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Washable health tag puts the smarts in your clothing

Nov. 26, 2017

Perhaps it’s time to move beyond the smartwatches and fitness bands and put the smarts in your underwear. That seems to be the approach of Spire Inc. with its new Spire Health Tag. The tags affix semipermanently to your clothing, they are washable, and they offer battery life of more than a year. You can buy them in packs of 15, so you can affix them to the items of clothing you wear most often and not have to worry about forgetting them.

Christina Bonnington at Slate quotes Spire cofounder and CEO Jonathan Palley as saying that people buy a wearable for the outcome—not the device. “The device is an unfortunate necessity,” he adds. Bonnington explains that “…the device fades into the background….” It only demands your attention if it detects that you are more stressed than normal, are getting worse quality of sleep, or could use some more exercise intensity to reach your daily health goals.

The company says the tag employs force and other sensors to measure activity, heartrate and HRV, sleep quality, breathing patterns, and stress levels. Algorithms in the associated Spire app correlate respiratory patterns with a cognitive or emotional state (for instance, calm, tense, or focused) with the goal of alleviating anxiety and pain, increasing HRV, and reducing blood pressure. It provides messages such as “Awesome workout! You’ve burned 246 calories and had an average heartrate of 164 bpm” or “This was the most stressful morning you’ve had in two weeks. How about a quick breathing exercise?”

My one issue with such devices is wondering what they are really telling me. My phone will measure heartrate and SpO2, which is fine—those are numerical results that could be compared with those available from different instruments. But like the Spire tag, my phone also “calculates” stress level and presents that on a low-to-high scale. How this is related to numerical data is hidden in the algorithms. I’d like the algorithms to explain themselves—a topic addressed in an article in The New York Times Magazine that I’ll be commenting on later in a separate post.

Anyway, the Spire tags won’t be available for the holiday gift-giving season, but they will begin shipping in February. You can pre-order now at prices ranging from $49 for a single device to $299 for a 15-pack.

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