Get Up And Code 056: Angel Fitness Sensor With Eugene Jorov
I was pretty excited to get to talk to one of the co-creators of the Angel wearable device.
I'm really excited about this one because of the ability to monitor heart rate and oxygen level.
Check out the episode below.
Full transcript below
John: Hey everyone, welcome back to Get Up and CODE Podcast. I'm John Sonmez and in this episode I'm going to be interviewing Eugene Jorov who is the co-founder of a really promising technology called Angel. If you’ve been following this podcast for a while you know that I'm really into the wearable tech space. I think that’s really the future so I'm really excited to talk about this technology. So, welcome to the show Eugene.
Eugene Jorov: Thank you John. Good to be here.
John: So, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about yourself? Like, what’s your background and how did you get started in this area? Are you a software developer, where you came from?
Eugene Jorov: I always say that I like building stuff and I’ve been writing code from the age of 12 more or less and when I was doing my military service and everybody has to here in Israel I discovered that electronics and software was my real passion where they come together. Since then I’ve been mostly doing embedded projects and this whole thing culminated in a company I started a couple of years ago with my friend which is building Angel. We call it the first open sensor for health and fitness and I would be glad to tell you about it.
John: Okay. Okay. So that sounds interesting. So you came from a software development background. You figured out that kind of that you like the embedded systems and the electronics part of it as well. But what got you into the fitness space? Have you been in the fitness space? What got you going down that road?
Eugene Jorov: I actually have several interests, several stakes in digital health, fitness of course. I’ve been doing some body building in my younger years and today I'm just into Cross-Fit and experiments with nutrition and stuff like that. I also am very much into staying healthy because I’ve got some bad history with that in my family so it’s important to me to stay in touch and to monitor what’s going on with my body. I have so many reasons to be involved in digital health. This project combines personal and professional interests for me.
John: Okay. So maybe should probably talk about what the project is. I'm sure a lot of people are wondering. If you can describe what Angel is, I know you’ve got some information on your website but maybe if you can give the vision of what Angel will do for someone.
Eugene Jorov: The not surprising part is that it’s a wristband, right?
Eugene Jorov: What it does is measure heart rate, blood oxygen, temperature and activity. This is also, I think, it’s the first device designed from the start to be really open. This wristband is designed for innovation in digital health which means that we are building the best sensor we can and we are leaving it for others to come up with apps and to do their own research and basically complete our product with apps and platforms and systems.
I’d say it’s a radical idea if you compare it to what’s out there, to other devices because first of all most existing trackers today are based on a single sensor on an accelerometer, on a motion tracker that can help you count calories and steps. You probably understand that health is much more than that. We’ve got some special sensors as I mentioned but I am really excited about the open model. I don’t think that anyone else is doing that.
I think the best example is—how many fields of expertise are there in medicine and in health? There is cardiology and pediatrics and nutrition and fitness and many others. It’s not possible for a single company to come up with a solution that would address all those areas. It’s only natural to allow many people and many companies and many universities to participate in this field. We observed that every company was trying to really take control of the whole chain of both hardware and software and also cloud solutions. We decided to disrupt that.
John: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think that then you’re going to get the best of breed for this on the software side instead of being limited by your user interface, I think. You can integrate with some of the APIs of some of the wearable technology but the problem is because they already have a dominating app in the app store I'm not going to build an app that integrates with Fitbit or something because people are going to buy the Fitbit app. I mean, they’re not going to use my thing. I like that idea that makes a lot of sense especially I think for the developers. It seems like there is a unique opportunity here for someone. If I wanted to create my own app using your sensor I could basically create my own and sell my own app that integrated with the sensor. If I already had an app would I be able to integrate that as well? I use a running app. I have a running app myself. Would I be able to integrate that now with the Angel sensor?
Eugene Jorov: Absolutely. We make it a point to use either standard Bluetooth protocols or to open those that we invent. Well basically we publish everything we develop in open source so that people can read about our APIs, grab bits of our software as examples to jumpstart their development. The short answer is yes. It’s designed for developers.
Eugene Jorov: There is another important thing here, another important issue here. Who controls the data? Because when you use Fitbit all data flows to their storage and you don’t really get to say how you want that data to be used. In our case you can choose any platform you want as long as it works with Angel but Angel gives you the choice of apps and web platforms and where you store your data, what you do with it. It’s all about freedom to me.
John: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. I know RunKeeper did something like that on the app side because they had their app and they kind of made that, what do they call it? Graph API? No, not Graph API. I forgot what the name of the API was but I like to see it now on the wearable side. That’s a great thing to do. What about Angel itself? I’ve got a Fitbit and I like the Fitbit but I stopped wearing it because I know how many steps I take in a day now. Like you said, it’s just an accelerometer. The thing that was really interesting about Angel to me was the heart rate, blood oxygen, activity and temperature. Maybe we could talk about each one of those, how you measure those things and how they’re important. I guess we could start with heart rate. How does the device measure heart rate and why is this something important that somebody would want to measure?
