An Activity Tracker That Monitors Caloric Intake?

10-31-2013 8-52-46 PM

The digital health world is buzzing on news from a small Canadian startup called AIRO that says they’ve developed a wrist-worn activity tracker that can passively monitor caloric intake and nutritional breakdown information for wearers. Activity trackers have long been capable of measuring steps taken, calories burned, and sleep patterns, but the new activity tracker from AIRO is claiming to be able to measure all of these things, in addition to measuring total calories consumed.

CEO and co-founder Abhilash Jayakumar reports that AIRO works by holding a bright LED light against the skin, and then using a built-in spectrometer to measure the rate of caloric consumption, as well as search for the presence of carbs, proteins, and fats. “Different nutrients have a particular optical signature – they bend light in a certain way when present,” Jayakumar says. Passive caloric intake monitoring has often been described as the critical missing piece in the digital health ecosystem. HIStalk Connect has covered the lack of innovation in this space before.

Understandably, the startup’s claims are being met with a heavy dose of skepticism, primarily because they are operating on an $85,000 grant out of the University of Waterloo and the technology they claim to have mastered is one that pharmaceutical companies have been working on for years, and spent billions in pursuit of, without success.

The technology being used is similar in nature to several new technologies under development that have been designed to provide diabetics a non-invasive method of measuring glucose. One technology developed by C8 Medisensors of San Jose employed a spectrometer to measure glucose through the skin opitcally. It was recently cleared for use in Europe, but the manufacturer has since run into financial trouble and the product has yet to make it to market. That startup was backed by more than $50 million in VC funding According to a former employee at the company the technology was half baked even after receiving its clearance, “The device was too sensitive to light, so it had to be shrouded in darkness. The patient also had to smear some kind of gel to improve the optical transmission properties of the CGM.” 

Despite skepticism, AIRO is moving forward with marketing the product. The company is chosing not to launch a crowdfunding campaign, which would likely net millions, and is selling the units direct-to-consumer from its website instead. Units can be pre-ordered for $149 a piece and are expected to ship during the fall of 2014. If the technology proves to be reliable, the startup should have no problem getting at least that and likely much more for the device.

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