Sports Sensors – Where is it all heading? Valencell and others

Source: telegraph telegraph / simband

Let’s start off with some images of a mock-up, wrist-worn device, above. Then let’s look at the same device, Simband, as a schematic that shows a supposedly ‘ridiculous’ amount of sensors.

That’s a whole lot of sensors. The Simband is intended, one day, to be a medical device but let’s move on to the Sports’ application of those, and other, sensors and maybe we shall see that things may not be as ridiculous as they might at first seem.

Consumer Sports Sensors – Where’s It All Heading Then?

There are a few trends that might affect you and me in the coming years. Maybe in 2025 the Fenix 9 might actually have a wristband full of sensors. Maybe. Some of these points overlap but are worth some consideration:

  1. Accuracy – I’ve included a press release from Valencell from June 2016, below, based on a survey of >700 US consumers. Essentially it says people want accuracy. Largely I think most of us would agree. Sure, sports scientists will want repeatable, medical-grade accuracy. Whereas we mostly want actionable accuracy. Valencell (in Suunto Spartan), LIFEQ (in TomTom) and Garmin’s ELEVATE are reported to be some of the more accurate optical HR sensors. Yet even these are far from perfect. They can all, from time-to-time, record that perfect oHR track. But then the next day, for some spurious reason, it may all go ‘pear-shaped’. So optical HR needs to continue to improve. Both Jabra and Valencell have claimed to be close to a HRV/RR producing level of oHR accuracy – essentially that means as good as a HR strap.
  2. Consistency – Others say consistency is more/as important as accuracy. If your power meter is consistently 5% over what it should be it is still perfectly usable. But…
  3. Actionability – It’s fine having some new insight into a new bit of data about you. But what are you going to do about it? We’ve seen Muscle Oxygen sensors from BSX Insight and MOXY. Clearly it’s relevant data that is produced but actually knowing what to do about it seems beyond most non-sports scientists – other than BSX’s stab at estimating Lactate Threshold turnpoints. Contrast Muscle Oxygen with HYDRATION LEVELS as seen in BSX Insight’s new LVL band – I would think that you want to target a certain hydration range whilst training/racing, even I ‘get’ what to do with that information.
  4. Integration – I’ve been looking at some running form gadgets. They’re really cool and mostly produce data that could be actioned. Yet they link to a smartphone app and then, sometimes, to a proprietary web- or computer-based analysis package. In many cases I would imagine that their target markets would include half-decent runners many of whom don’t use smartphones. Sure they might use a smartphone if the interest is great enough but looking at ‘data about you’ in many different places just becomes too consuming. Integrating it would seem to require it all to be in one place. That one place could be on the wrist through Garmin CIQ or a future version of AndroidWear but it could also be integrated off-line either in an app or online data ecosystem which pulls in disparate data from many sources.
  5. Openness/Standards – Integration is helped by openness and standards. Some form of ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy should be sufficient for that to happen.
  6. Variety (of Measurement) – IRS Muscle Oxygenation measurement works by looking at the wavelength of reflected light; certain molecules reflect certain wavelengths. Voila. Using this method will enable LOTS of OTHER things to be measures in lots of other places – apparently the ‘holy grail’ of this type of measurement is blood sugar levels. It’s also possible to send electrical signals around the body to measure muscle/fat percentages as found with TomTom’s Touch device.
  7. Variety (of location) – You have been able to measure your HR on your wrist and with a chest strap for a while. Also you’ve been able to measure it accurately in your ears or through a ring or in a sensor embedded into a garment for quite a while too but that has escaped most people. Why? Convenience, practicality. Those kind of factors. If the most accurate form of measuring HR was from a tongue-based sensor would anyone wear it? Probably not.  Probably the new area for innovation here will be sensors embedded within the body in some way, either temporarily (tablet) or pseudo-permanently. But patches exist and I couldn’t be bothered to use one, mainly from the waste if it needs throwing it away.
  8. Usefulness – Measuring blood oxygen, body fat %age, or even VO2max for that matter, might be possible and even accurate. But, other than an occasional one-off reading, how useful are they really? Is there really a market thirst for that knowledge? So a more useful kind of sensor for a sports watch would be measuring something that is affected by, or affects, sports performance in some ‘obvious’ way.
  9. Feedback – How does the sensor feed the information back to you? If it is real-time feedback then any of the senses can be alerted. Why not alert your feet? eg lechal’s foot-based haptic feedback to indicate direction. Why not indeed? (I’m thinking blind people rather than athletes). Technology seems to have nearly exhausted the kinds of feedback that can be given but maybe there is still scope for better finding another appropriate type of feedback for existing applications?

