Amiigo and its exercise database want to make your fitness device look dumb

The fitness-tracking incumbents might want to pay attention to Salt Lake City-based Amiigo. The personal fitness startup’s eponymous device isn’t yet available, but it has generated a lot of buzz and money (almost $300,000 on Indiegogo and an undisclosed amount of venture capital), and it promises to make the Fitbit (see disclosure), Jawbone Up and every other fitness-tracking device look quaint by comparison. The key to its appeal is cleverly using data to deliver a personal experience the others can’t yet touch.
If you’ve read anything about Amiigo since its launch in October, you’ve might have read all about how it places sensors (an accelerometer, skin-temperature sensor and pulse oximeter, to be exact) into a wristband and shoe clip in order to figure out what exercises someone is performing and how well, hard or often he or she is actually doing them. What you might not know is how that process actually works. So I asked co-founder Abe Carter to explain.

All about the database

The core of Amiigo’s promise isn’t actually part of the device at all. Rather, it’s a database full of baseline information, which Amiigo calls reference data, for hundreds of different activities. It turns out, Carter explained, “there’s a generally accepted way that the vast majority of exercises and activities are performed.”
So, when users are out jogging or lifting weights or rowing, let’s say, Amiigo is clocking the motions they’re making and how often they’re making them. When they open the Amiigo app, they’ll not only be spared the hassle of entering data on what activity they just performed and how long they did it, they’ll actually be greeted with all that information and more. If you’re lifting weights, Carter explained, Amiigo will know that you were doing squats and therefore burned a whole lot of calories (even though you might have taken just a few steps), as well as how hard you were working, how many reps and how long you took resting in between sets.
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But more importantly, Amiigo’s database grows smarter as users teach it about a variety of new activities. Initially, the app will still rely on reference activities with similar profiles (swimming, for example, instead of my homemade activity of laying on my belly and thrashing my arms and legs) in order to gauge intensity and calories burned, but it will eventually come to recognize the unique characteristics of the new activity, too. It’s all a matter of time and data: “You don’t know exactly with a sample of one how well that person was performing that activity,” Carter explained.

Better personal data helps everyone

Over time, all of this data lets users track at a very granular level their performance in specific activities rather than just how many times they’ve done it and for how long each session. Furthermore, it helps eliminate an innate desire to cheat the system — and the social competition features of almost all fitness-tracking platforms — by entering false information. Carter says social workouts have proven to be more effective than working out alone because of the motivation factor, but some jerk claiming he’s doing 2-minute miles can upset whole game dynamic when the socialization is merely virtual.
Going forward, Carter said Amiigo has plans to use all the data it’s collecting for bigger and better things than just personal data. He mentioned building analytics tools atop the aggregate data from users, or using it to help spot the early onset of certain diseases. These could include, for example, tracking changes in motion to identify Parkinson’s disease (already the subject of a study using voice data from phone calls) or, presumably, tracking changes in cardiovascular data to identify heart disease.
All of Amiigo’s promises are just theoretical, of course — it still needs to collect all that user data and prove it works when the devices are finally available — but they do point in the direction that I think the personal health field needs to take. As I’ve explained before (as has my colleague Stacey Higginbotham), all the connected devices and personal data in the world are of relatively little use if they’re not easy to use and tied to a service that’s actually valuable. And while Fitbit, Jawbone Up and other fitness trackers have certainly pioneered a hot new field, they’re still relatively limited in what they can track and the data they present, all the while requiring a fair amount of legwork from users.
I don’t suspect Amiigo will render all other fitness devices obsolete, but it should give them something to think about.
Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.