Crystal in the solute

Five questions for… the AURA fitness band

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Based in the UK and Moscow, AURA Devices is launching a fitness band that goes to places others currently don’t based on what it calls ‘bio-impedance’ technology. The company’s Kickstarter is being pretty successful, with the company nearly doubling its original goal of $40,000. I spoke to co-founder Stas Gorbunov about the wrist-based health monitoring device.

1. Where did the ideas behind AURA come from?

The technology behind AURA was based on a university scientific project around bio-impedance, following which the founders decided to bring it to the wider market. When we started out, we wanted to use bio-impedance more conveniently than currently. So we thought about fitness trackers — we went to the corporate guys, the big IT companies, insurance companies who were working on smart health, if you are fit can reduce premiums and so on.

We also worked with athletes/fitness enthusiasts – who can track how body compositions changed, and people wanting to lose weight, who need to track how weight changes during the day. So this is our audience.

2. What does AURA bring to the party?

First, the hardware design. Most of the hardware parts you can find on the market, you can build bands but it’s all about having the right design for the device. There are a lot of issues to doing this. The main challenge is to ensure accuracy, as the device is pretty small – it only has two points where it touches skin, whereas a medical-grade device has 8 points.

The most exciting and unique feature is hydration level  — it’s very difficult to do this, but we want to bring it to your wrist. Having said this, our IP is mostly in the software. The main idea is about interpreting the data, making big data comparisons and so on. For example, we can increase accuracy by adding information about activity type and lifestyle.

3. How does it fit within the fitness and health ecosystems?

The Aura band is just an instrument to get data about you – the goal is to give insights about your health. If you are enthusiast, you can get the raw data and interpret it for yourself. This is the first in several types of device – we plan more devices in healthcare field, we will increase our ecosystem at the same time.

We are integrating with Apple and Google health kits, adding and interpreting that data alongside our own. We also have gamification through ‘duels’ and loyalty programs — you can earn a pair of sneakers through healthy behaviour! We try to bring as much flexibility as we can.

4. AURA talks about insurance relationships — how does this work?

Insurance is a big opportunity for us: we are looking to bring new innovation in terms of health plans. The idea of insurance companies using AURA band data does create potential issues around privacy, but if this is a problem you can turn off this feature and use our band as any other fitness tracker.

There’s always going to be questions raised around heath data and insurance. For example, insurers are looking at scoring your online data, e.g. from public feeds of Strava and so on.

5. What are plans for the future?

We are heading towards mass production right now. We expect to deliver devices to Kickstarter customers in August, and online sales in September/October in time for Christmas. We have also seen some corporate sales.

We may look to license analysis to other hardware. Right now we could not find the right hardware, so we had to develop our own. If hardware comes, we can recommend it and work with it. Right now, we have what have.

We are trying to make an ecosystem – we think healthcare, insurance and fitness should work together and bring more personalised services, cannot do so without monitoring instruments. Our position is to exist right in the middle.

My take — another crystal in the solute of a nascent market

When I first looked at AURA band, I confess to have thought, “Yet another fitness device?” but it does look to collate and analyse data other devices cannot, or at least not outside the medical sphere. While the company is right to see its future in the software rather than the hardware, this whole area is subject to rapid commoditisation — the chances of other OEMs looking to tackle the same problems are pretty high so the company has its work cut out.

What of the ‘issue’ of giving data over to insurers, isn’t this a two-edged sword? The relationship between health monitoring, fitness and insurance will continue: in some cases it may be intrusive or cause greater premiums, but in others, it can help early monitoring or identification of issues, as well as encouraging behaviours that lead to better health. I’m not a great fan of loyalty programmes as they play into consumerism, but that’s probably just me.

Ultimately, there is still room for both innovation, and new players, in this still-nascent space. With companies like Philips re-inventing itself as a health data platform provider, the need will continue for organisations to deliver usable and effective data. Market opportunities are broader than we think (consider protection of endangered species, for example) and overall, I am optimistic that the benefits of better monitoring and interpretation will outweigh the downsides.