January 7, 2015
Developers of health and fitness wearables — currently the industry’s biggest segment — are challenged with providing accurate and reliable biometric information. If the consumer cannot be convinced that calories burned, steps taken, and blood pressure numbers do not reflect reality, then health and fitness wearables will never gain the traction they need to become mass market. Enter Valencell, a core technology provider for biometric information to silicon providers and OEMs.
Among the manufacturers that license Valencell’s biometric sensor technology are Intel, LG, SMS Audio, Atlas and Jabra.
Valencell President Dr. Steve LeBoeuf, whose PhD is in solid state device science, notes that the biometric chip, which is the size of a Tic Tac, is comprised of a silicon component, an optical component and a processing component. LeBoeuf spoke during a morning session of the Sensors and MEMS Technology Conference at CES, “Beyond Audio with Biometric Earbuds.”
“We provide software and firmware that pulls the information off the sensors,” he explained. “It’s actually very hard to measure when people are moving. We have to filter out all kinds of environmental noise and motion noise.”
Whereas most of the wearables market is searching for standards, biometric information teams can actually do clinical validation against a variety of established benchmarks for heart rates, energy expenditure, blood pressure and so on. Having a multi-disciplinary staff that can clinically validate these benchmarks is Valencell’s “secret sauce.”
“The big vision in the space is to help people achieve fitness goals with actionable, accurate and personalized information,” said LeBoeuf. “If you don’t have accuracy you have no meaning. If it’s not actionable you have no power. And if it’s not personal, it’s not relevant.”
Valencell started its work in 2006 — before most even imagined the wearables industry. “Our first foundational patents opened up the space,” he said. “It took us five years to make it work.” Among the challenges were to make light-sensitive sensors applicable to all skin tones. The company now boasts “a couple dozen patents.”
Right now, one of the developers that license Valencell’s biometric technology is facing FDA scrutiny for its medical claims. Although LeBoeuf wouldn’t name the company, he said the usage was for first responders.
LeBoeuf agrees that power is the big issue preventing the wearables/IoT market from taking off.
“My call to action at the MEMS conference is getting accurate data at low enough power,” he said. “The MEMS industry should offload processing power and bring it down to the MEMS or sensor level. Right now, the microprocessor does the processing — there’s an opportunity to reduce that. We can help them get the technology more integrated. We have the biometric signal extraction that we can integrate into their sensor modules themselves rather than other processors.”
He’s bullish though on the MEMS/sensors industry being able to provide the kinds of technologies that the wearables industry needs. “I think it’s an 18-month process,” he says. “2016 is when we’ll have the MEMS that will enable IoT to happen.”