Eugene Jorov: This is actually an emerging technology in wearables. There are a couple of other companies doing that. It’s based on optics and there is an optical sensor that monitors blood flow in your wrist by sending rays of light which are reflected from your skin and depending on the amount of blood present in your wrist that absorption differs. I basically described to you something that is called PPG. We are also using acoustics and a bunch of other sensors to improve the signal which is quite weak at the wrist. In fact, your wrist is probably the worst place for a sensor like that to be but it’s one of the most convenient places unfortunately. We’d rather you had Angel as an earring or something like that.
Eugene Jorov: Heart rate is important. It’s one of the vital signs and it can be useful in a wide array of health apps. In fact, we had a guiding principle in choosing our sensors. We talked to doctors and asked them what information, what data would be useful to you today. We could create brand new sensors that nobody’s heard of but it would take several years for medical experts to research them and to understand how to use them in everyday life. We wanted to start with sensors that would immediately provide information that could help like I said innovate digital health today not tomorrow. Heart rate is useful for beyond tracking fitness. It’s useful for analyzing anomalies and maybe predicting problems and I don’t know, maybe even predicting heart attacks I’d say 5 years before it happens. We could track emotions. We could track your sleep combined with the way you move of course when you’re asleep. There’s a lot of potential for this sensor.
Eugene Jorov: The big deal with wearables is that they are going to allow access to continuous data. Up till now this was not possible. No researcher in the world could get access to your heart rate for the last 5 years. If we run this data, I hope if we run this data through the necessary algorithms we’ll be able to find a whole lot of information hiding there. One of our goals is to get the data into the hands of people who can do that kind of research.
John: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense when you think about it that way because I was thinking of it just as I go for a run I want to check my heart rate and I don’t use a heart rate monitor when I run because there are these big straps that you have to put across your chest. I just want to go and run but having this on my wrist but I’d never even considered the fact that I could be tracking this for my doctor over years and then we could aggregate this data and we find problems. Maybe we find some indicator of a health issue from data from hundreds and thousands of people. That makes a lot sense especially if you’ve got it on all the time which you don’t wear your heart rate monitor the one when you go out running all the time. So that makes a lot of sense.
Eugene Jorov: You know why the project is called Angel?
John: No. Why?
Eugene Jorov: I hope that in say 10 years from now every one of us will have a personal Angel of our own. It could be an earring like I said, a wrist band or any other electronic device which will just be present. It will be there and it will maybe whisper in our ear sometimes. You can just take it easy on your daily jog because maybe your knees are weaker than you think or just grab an extra banana it’s okay for you today or your sleep is perfect or just go do your check-up it’s time for that. Maybe discover problems. Something to really take care, I wouldn’t say take care but an extra protection layer for our health.
John: Right. Okay. So you’ve got a much bigger vision than just this wristband at this point for the company.
Eugene Jorov: Yup. I think there are going to be a lot of companies involved in this vision and we want to be one of them.
John: Okay. Let’s see. So we talked about heart rate which now I’ve got a good grasp on that. That makes sense. I’m definitely excited about that. Like I said, I don’t like having that bulky thing so I would actually use this for heart rate. Now blood oxygen, I'm imaging that the same sensor probably gets you the blood oxygen. This is kind of an interesting one because when I go into the hospital they put that thing on my finger and they check my blood oxygen but how could someone use this? Will this help me working out? How can I use blood oxygen, that data?
Eugene Jorov: Blood oxygen saturation is another vital sign which could be used both for sports and for health analysis. I’d say that for now in sports we just want to differentiate between normal and abnormal blood oxygen levels. This is just a starting point for researchers, for doctors knowing that under stress your blood oxygen level is below normal or knowing what it looks like when you’re asleep could help them discover problems. If you combine this information with heart rate and the other sensors you get a pretty detailed picture of your health.
For example, many people suffer from sleep apnea which is basically problems with sleep and most of them are, I don’t want to say most of them I'm not a doctor but a lot of those have to do with problems in breathing, difficulties breathing at night. This is also something that is reflected in your oxygen level. This is just another dimension of getting a better understanding of what our health looks like.
John: I see. I was just going to ask about the sleep apnea because that would make sense to me that you could detect that blood oxygen level drop and a lot of people don’t even know they have sleep apnea but if they were wearing this they could find out. Then the activity I'm assuming you’re using accelerometers for the activity, for that part.