Those 9 points all seem relatively obvious. I see them and I think that we must be at the zenith of innovation. Surely all things that could be invented have at least been thought about. I probably would have thought that a year ago too and then along comes BSX’s LVL/hydration concept. Sure it had been thought of before but it wasn’t presciently ‘obvious’ to me. So hopefully there are lots more NEW and OBVIOUS things to come that I haven’t thought of yet 🙂 I hope so. sweat salinity would be a good extension of LVL, for example.

I suspect that it is all heading in the direction of increased accuracy and medicalisation. I think we’re peaking at a level of interest for this sort of thing in the sports market but the medical market is larger and MUCH more profitable BUT has MUCH more stringent requirements for the product’s performance.

This post had been in my drafts folder for a while. It finally had to see the light of day…

Thoughts very much welcomed.


More simband info:


National Wearables Survey Reveals Accuracy is Top Priority Among Consumers; Lack of Continually Interesting Insights Among Top Reasons for Discontinued Use

Survey conducted by Valencell and MEMS & Sensor Industry Group reveals consumer interest in monitoring advanced health metrics like stress, blood pressure, and sunlight exposure 

Raleigh, N.C. and PITTSBURGH – June 23, 2016 – A recent national survey on wearable technology devices (“wearables”) revealed that consumers consider accuracy the most important feature of wearables, and more than half of those who do not own a wearable would consider buying one if they trusted the accuracy. The survey findings were announced today by Valencell, the leading innovator in performance biometric data sensor technology, and MEMS & Sensors Industry Group, the trade association advancing Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) and sensors across global markets.

The online survey polled 706 U.S. consumers, ages 18-65, on their knowledge and preferences around wearables, which were defined as a device, clothing and/or accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies.

Among those surveyed, more than 42% of respondents own or have owned a wearable device, and the majority (63%) ranked accuracy as a highly important feature of that wearable. Among wearable owners, 80% feel that their wearable has a positive impact on their health. For those who do not own a wearable, 74% of would consider using one if accuracy in wearables could help them to better manage their health.

“These survey results are testament to Valencell’s view that accurate and interesting insights are critical to the success of the wearable industry, and are the biggest drivers of growth today,” said Dr. Steven LeBoeuf, President and Co-founder of Valencell.“More consumers than ever before are looking to biometric wearables to monitor their health and fitness, and wearables that cannot be trusted for accuracy will ultimately lose-out to wearables that have been properly validated.”

While most wearable owners find functions such as step counting, heart rate monitoring and notifications most useful, they would also like their wearable to monitor additional health metrics, including stress, blood pressure, sunlight/UV exposure, hydration, and key vitamin and supplement levels.

“MEMS and sensors are critical components in more accurate wearables,” said Karen Lightman, executive director, MEMS & Sensors Industry Group. “That’s because the devices themselves, from accelerometers, gyros and pressure sensors to heart rate monitors and environmental sensors are delivering ever higher levels of granularity while consuming less power in smaller footprints. Beyond accuracy, MEMS and sensors make wearables more interesting because they literally sense the world around us. With so much advanced functionality now at their disposal, I am convinced that wearables designers will introduce new and compelling products that consumers will consider “must-have” rather than just “nice-to-own.”

Key findings of the survey are below. An executive summary of the survey and infographic can also be found at

Accuracy Trumps Cost as a Barrier to Wearable Ownership

Nearly half of all respondents own or have owned a wearable device, with the most popular form factors being wristbands, earbuds and smartwatches. Among notable findings:

  • 42% of survey respondents own or have owned a wearable
  • Of those who own a wearable, 52% own a wristband, 36% earbuds and 32% a smartwatch
  • 42% purchased the wearable to track overall activity and 28% purchased to manage weight
  • Of those who do not own a wearable, 31% do not own because they are too expensive and 28% do not own because they are not sure of the benefit of wearables; 58% would consider buying if they trusted the accuracy

Consumers Want More than Just Step Counting

Consumers who own wearables like to use the data provided to check on progress, and many feel that the wearable has helped improve their performance. While respondents find step counting and heart rate monitoring the most useful functions, they would also like to be able to monitor additional health conditions and metrics. These findings support anecdotal stories that consumers care less about the raw metrics and more about assessments derived from raw metrics. Among notable findings:

  • 35% of wearable owners feel step counting is the most useful function; 18% find heart rate monitoring most useful; and 12% find the notifications most useful

When asked what type of condition they would like to monitor beyond what they are doing now:

