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Tools for Quantifying Yourself

New wireless devices and smart phones apps let you track every facet of your physical and mental health.
June 21, 2011

1. Zeo

The Zeo Personal Sleep Coach is the first at-home device that allows people to track their sleep cycles over time.

During the night, the user wears a soft headband with an embedded sensor that detects the brain’s electrical activity. That information is used to determine the user’s stage of sleep—light, deep or REM (when we dream)—and wirelessly sent to a bedside base station.

In the morning, the display unit gives a summary of the previous night’s sleep, including how long a user slept, how many times she woke up, and the amount of time she spent in the various stages of sleep. A small memory card within the display unit stores the data, which can then be transferred to a computer and uploaded to a website that tracks the user’s sleep trends and offers advice for improving sleep. (The company is careful to point out that the Zeo is not a medical device and cannot diagnose sleep disorders.)

Thus far, Zeo, a start-up based in Newton, Massachusetts, has compiled the largest database—by two orders of magnitude—of sleep-stage information in the world. The company has made the database open to the public, enabling scientists and others to look for trends in sleep patterns, such as whether people sleep less during the full moon.

Cost: $199

Available now

Credit: Winnie Wintermeyer

2. BodyMedia armband

The BodyMedia armband calculates the number of calories burned throughout the day based on data from an embedded accelerometer, skin temperature sensor, and a skin conductance sensor, which detects sweat. It can also be worn at night to track sleep.

Cost: starts at $179.95

Available now.

Credit: Winnie Wintermeyer

3. Fitbit

The fitbit is a thumb sized device worn on the belt. It uses an accelerometer, and proprietary algorithms to give the wearer a rough estimate of his or her activity level and the number of calories burned during a day. The device can also be worn around the wrist during at night to give a rough estimate of sleep onset and duration.

The fitbit’s core sensor is similar to a pedometer, but sophisticated onboard analysis and wireless upload capabilities transform a limited tool into one that is almost effortless to use; data is uploaded to the user’s computer whenever it is nearby. Fitbit also keeps users engaged by inviting them to share their information online. They can track can track their weight, sleep and activity over the long term, searching for trends and competing with friends to be the most active or the best sleeper.

Cost: $99

Available now.

Credit: Winnie Wintermeyer

4. Basis

One of the most highly anticipated devices in the self-tracking community is this new super-watch from Basis, which detects heart rate from the wrist using near infrared spectroscopy, and tracks movement, skin and ambient temperature, and galvanic skin response, a measure of sweat on the skin that is linked to both physical activity and stress or excitement.

The device uses this data to figure out what people are doing, such as exercising or sleeping, and then combines the various measures to calculate the number of calories burned during the course of the day. Accompanying software helps users track and visualize how they are progressing over time.

Cost: To be announced.

Availability: To be announced.

Credit: Basis

5. Withings Scale

The Withings scale converts an everyday device into a long-term tracker without any additional effort on the user’s part. You just step on the scale and your weight, body fat and body mass index (BMI) are automatically uploaded and graphically displayed on a smart phone or a personal profile on the Withings site.

“You can track evolution of health data, not just take a snap shot,” says founder Cedric Hutchings. “We found it helps you make micro-decisions, the opposite of a January 1 decision. If you are equipped with a sensor that keeps you aware of a trend, you can start to make choices, like I will walk home today or skip ice cream.”

The scale is now available in retail Apple stores in the U.S. for $159. The company recently launched a similarly networked blood pressure monitor in Europe, which will likely be a boon to physicians monitoring hypertensive patients. Withings is partnering with a rapidly growing number of software developers, so that users can automatically transfer their data to other apps—including the popular RunKeeper, DailyBurn and LosingIt.

Cost: $159

Available now

Credit: Withings

6. Duo Fertility Monitor

The Duo fertility monitor illustrates the power of effortless, round-the-clock monitoring. Women wear a silver dollar sized temperature sensor under the arm to detect the subtle temperature increase that precedes ovulation. The sensor wirelessly sends the information to an egg-shaped base station, which tells the wearer a week in advance when she is at her most fertile.

While physicians have encouraged women with fertility issues to monitor temperature for decades (ck), the accuracy that comes with continuous monitoring—the device takes temperature readings up to 20,000 times a day—and the fact that the user has to do very little to aggregate the data , has made an enormous difference in the value of this metric. According to a study from the company, the monitor is as effective in getting women pregnant as is expensive and potentially risky in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.

Cost: $800

Available now.

7. Q sensor

The Q-sensor from Affectiva, a start-up out of MIT’s Media Lab, records galvanic skin response, tiny changes in the amount of sweat produced by the skin and a proxy for stress, excitement and attention. Like the Zeo did for brain-based sleep monitoring, the Q-sensor is the first attempt to robustly measure galvanic skin response outside of the lab environment, creating a novel sea of data. 

“We are still doing a lot of work to unlock what this data has to tell,” says Oliver Wilder-Smith, the product manager at Affectiva. “As we get more data from people in real world settings, we are discovering new ways to make sense of it.”

The device isn’t aimed at consumers, in part because the findings can be difficult to interpret. Exercise, for example, also increases sweat. But the Q-sensor is being applied in both research, including studies of children with autism, who often have difficult verbalizing what makes them stressed, and in marketing,  where it can help gauge shoppers’ interest in particular products or commercials.

Cost: $1999

Available now.

Credit: Affectiva

8. Green Goose Sensors

These sensor-laden stickers are designed to be applied to everything from your toothbrush to the dog’s leash, allowing you to track how often they are used.

The sensors have an embedded accelerometer, along with an ultralow power wireless transmitter to send data on the object’s movement to a central base station. The ultimate idea is to transform healthy behavior into a game. Users can set specific goals—walk the dog twice a day, brush after every meal—and software will award points for successful completion.

The company is working on a couple of initial applications for the sensors, but they plan to partner with others to create a variety of games and uses.

Cost: To be announced.

Availability: To be announced.

Credit: Green Goose

9. Moodscope

MoodScope is a website for measuring, tracking and sharing your mood. A daily email prompts the user to visit the site, where mood is measured using an online card game. Users can choose to share their scores with family and friends, with the idea that sharing changes in our mood with friends can help improve it. Users can also chart their scores over time, looking for particular stressors of anxiety, depression or happiness.

Alexandra Carmichael, director of the Quantified Self, has an interesting blog post on her personal experiences tracking mood with Moodscope.

Cost: Free

Available now.

Credit: Moodscope

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