Technology has been instrumental in inducing inactive lifestyles, so we now want to use it to bring about a positive change,” says LifeBEAM’s Cliff Chen. “We want to take on the big hairy problem of obesity.”
LifeBEAM’s artificial intelligence personal trainer, Vi, could indeed be a game changer when it comes on stream early next year. It’s a fitness tracker, a PT, a phone and a music player all wrapped up in one set of top quality headphones, designed in partnership with Harman/Kardon.
AI personal trainers
The company’s background is in biomechanics for the aerospace sector, but in 2012, LifeBEAM crossed over to the consumer market, developing wearable tech for clients like Samsung and Under Armour.
The idea to create a PT controlled by artificial intelligence emerged three years ago. “We had lots of bio-feedback capabilities that we wanted to bring to a consumer audience. We were also passionate about health and sports, so we wanted to move into this market,” says Chen. “But it was the Spike Jones movie, Her – about an AI character – which really inspired us to go down this route. We liked the idea of putting a person into your ear: we’ve all lived with Siri, and bio-sensing technology is getting smaller, so we knew it was possible.”
The Vi product contains a string of sensors worn around the neck and in the ear – to relay workout feedback to the system – and a microphone to talk to ‘her’.
“Having a device in the ear is advantageous, because it can give a lot of accurate physiological data,” says Chen. “But Vi is more than just hardware: it’s a product that’s able to build a relationship.”
Vi will constantly look for patterns in behaviour to gain intelligence about the individual. For example, she will ask for feedback on mood and sleep quality and will assess the workout against the backdrop of this information. She will then store this data for future workouts, to build up a picture of the individual.
“Part of the intelligence is to work out what kind of motivation the individual user needs – whether it’s gentle or more assertive encouragement. We wanted to create a nuanced personality who will be the perfect companion for exercise,” says Chen.
There are early indications that this will be a popular product. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign in June, and within 90 minutes had smashed its rather conservative target of US$100,000. The final result was a staggering US$1.7m from 7,257 backers.
At the moment LifeBEAM is well into the manufacturing phase, working on the interactive software and conversational logic. The first products, for those who invested via the crowdfunding campaign, will be launched in December. Vi will be on public release in Q1 of next year, with the US and other English-speaking markets being targeted first.
Currently Vi is focused on running, but it won’t be a running-only product: cycling will be the next activity to come on stream and other sports will follow, including swimming. Further down the line it will also track diet. It will be priced at US$279, but pre-orders will get a discount.
A complementary tool
Chen believes Vi could attract a new audience to the health and fitness industry – those who are interested in technology but not currently active. However, he emphasises that LifeBEAM is trying to provide an additional tool for motivation rather than replace personal trainers.
“We hope Vi will become an accessible companion that holds people accountable to their exercise goals,” says Chen. “However, we’re fully aware the product can’t replace the trainer – there’s so much more a person can do in terms of seeing form and making adjustments. But this could be an amazing tool for gyms and PTs to use to help their clients stay on track and meet their goals.
“It will let the personal trainer review training and activity between appointments and provide an unprecedented amount of accurate personal information. We urge the industry to embrace this as exciting tool and not see it as an existential threat.”