LAS VEGAS — From patches that keep track of UV exposure to Bluetooth-enabled pregnancy tests, the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show exhibition floors were filled with all manner of gadgets aimed at improving your health and well-being.
Practically everyone seemed to cite a “Harvard study” (or Stanford/Yale/Cleveland Clinic study) as the basis of the science behind their devices — but many demurred when pressed for details.
It’s clear these are still early days in the market for health gadgets, but it’s also clear there are numerous promising ideas out there that will shake up how you think about how you eat, exercise, take medicines, your relationship with your doctor — and the power you have to manage your own health. Here’s a look at a few emerging products that either hit the market in recent months or will be coming out later this year.
Muscle/body fat scanner from Skulpt
The device uses electrical currents to measure muscle quality and fat percentage for 24 different muscle groups from the upper back to hamstrings. Through an app, you can track your progress over time. It’s most being used by consumers interested in optimal fitness (the entire booth was filled with extremely fit employees), George Dorsey, an advisor to the company who was demo’ing the product, explained that they were also using it with seniors and others with muscle atrophy issues.
“Everybody loses a certain amount of muscle as we grow older. You could see how effective or ineffective your exercise program is to developing your muscles and reducing your body fat,” he said.
Food allergy tester from 6Sensor Labs
6Sensor’s portable food testing device — called Nima — was the brainchild of the company’s CEO who has multiple food allergies and was frustrated by the responses she got at restaurants when she asked about allergens.
To test a dish, you take a bit of it (about a gram) and put it in a small black canister. It’ll work with solids or liquids and uses chemicals to test for the presence of the allergen. Within two minutes the sensor returns a smiley face of the food is allergen-free and a frown if it contains the allergen in question. It only works with gluten now and will detect as little as 5 parts per million. The Food and Drug Administration standard for labeling something “gluten-free” is 20 parts per million.
Carla Borsoi, marketing manager for the 6Sensor, said that the company is taking pre-orders now and plans to ship the product which costs $250 for the sensor and $4 each for the disposable canisters, in the summer. Tests for nuts and milk are on tap for 2017. She said that the process is a bit more complicated than for gluten because there are no federal standards regarding what a safe level is for nuts and milk. Borsoi said the company is seeking third-party validation for its technology.
Bluetooth-enabled pregnancy test from First Response
The company's touting it as the "future of pregnancy testing," but it's really just a regular pregnancy test that gives you your results on your phone. That's useful if you have trouble trying to remember whether a line means you're pregnant or not pregnant (a situation that does happen in movies a lot and possibly in real life) as the app clearly shows "Yes/Pregnant" or "No/Not Pregnant." First Response said the app also provides a way to help schedule doctor's visits, create appointment reminders and receive advice on fertility and pre-natal nutrition.
Sun-sensing patch from L’Oreal/MC10
The transparent, adhesive patches measure about one square inch can be worn on any part of the body. They contain photosensitive dyes that change colors when exposed to UV rays and basically tell you whether you’ve had too much sun. You take a photo of the patch using an app and it’ll tell you how much UV exposure you’ve received in that area.
Carmichael Roberts, a co-founder of MC10, which is known for its work in next generation biometric sensors (it also makes wearable tattoos), said this is one of the first of what he believes will be other non-obtrusive sensors that will be worn all over the body.
“Eventually wearables should be invisible to the human being,” he said. The UV sensing patch is expected to be available later this year.
Blood pressure monitor “watch” from Omron
It’s light, discrete and uses Omron’s much-respected technology. You raise your hand to above heart level, press a button and it inflates just like one of those blood pressure sleeves the doctor uses — but it’s way quieter. The data gets transmitted to your phone through Bluetooth and from there you can share it with anyone you want.
Jeff Ray, executive director of business and technology for Omron Healthcare, said the company is currently working with the Food and Drug Administration to get approval to sell the device.
It has a lot of stuff in common with some of the other wristbands and smartwatches out there in that it also tracks your activity and sleep. But I overheard Ray telling some conference attendees that the product is also very different from a lot of the other wearables on the floor because it’s a medical device. It’s an important distinction. There are a lot of hoops the company will have to jump through before getting approval and you can probably assume that the data you get from it will be robust and that's critically important since you'll likely be making health decisions based on that information.
SPECIAL REPORT — The Human Upgrade
Click to read Part I: Using their ideas and their billions, the visionaries who created Silicon Valley’s biggest technology firms are trying to transform the most complicated system in existence: the human body.
Click to read Part II: The revolution will be digitized
Click to read Part III: Watson’s next feat? Taking on cancer
Click to read Part IV: Building an artificial brain