During my first trip to a B8ta store a little over a year ago I bought a device that claimed it would track my breathing and tell me if I was stressing out. If I was, it would help me relax. Spire was backed by breathing rate science from the Stanford Sleep Lab. It didn’t actually work for me. It kept telling me I was relaxed when I was most definitely stressed.
However, after selling it on eBay, I discovered from Spire’s CEO that my breathing rate is apparently on the low end, which confused the sensor. He told me if I had held onto it a bit longer, it would have learned and started to be more of a help. That’s a key reason I’m interested in the newest product Spire has made.
This device measures breathing rate, heartbeat, activity and sleep. But the most exciting thing is that it does this in a tiny sensor designed to stick inside your underwear or bra for a year or so. Because it’s a semi-permanent sensor for clothing it’s also designed to go through the wash hundreds of times.
Building a health tracking device that’s low-powered enough to track activity, sleep, breathing rate, etc. for more than a year, while also protecting the electronic components from the wash, is tremendously impressive. Spire adds one more thing to its electronics, though: sustainability.
Jonathan Palley, CEO and co-founder of Spire says that the company used glues and packaging that’s designed to be taken apart and recycled when the device’s battery runs out.
When that happens, consumers send the tags back to Spire and presumably order a new one. This business model is very similar to that of Tile’s trackers.
I’m not sure how many people are going to like spending $100 on a three pack or $299 on a 15-pack only to have the devices die in a year or two. Even if they do accept this, I’m not sure how many will ship the defunct tags back.
However, I’m impressed by the way that Palley and his team have taken their vision and found a way to create it with available electronic components. Palley says that many of his suppliers, which include Maxim and Ambiq Micro, love that he’s showcasing new ways to use traditional components and using their most advanced silicon.
I’ve been covering Ambiq for at least six years. The company started with a new way to make a timing component and has since made a microcontroller that uses 10x less power than a traditional MCU. When I last covered the firm in 2015 people didn’t understand why such a low powered MCU mattered since things like displays used most of the power in a wearable.
Spire’s health tag is an excellent example of why I cared. Not everything will need a display. And by having an MCU that can use more power for computing while sipping on the battery, the tags can take in less data and make inferences from the smaller sample size by using more complex algorithms. These sorts of tradeoffs are always happening in computing, and now they can happen in a device that you wear in your underwear and can be washed.
The future is cool, and I’m excited there are companies pushing the limits on what’s possible to make real innovation happen.