Last month, AIRO Health, a small Canadian startup working with just an $85,000 grant out of the University of Waterloo, made international news when it introduced a wrist-worn activity tracker that it claimed could passively count calories and analyze nutritional intake without requiring a user do anything other than wear the device.
According to company statements, the device worked by holding a bright LED light against the skin, then taking pictures of blood flow through the skin and using a built-in spectrometer to calculate a variety of nutritional metrics, including total calories, carbs, proteins, and fats consumed. “Different nutrients have a particular optical signature – they bend light in a certain way when present,” CEO and co-found Abhilash Jayakumar says.
In addition to monitoring nutrition, the tracker was also advertised as being able to track calories burned and sleep patterns, culminating in a complete digital picture of a person’s health. The company launched the product at the end of October, asking a pre-order price of $149 per unit and estimating a delivery date of Fall 2014.
Shortly after the product unveil, the company received broad and sweeping skepticism from the digital health community. Passive calorie counting is considered by many to be the missing link in a complete digital health ecosystem, and if a startup had truly developed a product that could accurately tackle calorie counting, it would be inundated with VC investment offers, and the devices themselves would be valued at far more than $149 per unit.
Many questioned the technology being referenced and whether AIRO would be able to deliver a device that performed as promised. GigaOM published the AIRO story under the headline “Too good to be true? AIRO Wristband says it tracks calories consumed, not just burned.” The company has received pushback across the board, not only from the digital health media, but directly from from consumers over social media as well. In response to the skepticism, AIRO promised demonstrations of fully functional devices, as well as published performance data, sometime in November.
With November nearly gone and still no fully functional demos or published performance data, the company has announced that it would be cancelling and refunding all of the pre-orders that it had received for the device. In an email to early backers, the company said:
“Early into AIRO’s pre-order campaign, which you were a part of, we received immediate feedback from the market that we lacked the proof that a product like AIRO will work as advertised. Our early testing of AIRO shows tremendous promise, but through conversations with others in the industry, we have come to realize that it requires further testing and calibration through more extensive trials before it will be ready for general market availability. The additional validation required will take us some time and, unfortunately, we no longer expect to be able to ship the first AIRO wristbands by Fall 2014 as initially indicated. As a result, we have made the difficult decision to cancel pre-orders and provide you with a full refund.”
Despite a new timeline, the company is standing behind the claim that it would eventually launch a passive calorie-counting activity tracker. For now, thought, you’d be best to scratch the AIRO off your 2014 holiday wish list.
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