Too good to be true? Airo wristband says it tracks calories consumed, not just burned

All kinds of new health trackers monitor your activity to tell you how many steps you’ve taken and the number of calories you’ve burned. But a new wristband launching Monday from a small Canadian company claims it can go one step beyond to actually monitor nutrition and calories taken in.

Developed by a group of engineering graduates from Canada’s University of Waterloo, the AIRO aims to track nutrition, stress, exercise and sleep. Not so unlike other fitness bands already on the market, the wristband monitors heart-rate variability to pick up on changing stress levels, as well as daily activity and sleep. But its big differentiator is its purported ability to track a user’s caloric intake using spectroscopy.

Abhilash Jayakumar, the startup’s CEO and co-founder, said the AIRO shines tiny LED lights into the bloodstream to monitor the rate of caloric consumption. The company said it can detect the presence of carbs vs. fats vs. proteins based on what the graph of caloric absorption looks like.

“Different nutrients have a particular optical signature – they bend light in a certain way when present,” he said, adding that the company is able to detect the nutrients and then roughly convert that information into a calorie count.

airoNow, calorie counting is an often tedious job involving the manual entry of data or pictures into smartphone apps. So, if the AIRO works the way it says it does, it could be a huge boon for health enthusiasts and dieters.

The problem is that Jayakumar and his co-founders don’t yet have too much in the way of evidence to show that their wristband can live up to the pitch.  Early internal testing has shown that their nutrition tracking technique works, Jayakumar said, but they have yet to share their findings widely or test their approach with a broader population.  The company, which is supported by $85,000 in grant money, also said that while it plans to build an app to accompany the wristband, it hasn’t completed it yet.

While AIRO’s specific nutrition-tracking technique seems relatively untested, Jayakumar pointed out that it’s somewhat similar to a glucose-monitoring system developed by a San Jose, Calif-based company called C8 Medisensors.  Last year, the company’s technology, which reportedly uses spectroscopy to detect glucose levels in the blood of diabetic patients, was cleared for sale in Europe. But its website is no longer active and some have speculated that the company has since shutdown.

Starting today, AIRO is selling its wristband at a pre-order price of $149 (they’ll later retail for $199) and the company said it plans to start shipping in the fall of 2014. I’m intrigued by what the company is trying to do, but wonder how many people will be willing to commit that much money without a more concrete product and evidence. We’ll have to wait and see.