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Basis strong-arms other wearable body sensors

Wristwatch-like heart-rate and wellness sensor collects more data about your body than competing products.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

Wearable body sensors are in. We've got the Fitbit pedometer, the BodyMedia armband, and the Lark sleep sensor on the market, and Jawbone's Up arriving soon. Joining the fray is what may be the heavy hitter in this fight: the Basis Band.

This wrist-wearable sensor offers the most sensors. In addition to measuring motion (which the other products do), Basis also tracks skin temperature, ambient temperature, galvanic skin response (sweat level), heart rate, and blood oxygen level, which it gets by measuring the spectrum of light reflected back from a green laser that illuminates the skin where the device straps on to the wrist.

Don't call it a watch, the CEO says. Basis

The Basis runs its Tricorder functions continuously and stores its telemetry for later upload (over USB or Bluetooth). The device itself doesn't have enough smarts to tell the user if they're exercising enough or how healthy they are; the Basis service has to process the information first and gives the user usable information about their health and activity on their own private Web page.

Related links
Fitbit will get you off the couch
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Lark's silent alarm wakes you, not your bunkmate
Jawbone launching Up, a fitness bracelet

One of the big tricks in the Basis algorithms is its capability to determine your activity--walking, running, typing, etc.--even though the device is strapped to your wrist, where a lot of the motion is obviously unrelated to what the rest of your body is doing. CEO Jef Holove thinks that the company's data processing chops are its secret weapon and the competitive barrier to entry. The sensor technology in the Basis is not exactly rocket science; the cool oxygen sensor is standard medical tech, for example.

The key to success with a wellness product like this one is another key algorithm: figuring out how to present the data to the user in a way that encourages them to live a more healthy life, without turning them off. Holove says while there are game mechanics in Basis, "we don't make it a game." The service rewards you for what you're doing, but, he says, there's always "another carrot hanging out there." The system tries to get you to walk just a little more if that's what you do, or run just a little faster next time. Mostly the service just tries to get you to exercise your heart, which he says (and which my doctor keeps reminding me) is the "core foundation of looking at wellness."

Most wearable fitness products are not designed to be worn all the time, and those that are are awkward. This product should be a bit better in that department. And it also tells time, so one can arguably wear it all the time, in place of another watch. It's a bit chunky and masculine, though, so it may not be as popular with women. But as Holove says, there is a really good reason to put this fitness device on a wrist strap, instead of a belt clip or an armband: "That's where people want it," he says.

Holove believes the company can remain independent, but I would not be surprised to see a watch company take a serious interest in acquiring this technology. Watches are no longer necessary for people to own to tell time; many people now use mobile phones as watches, and that's been hurting sales. The Basis technology could get people interested in wrist-worn technology again. As Holove says, the watch vendors must do what they can to stay relevant: "Real estate on the body is valuable. The people who own it need to keep it."