BodyMedia unveils fashionable armband, disposable patch still to come

By Jonah Comstock
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The BodyMedia Core 2 Armband, with "jewelry-like" customization.

The BodyMedia Core 2 Armband, with "jewelry-like" customization.

This weekend at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, BodyMedia announced the Core 2 Armband, a smaller, more streamlined version of the company's wearable tracker.

Although the Core 2 (about the size of an iPod Nano) is considerably smaller than the existing FIT armband, lately famous for its use on the newest season of NBC's The Biggest Loser, it has all the same functionality of the larger device, due to advances in sensor technology. It houses the same four FDA-cleared sensors as their current Core armband offering: skin temperature, heat flux, galvanic skin response, and a 3-axis accelerometer.

"It has all the same sensors, the same analytics, the same validation and levels of accuracy," CEO Christine Robins told MobiHealthNews.

The device will also add a fifth sensor as an optional add-on: a continuous heart-rate monitor. Rather than using an optical sensor like the Basis Band, the heart rate sensor will use dry electrodes embedded in the band.

The Core 2 also sports Bluetooth Smart connectivity, whereas previous models synced via a USB cable. This allows BodyMedia data to be uploaded to BodyMedia's smartphone apps in realtime. This new BlueTooth technology also requires less power than previous Bluetooth offerings, the company said in a statement.

Robins told MobiHealthNews that unlike the armband currently on the market, which is merely water-resistant, the Core 2 will be fully waterproof: it can even be worn while swimming.

The company is also touting customizable face plates, straps, and cuffs for the new armband that the company describes as "jewelry-like" -- a first for BodyMedia.

BodyMedia is offering an attractive, casual device that consumers will be more willing to wear continuously and in public. The "get active" crowd is certainly more likely to spring for a smaller, more fashion-conscious product.

"Even people who are trying to lose weight still want to to look fashionable," she said. "We do get feedback from our users that [the armband] looks a little old, dated, clinical. We want them to feel good wearing it."

Many companies like Misfit Wearables and Jawbone are focused on creating conspicuous devices, in the hopes that wearable activity trackers will become acceptable as fashion statements as well as functional devices. While the upper arm placement often hides the device from view, Robins said the company has no interest in moving the device to the wrist.

"The upper arm accomplishes a number of different things, first and foremost accuracy," she said. "But also, it gives a level of discreteness." She said the fashion element of the device is mostly meant for times when BodyMedia users, especially women, might want to be sleeveless.

The company is also continuing to develop Vue Patch, a disposable sensor announced at last year's CES that still hasn't come to market. The Vue Patch is meant to be worn on the back of the upper arm continuously -- including to bed and in the shower -- for seven days. The waterproof patch has a micro-USB port for uploading the data after the patch has been removed, but the company says future versions will be Bluetooth-enabled. The $50 product is being developed in partnership with Avery Dennison Medical, which specializes in long-term medical adhesive patches.

"There were some technical issues that we took some time to resolve," Robins said. "Last year we had very early prototypes. Now we have working products, finished industrial design, and software applications. It's the same patch with Avery we talked about last year. We had hoped to have it shipped by now, but we're a few months behind that."

Robins says there are two use cases where a cheaper, disposable version of BodyMedia's product is needed. One is to provide a "trial version" to let people get comfortable with tracking before making a big investment.

"The need for it came from our business to business partners like 24-Hour Fitness and Jenny Craig," Robins said. "People love the experience. They 'get it' when they try the durable. So they asked us to develop a much lower cost, seven-day patch, so people could get a view of what it could do at a much lower entry."

The other case is employers or providers running fitness interventions for employees, who might use the patch to establish a baseline at the start of an intervention. In both cases, Robins said the Vue Patch won't be marketed directly to consumers.

Robins said the new products may or may not be rolled onto future seasons of The Biggest Loser, according to NBC's needs. The Core 2 Armband is scheduled for an August launch and will be priced comparably with the company's current offering - between $119 and $149, according to Robins. The Vue Patch will be available in the second half of 2013 and will sell for around $50.