass data through an algorithm that used machine learning and pattern recognition techniques to determine a variety of data points. Steps, distance, activity intensity, calorie expenditure – you’re probably familiar with all these. So what’s new in this space? How are companies starting to differentiate themselves? While looking through some of the new offerings being showcased at this week’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It appears that there are two major themes that I think are coming forth: Wearability and Syncing
Wearability. The pedometers we made kids wear 10 years ago? Utilitarian hunks of plastic and electronics. Nothing you would want to show off to your friend or coworker. Looking at the latest from Fitbit, BodyMedia, and others it’s clear that companies are introducing real fashion where there used to be just electronics. Will they succeed in making activity trackers a fashion trend? A status symbol?
Syncing Capabilities. When Fitbit introduced their tracker a few years ago one of the biggest complaints was that it didn’t sync to our phones. Now, nearly every new device offers Bluetooth syncing with paired mobile apps. The rise of Bluetooth 4.0 has made it easier for nearly everybody to wirelessly sync. I’m curious about the future of low power data sharing beyond the phone. Soon we may see myriad devices talking to each other directly. What happens when your fitbit starts talking to your fridge?
To start a sparkling new year, I thought it would be fun and helpful to make a fresh list of all the QS-related tools, companies and projects out there.
I found 205, and I’m sure there are more, so please feel free to add your tool or ones that you know about to the comments. Thanks, and happy 2013!!
Institute for the Future
Johnson & Johnson
Lena Baby Monitor
Michael J Fox Foundation
My Fitness Pal
Personal Genome Project
Pew Internet Project
Remember the milk
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Seventh Sense Biosystems
“How do you feel right now?” Such a short question can lead us toward profound insights into our lives. But how do we ask ourselves that question? How do we keep track of our answers? There are many different ideas out there about how to tackle this seemingly simple question. Many of them focus on mood, which we’ve covered in previous Toolmaker Talks (see our posts about Happiness and Mood Panda). We’re going to explore another idea in his week’s Toolmaker Talk with Jonathan Cohen, the man behind the new (and soon to be released) app, Expereal.
Q: How do you describe Expereal? What is it?
Jonathan: Expereal is a simple iPhone app that allows people to rate, analyze, share and compare their lives. It was created to help people better understand their lives holistically, answering a most human question that cognitive biases can distort: “How’s my life going now relative to other time periods, friends and other users around the world?” In order to arrive at an answer, the app requires active participation, which it prompts via push messages (which can be turned off), requiring users to consistently rate their lives over time. Though it is unclear of whether millions of users care to actively measure their life, I went this route as a minimal viable product, because I was unconvinced of passive measurement’s efficacy, which crashes on the rocks of language interpretation and context.
Q: What’s the backstory? What led to it?
Jonathan: I read Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” which outlined the duality and inconsistencies in the experiencing and remembering selves. I wondered if there might be some value in capturing the subjective opinion of the experiencing self over time to counterbalance the remembering self’s so-called “peak-end bias.” What I found quite interesting was that the peak end bias doesn’t only affect our view of past events; it also influences how we think of our lives holistically in the present tense. Imagine walking out of a terrible meeting in which your boss publicly reprimanded you for incompetence, and someone asks how your life is going. How would our answer be influenced? Would that answer accurately reflect our perceptions across a wider swath of time? It is unlikely, as the preceding moment would act as an “anchor” in assessing our present moment lives.
From what I can discern, Kahneman doesn’t necessarily argue that the remembering self is “wrong” per se; he merely illuminates that it inaccurately captures the experiencing self. In his book and TED talk, he slyly asks the rhetorical question if we had to plan a vacation, would we plan it to satisfy our experiencing or remembering selves? In any cae, I thought that it would be valuable to have a more holistic perspective on my life that offered an alternate, longitudinal vantage point than what the ever-present peak end bias might offer. Furthermore, I hoped that such information might help me “know myself better” and potentially make better decisions. I then wondered if others had similar questions and desires.
Q: What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?
Jonathan: The app is in alpha testing. I have received a range of feedback – some quite positive (about the design and the app’s social nature) and some quite negative (“It’s not very useful for me. It takes a lot for me to really think about my mood, not just a 1-10 rating.” as well as “What exactly am I rating 1-10?”) The strongest critique, which strikes at the app’s very viability as a product and business, is that most people are not really that interested in measuring themselves, particularly actively over time. Consequently, Expereal needs to offer something immediate and compelling to encourage people to interact with the app. What’s the immediate feedback that makes it both useful and “sticky”?
Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?
Jonathan: Simplicity: I created the initial capture mechanism to be dead simple: “How’s your life going right now? 1-10.” If the user has to think about it, he’s overthinking. It wasn’t intended to measure “mood”, though it could be used as such. The Capture Details screen is totally optional, allowing additional information to be ascribed to a rating.
Aesthetics: Expereal was designed to look different from other apps, not so simple given that there are several hundred thousand. I was most inspired by the LACMA exhibition catalog “Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965” and, to a slightly lesser extent, Edward Tufte’s data visualization books. I also respect the work of numerous “quantified selfers”, “data visualizationalists” and artists, including Jonathan Harris, Nicholas Felton, Jer Thorp, Jan Willem Tulp and countless others – many of whom consistently speak at the Eyeo Festival.
Social: I initially wanted to make the app solitary, because I was concerned that sharing one’s Expereal Ratings with friends would skew results, where users would only rate their lives when they were going well. I ended up taking a middle course: one can optionally share an Expereal Rating to Facebook, and one’s ratings and descriptions are used in anonymous aggregates. It could become more social depending on audience demand, but I want Expereal to remain true its core of helping users better understand their lives. It’s not meant to be another social network or to replicate Facebook, Path or Twitter, which could all be future partners.
Q: What are you doing next? How do you see Expereal evolving?
Jonathan: Expereal should be available in the app store in November. I have numerous ideas and dreams, but it will ultimately depend on user interest. Again, the core challenge is giving people who haven’t shown interest in active measurement inspiration to continually engage. I suspect that for most potential users, the social component will be a greater driver of interest and usage than advanced personal analytics, but am happy to be proven wrong and will adapt accordingly.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
Jonathan: Going from an idea to an app is an incredible challenge, yet even after it “ships”, it feels like the beginning of infinity. There are just so many possible permutations and extensions of what might happen. In another chapter of “Thinking,” Kahneman wonders why so many people start businesses without considering the terrible odds against succeeding. Right now, without question, I feel that it’s been a worthwhile endeavor. I’d give my life right now a ‘9’, describing it “rewarding”, “exciting” and “harrowing.” I love a challenge
This is the 17th 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 or Ernesto Ramirez.