Quell Treats Chronic Pain Without Side Effects at CES

Quell logoChronic pain is a major health issue for many people. Often, the only treatment available is prescription drugs and usually, these drugs are expensive, hard to get, and they may cause bad side effects. Quell is a new product from Neurometrix that promises to help with the treatment of chronic pain by using an electric band that fits over a patient’s calf muscle.

Jamie met with Dr. Shai Gozani, CEO of Neurometrix. The two covered many of the challenges faced by chronic pain patients and how Dr. Gozani believes Quell will be able to help.

Quell is expected to hit the market in the spring and will retail for around $250. Quell users will also need to purchase disposable liners that fit between the Quell band and the leg. These liners will cost an additional $30 per month.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly for the TechPodcast Network.

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Vigilant Has Award-Winning Healthcare Products at CES

Vigilant logoPersonal healthcare technology has evolved a lot in recent years. But most of that technology is still limited to tracking things like calories and exercise. For some users, that may be enough. But for others, especially those dealing with chronic illnesses, the need is greater.

Jamie stopped by the Vigilant booth and talked to the company’s CEO, Richard Binier. There, Richard and Jamie discussed Vigilant’s award-winning Bee, a Bluetooth-enabled product that works as an add-on to a patient’s existing diabetes pen. Bee automatically sends insulin readings and other data directly to the patient’s smartphone where it can be tracked in an electronic log.

Vigilant also had its new VigiPen on display. VigiPen is an all-in-one diabetes pen and Bluetooth tracker. While Bee is currently available for purchase, VigiPen is still undergoing testing with the FDA.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly for the TechPodcast Network.

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Linx IAS Monitors Sports Impacts at CES

BlackBox logoWith concussion now an increasing concern in many sports, Todd talks to David from BlackBox Biometrics about the Linx IAS, which provides real-time feedback on concussive impacts.

The Linx IAS is small device, not too dissimilar to a thin USB memory stick, that athletes wear in a headband or skull cap to monitor the concussive forces on the head. The Linx sends data on impacts via Bluetooth to an app on a tablet or smartphone which then shows to the coach the severity and number of impacts using a simple colour-coded and numeric scale.  If a smartphone isn’t in range, the Linx will store the data until one is nearby. The MSRP is $199 and it’ll be available in Q1 of 2015.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Smart Hearing Aids from Siemens at CES

Siemens Hearing Test IconAs people get older, one of the more common complaints is of hearing loss. Many of those getting older now have grown up with technology and expect more than brown lumps of plastic which simply won’t do in an Apple-designed world. Today’s hearing aids are small, discreet and smart. Todd hears about the latest products from Thomas Powers of Siemens Hearing Instruments.

Siemens’ latest assistive hearing device is the Binex, which uses signal processing to help people in traditionally difficult listening environments, especially those where there’s a high level of background noise, such as restaurants or trade shows. The aid intelligently reacts to the noise, filtering out the unwanted sound while keeping nearby voices clear.

Worn around the neck, the easyTek streams audio from a Bluetooth-connected device directly into the hearing aid so it’s great for listening to music from a smartphone or tablet. The easyTek can be controlled by the easyTek app for Android and iOS smartphones to discreetly adjust programmes and volume, listen at a preferred level without disturbing others or direct the microphone towards the next person at a restaurant.

Available now, the smart hearing aids cost around $1500-$2000 which includes assessment and fitting.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Hexoskin Smart Shirt Now Comes In Small

Hexoskin LogoCanadian outfit Hexoskin has been in the wearables market longer than most, starting out in 2006 and now has a range of smart shirts with a built-in body metric system to measure heart rate, breathing, activity and sleeping using sensors woven into the fabric of the shirt.

Hexoskin, with the support of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, created sensors made of textile, leaving almost no hardware in the shirt – there’s no watch or tight fitting chest band required. There is a small recording unit that slips into a side pocket on the shirt and communicates with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Both iOS (Apple) and Android phones are supported, and a downloaded app keeps track of all the data. With over 42,000 data points recorded every minute, there’s a fair amount of data.

In addition to the usual metrics, the Hexoskin system also measures heart rate recovery, heart rate variability, breathing rate, breathing volume, activity level, acceleration and cadence, all in real time. These metrics give users the information they need to plan their training programmes and surpass their fitness and athletic goals. Essentially a wearable precision lab, Hexoskin provides its users with high quality metrics in real time – these are tools for people serious about their performance.

Today, Hexoskin announced child and youth sizes for the Hexoskin shirt, making it the world’s first biometric smart shirt tailor-made for kids and teens. Adapted to fit all the same sensors of the adult shirts into the smaller shirt size, the Hexoskin Junior will be available in sizes XXS to XL.

Hexoskin Kids

Youth athletics are popular all over the world,” said Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, Co-Founder and CEO of Hexoskin.  “Whether it’s hockey, baseball, football, soccer, volleyball or track & field, kids are part of intense training programs that are training them to become champions and Olympians.  With the addition of Hexoskin Junior, we’ve set out to provide coaches, parents and kids the invaluable tools our adult shirts provide.

By reviewing the data before, during and after workout sessions, users can exert maximum training effort, while still avoiding fatigue, overtraining and injuries.  This is particularly important with young athletes, especially since they are still growing and can be at a greater risk for injury than adult athletes.

Hexoskin Junior is available for pre-order in sizes XXS to XL and will retail for $149 for the shirt alone. A full starter pack with monitoring devices is $379. Not cheap but if you are going for gold, it’s probably money well spent. For more information, visit www.hexoskin.com.

