Instabeat builds heads up heart rate tracker for swimmers

By Jonah Comstock
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InstabeatMonitoring heart rate and calorie burn is helpful for any kind of athlete, but for one sport in particular, traditional wearable trackers won't cut it: swimming. A Beirut, Lebanon-based startup called Instabeat is looking to fill that gap. Instabeat has been in development for two years, appearing at events like TED and CES in the meantime. The company has received seed funding and built a prototype, and is now launching a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to go into production mode.

"Runners and bikers have all these cool devices to monitor their workout, but these simply won't work for swimming," Founder (and former professional swimmer) Hind Hobeika says in the company's Indiegogo video. "This is why we created Instabeat."

Rather than a wristband, chest strap, or belt clip, Instabeat is an eyepiece that clips on to a pair of swimming goggles. This allows it to measure heart rate from the temporal artery on the side of the face, using an optical sensor. Motion sensors in the device also track calories burned, laps, breathing pattern, flip turns, all read from motion sensors that are built into the device alongside the optical heart rate sensor.

But it also allows the technology to incorporate a heads up display (HUD), so swimmers can actually assess whether their heart rate is in their target range while in the water. The heads-up display is pretty basic -- it displays one of three colors that correspond to target zones: blue for fat burning, green for fitness, and red for "maximum performance". To see the rest of their data, users can connect the device via USB to a computer and see a more informationally rich dashboard. If the company hits $100,000 in funding (its goal is $35,000) the team says it will add Bluetooth syncing for iPhone and Android phones.

"We wanted a device that would appeal to all swimmers, fit well on different head shapes and sizes, and be compatible with different goggle brands. The design had to be completely waterproof, unobtrusive, durable, lightweight, and hydrodynamic," designer Marylise Andreos says in the video.

Of the activity trackers on the market, only Misfit Shine and Amiigo really market themselves to swimmers, both in a wrist-worn form factor. Other trackers claim to be waterproof when worn in the shower or caught in the rain, but makers don't recommend that users swim in them.

Wearable heads up displays are still virtually nonexistent in the fitness tracking world, perhaps because it's easy enough for a runner or biker to glance at a wristworn device mid-workout. A swimmer, on the other hand, doesn't have that option. Even so, by providing realtime biofeedback, heads up displays have a lot of potential to optimize workouts in any sport, and will be an obvious use case for Google Glass. Now that its developer API is released, it's hard to imagine that device makers like Fitbit and app-makers like Runkeeper won't jump at the chance to build a Glass-based HUD. Another Indiegogo project, the SMART cycling helmet, which has now surpassed its funding goals, wants to include a HUD in future iterations.

Instabeat expects to sell the devices for $149, a little steeper than most trackers for runners or cyclists, but not by much. At five days in, the campaign has raised just over $12,000.