It seems like there is always something new happening in the wearable technology world. There is always a new trend or more products to keep up with, and it can get quite confusing. In fact, according to the statistics, the forecasted value of the global wearable device market will grow close to 6 billion U.S. dollars by next year. Yes, billion. It is true that almost all of us at least own some sort of wearable tech device like Fitbit, not to mention there are countless devices for more professional athletes as well as for regular people who want to get trained well and be fit. In this slightly confusing and overwhelmingly crowded world of wearable tech, we decided to have a chat with Daniel Wiese, Co-Founder of Humon about wearable tech and their new product Humon Hex.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and Humon?
Alessandro and I met in an entrepreneurship class at MIT during the fall semester of 2014. I was doing my Ph.D., Alessandro an MBA. We realized that people were making many decisions on a daily basis which affected their training, health, and well-being, but with hardly any feedback from their bodies. People were limited to what the scale told them when they stood on it, or how they felt. After six months of market research, it became clear that the group of people the voiced the most clear consensus about what feedback they needed, and how they would use it in making decisions, were athletes, and in particular endurance athletes. These athletes were looking for every way to improve and optimize their training. The information available to them was in the form of either blood tests, which were invasive, inconvenient, and not real time, although they provided very helpful data used by the pros, or using heart rate monitors, which were noninvasive, real-time, and convenient to use, but didn’t provide the level of information they needed. We started Humon to empower people with the information they needed to be them better selves, and began working towards our first product to help endurance athletes train more effectively than ever before.
Sports have always been innovating with technology for improved performance; what is changing now? Why is NOW special?
In the past, performance improvement in sports has been focused on factors external to the athlete, whether it be better shoes, better track surfaces, or better wetsuits. Now, these factors have been optimized near perfection, or in many cases to the point where rules have prevented these advancements from being used. Now, the focus has shifted to optimizing the human body. Activity trackers have gotten people accustomed and comfortable to measuring and interacting with data from and about their body. But until now this data has not been actionable. Now Humon is perfectly positioned, by measuring a new and better metric, and digesting it for the user to provide actionable feedback.
What are athletes saying is missing?
The biggest thing that is missing from the athletes’ perspective is actionable information. The most prevalent bio-monitoring technology used by these athletes today is the heart rate monitor. But it takes the expertise of coaches and trainers to extract valuable information from this data that can be used to optimize the athletes’ training. And the feedback from the coach or training cannot be delivered in real-time. What the athlete wants is something that can provide actionable information in real time, prompting them when to push harder, or when to dial back, while they are training.
Is the wearable market oversaturated? Is it possible for a good product to actually stand out?
The wearable market is oversaturated. Many products that we’ve seen are solutions looking for a problem, or devices that provide data without a clear way to turn this data into actually helping the user. While there are some interesting and new technologies, the great products that will stand out are those that actually digest data for the user, and provide information that the user can act on to improve their health, well-being, fitness level, or performance. That is exactly what we are working on at Humon. We want our users to use our product and be able to start immediately tailoring their training to get better, rather than providing them with a new source of data to interpret on their own.
In what areas of sports training tech do you think the most exciting innovation is occurring?
We are most excited by the innovation in real-time monitoring and performance feedback. Previously, athletes had very little visibility into their bodies, and translating information into results was not easy. We are excited to see how the athlete will be able to leverage these new innovations to get better and break records. That is exactly why at Humon we have focused on the most exciting area of innovation!
What’s special about your technology? What nut did you crack?
Our technology is the first to provide real-time training feedback. While there were many practical aspects of making the Humon Hex that we had to crack to produce a robust sensor that would provide accurate data every time the athlete trains, the most important part of what we do is in the software. The sensor is necessary to provide the most useful data available, but the key is processing and digesting this data to understand how the athlete is performing, and what queues to give the athlete to help him or her perform better. This is something we have been focusing on, with the expertise of our team and world class advisors, including Dr. Harry Pino, Senior Exercise Physiologist at NYU Langone Medical and Sports Performance Center, and Ato Boldon, four time Olympic medal winner, among a few.
What was the journey/process to getting to where it is now?
The process started with interviews, well over three hundred before we ever started prototyping. We talked to the athletes to find out exactly what they needed, what challenges we needed to address, and what constraints we needed to consider to build a solution for them to optimize their training. It was only after we had a solid understanding of what the athlete wanted that we began to prototype. We started developing the core technology, knowing from our users how important it was for them to trust the accuracy of any sensors they use. So we then focused on validating the technology. We also wanted to get real-world feedback from the athletes, so we ran a Beta pilot program in late 2016 to get as much feedback as possible before finishing the design of the product that will ship in summer 2017!