  • 55% would like to monitor stress
  • 48% would like to monitor hydration
  • 46% would like to monitor blood pressure
  • 38% would like to monitor sunlight/UV exposure
  • 35% would like to monitor key vitamin and supplement levels

When asked what they like most about their wearable:

  • 62% like getting data and checking on progress
  • 29% like that their wearable has helped improve their performance
  • 27% like the accuracy of the data

Accuracy is Key to Valuable Health Insights

Accuracy, comfort, and battery life topped the list of highly important features in wearables. Of those who currently own a wearable, 80% feel that the wearable has positively impacted their health. Among notable findings:

  • 63% of all respondents ranked accuracy as a highly important (critical) feature, followed by comfort (57%) and battery life (47%)
  • 73% of all respondents believe that accuracy in wearable technology will one day be able to directly affect your health
  • 80% of wearables owners feel that their wearable has positively impacted their health
  • More than 65% of respondents who do not own wearables would consider using one if it provided significant information on their health, including things like blood pressure, stress, and heart health
  • 74% of respondents who do not own wearables would consider using one if accuracy in wearables was able to help them better manage their health

Recharge Hassles, Poor Accuracy and Comfort, and a Lack of Interesting Insights Cause Wearables to End Up in the Sock Drawer

Of those who own wearables, more than half wear their device every day. However, more than a third have discontinued use of their wearable for reasons including the hassle of recharging the wearable and their perception that the wearable was not accurate enough and they didn’t trust the data. Among notable findings:

  • More than 80% have owned their wearable for more than six months
  • 56% wear their wearable every day; 13% wear it once a week
  • 37% have discontinued the use of their wearable
  • Of those who have discontinued using their wearables, 54% stopped using their wearable within 3 months or less

Top reasons for discontinuing use of a wearable:

  • 40% Too much of a hassle to continually recharge
  • 29% Not accurate enough (didn’t trust the readings)
  • 26% Uncomfortable to wear
  • 24% Did not provide continually interesting insights

About the Survey

The 2016 “The State of Wearables Today” Survey was conducted by Valencell in collaboration with MEMS & Sensors Industry Group from May 27 – June 7, 2016. The online survey polled 706 U.S. consumers, ages 18-65, on their knowledge and preferences around wearable technology devices.

About Valencell

Valencell develops performance biometric sensor technology and provides this patent-protected technology to consumer electronics manufacturers, mobile device and accessory makers, sports and fitness brands and gaming companies for integration into their products. Valencell’s PerformTek® biometric sensor technology employs active signal characterization, the process of segmenting raw signal data from biometric sensors into biological, motion, and environmental signals and noise. Valencell’s inventions are currently found in wrist-, arm-, and ear-worn wearables and hearables. Valencell has invested years into the research and development of its PerformTek sensor technology, protected by dozens of granted patents and independently validated by the Duke Center for Living, North Carolina State University, the Human Performance Laboratory and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.  visit

About MEMS Sensor & Industry Group

MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (MSIG) is the trade association advancing MEMS and sensors across global markets. MSIG advocates for near-term commercialization of MEMS/sensors-based products through a wide range of activities, such as conferences, technical working groups and education. By bringing the TSensors® (Trillion Sensors) Enterprise under the umbrella of events and programs, MSIG also increases worldwide awareness of emerging MEMS/sensors-based applications with huge commercialization potential in the next decade and beyond.

Nearly 200 companies and industry partners comprise MEMS & Sensors Industry Group, including Analog Devices, ARM, Bosch, Cirrus Logic, EV Group, GE, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, HP, HTC Corporation, Huawei, Infineon, Intel, InvenSense, Kionix, Knowles Corporation, Lam Research, Lenovo, NXP, OMRON Electronic Components, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., SONY Electronics, SPTS Technologies, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and TSMC.  visit: and follow MSIG on LinkedIn and Twitter (use @MEMSGroup).

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1 thought on “Sports Sensors – Where is it all heading? Valencell and others

  1. Tried a lot of sensors over the past few years too … and the one that influenced me most was, surprisingly, the MOXY. Not because the measures it provides are simple, but because they are not. May be we will see the magical sensor that provides the holy grail of sports training in one single number within our lifetime, but given the complexity of human physiology and where we are now, I don’t see us being anywhere close. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Do people really want simplicity and to, say, stupidly follow a training program that is controlled by one single pseudo-scientific number like FTP or are they capable of appreciating complexity and have fun in training as continuous experimentation – but are just misled? If sports was that simple, what fun would there be in doing it? Therefore I’d like to propose as the 10th point: Realism – not providing an overly simplistic illusionary model that fuels expectations that eventually can’t be met, but showing us the complexity and beauty of nature and human life. 😉

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