Fitbit Flex Review

Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from fitbit.com and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.

Fitbit Activity Tracking at The Gadget Show

Fitbit is well-known in the activity tracking space with their diminutive gadgets which monitor the wearer’s every move and snooze. It’s a busy space, with competitors hot on their heels, Fitbit has been expanding its portfolio with new colours, swappable wrist bands, wireless syncing with more devices and pre-installing its app on new smartphones. I chat with Peter from Fitbit about the company’s recent activity and the direction of travel for activity watchers.

Fitbit Range

Wearables Come To SXSW

SXSWAt times it feels like SXSW has become a mini-CES, with all the hot innovations popping up. Wearables combined with health and well-being are definitely where it’s at and this year Philips are hosting a Dragon’s Den-style Digital Innovation Challenge, with three companies pitching their tech for a week’s advice and guidance at Philip’s High Tech Campus in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

First up are Atlas Wearables, pitching their fitness tracker for the serious workout enthusiast. The Atlas “measures your heart rate, calculates the calories you burned and tracks your body on the x-, y- and z-axes, so it knows how many laps you swam and if you did push-ups or triangle push-ups. It’s preloaded with the most popular exercises and can learn new exercises you teach it so you can instantly see your progress, analyze your form, anticipate plateaus and find what makes you stronger, faster.” Definitely for the hardcore fitness fanatic.

Incomparable Things is very much softer – they’re building an app to bring together the myriad of data sources – “In our app, people scrapbook the stories of their adventures. We collect all the media people already create when they’re being active – from photos to location data, NikeFuel to tweets – and weave them together to tell visual, personal and complete stories that others can collect and aspire to. They are more memorable than a photo album and more inspiring than an activity data score. It is used by everyone from daily walkers to training triathletes, neighborhood arborists to polar expeditionists.” Sounds a bit like Field Trip meets Pose! I love the idea of these apps but I simply don’t have the time to curate the photos and tweets.

Finally, Push is back to circuits and training with another fitness tracker that seems very similar to the Atlas one. “Rugged and durable, PUSH straps comfortably to your arm. It communicates with your phone, transmitting movement feedback that’s too fast for the human eye to capture. The data is displayed on the PUSH App, providing you with crucial, scientifically-validated metrics about each and every rep, helping you optimize your training.” It’s kind of symptomatic of the space that there’s going to very similar devices competing for attention. Push’s USP is that it can measure strength, not simply calories burned.

If you want to see these three companies pitch, you need to get yourself round to the Next Stage in the Convention Centre at 12.30 CDT today.

Fitbit Recalls Fitbit Force After Allergic Reactions

Fitbit logoThose of you who are currently using the Fitbit Force need to be aware of a voluntary recall on it. Fitbit chose to recall the product after learning that some people are having allergic reactions to it. More specifically, some people are experiencing allergic contact dermatitis after using Fitbit Force.

Only 1.7% have reported any type allergic reaction. Even so, Fitbit has issued an apology to anyone who has been affected. As a person who has severe allergies (including some that result in allergic contact dermatitis) I applaud Fitbit’s willingness to empathize with people who had an allergic reaction to one of their products.

I do not currently use any of Fitbit’s products. If, later on, I decide I want a wearable activity tracker, I will consider Fitbit over other companies who sell similar devices. Personally, it feels like the products from Fitbit could be more “allergy-friendly” than the products from competitors.

How did the allergic reactions occur? Fitbit hired independent medical experts to investigate. It appears that the allergic contact dermatitis that some people are experiencing is a reaction to either the nickel present in the surgical grade stainless steel that is used in the Fitbit Force. Or, it could be a reaction to the materials used in the strap or the adhesives used to put the product together.

So, Fitbit offered an apology and did a voluntary recall of Fitbit Force. They also took things two steps further. Not only have they stopped selling Fitbit Force, but they also are offering a refund directly to customers for the full retail price of their Fitbit Force. I think Fitbit made excellent decisions after learning that some customers were experiencing skin irritation from Fitbit Force.

Fitbug Showcases Fitbug Orb and KiK Plans at CES

Fitbug OrbFitbug is showcasing the latest Fitbug Orb and the new KiK plans at CES Unveiled. Both work together to help you reach specific health goals.

The Fitbug Orb is a wearable activity tracker that costs $49.95. Fitbug has added models that come in lime green, electric orange, and translucent white to their line. It is a discrete, button-sized device that can be placed on the belt, wrist, or lanyard. Or, you can clip it onto or beneath clothing. Fitbug Orb tracks number of steps, aerobic steps/time, distance, calories burned, speed, and sleep.

They also expanded the range of compatible iOS and Android smart devices it connects with to include the iPhone 4s, iPhone 5 family, iPad3, iPad Air, iPad mini and iPod touch 5. Compatible Android devices now include Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 mini and Galaxy Note 8.0 (Android 4.3), Motorola Moto G (Android 4.3), Nexus 4 and 5 Smartphones and Nexus 7 tablet (Android 4.4) and HTC One (Android 4.3).

The Fitbug Orb is one of many devices made by Fitbug that can be used with their KiK Plans. Each KiK Plan provides a goal oriented 12 week program that was created by leading experts. You purchase the activation cards individually and prices start at $19.99.

One of the first KiK Plans to be unveiled is called “no more baby belly”. It is a post-pregnancy program that has been designed to help mothers get back into shape after their baby is born. This KiK Plan was created with Melinda Nicci, who is a sports psychologist and postnatal fitness expert.

You can check out Fitbug at CES 2014. Many of their themed KiK Plans will be showcased at LVCC, South Hall 2, booth #26624.