Eugene Jorov: Yup, that’s correct. We use a combination of a gyroscope and an accelerometer to produce step count and calorie count and general activity levels. We’ll probably improve that further and extend our API to support whole detection and many other functions but this is going to be based on actual feedback from our developers and their API requests.
John: Okay. Then on the temperature side, this is an interesting one as well because I know that one of the things that a lot of the sensors today they only track the step count to determine calories, the burn, but at one point I had this really bulky device. I don’t know if they still make it. It’s called Bodybugg and it used temperature as well as the motion and it gave me a more accurate calorie count because by the raise in body temperature it could figure out how much my base rate was increasing. Is that kind of the idea behind the temperature in this or are there more?
Eugene Jorov: This is absolutely the direction that we’re going to. We have some challenges to overcome. For example, the sensor you mentioned is much closer to your core. You wear it on your arm which is closer to your heart and to the core of your body so the measurement is much closer to the actual core temperature. On the wrist it’s quite remote from that but still you can deduce trends and where the temperature is going. If your algorithms are smart enough you could calibrate your measurement to reflect the core temperature closely. If you do that it opens a door to—just imagine, not having to take the temperature of your kids at night and always knowing what’s going on and getting a text message if your kid runs a fever in kindergarten. My daughter is 9 months old and I can tell you that I would buy a device like that today.
John: Yeah. Wow, that’s great. Wow. This is definitely an awesome device having all of those data points. Alone each one is valuable but just the combinations of them it seems like you’ve got, with these 4 data points you can really calculate a lot of things. Probably things we can’t even really think of at this point. I'm pretty excited about this. This definitely sounds like a pretty cool technology. This is wrist and I saw that you said that you can wear it—is it waterproof? Will I be able to just basically keep this thing on all the time?
Eugene Jorov: Yeah. The idea is for you to wear it 24/7. You’ll have to charge it about once a week but we’re hoping to solve that in the second generation of our device but yes, the idea is continuous measurement.
John: Okay. That sounds really good. I'm really, really interested in this. How far along are you in the project now? When would these be available? I know you did like an Indiegogo campaign and I think you tripled what you needed, what your goal was?
Eugene Jorov: Yes. We were quite successful and now we are beginning manufacturing of our first batch of devices which will go to our Indiegogo backers. Angel is going to ship late this summer.
John: Oh wow. Okay. Wow, this is really exciting. When it ships will there be like a reference app that it ships with that you guys have developed so that someone could start using it or will there still need to be apps created? How will someone use it right away when they get it?
Eugene Jorov: There are going to be several possible uses for Angel immediately when it ships. First we are going to ship it with our own app but it’s an open source app. It’s quite basic but it will give you the ability to view your data and configure the device so that it’s an alarm clock and tweak its various settings and also that app serves as an example for our developers but we’re not going to compete with all the developers. Like I said, it’s a basic app.
Then because Angel is using open protocols many existing apps could connect to it and get data. For example, apps like Strava and MapMyRun and you mentioned RunKeeper. Those apps could connect to Angel and get heart rate because we use standard protocol to transmit that over Bluetooth. We are also going to be integrating with existing web platforms from day one and you will be able to upload your data to, I call them aggregators, platforms that collect your sensor data from various devices and present to you and process it the way you want. And of course we are hoping that we’ll have apps coming from our developers. You’ll get the single device and you will be able to use it with different apps. One app in the morning, one app in the evening, something in the afternoon and the next day maybe you’ll find another app for yourself. I'm actually maybe even more excited than you are to see and to find out what people are going to invent for Angel.
John: Right. Okay. That sounds good. I really like that approach and I'm sure a lot of the audience for Get Up and CODE developers would be interested in creating an app for it. We could probably get someone in the audience to get a Windows phone app because we’ve got a lot of Windows phone developers. That’s really good. Do you know what the retail price is going to be at this point?
Eugene Jorov: Yes. It’s going to $159 US.
John: Okay. Yeah, that’s perfectly affordable. I would buy that instantly as soon as it’s available at that price for all the benefit I’d be getting. I'm kind of interested also to find out what is the technology that you’re using behind it. What programming languages and technology are you using to develop this?
Eugene Jorov: We are using microcontrollers without an operating system. We are actually using a microkernel that we have developed ourselves for our specific purposes. We are, I can say, among the very few companies to use C++ in 16-bit microcontrollers and I'm quite happy about it because it allows us to abstract our solutions so much better than in C.
Eugene Jorov: I hope this is a sufficiently detailed answer.
John: Yes, that’s very good. So C++ and you’re directly interacting with the microcontrollers. You don’t have an embedded OS. Obviously on a small device like that it would be pretty tough to have an embedded OS on there. Okay. What about on the website? What are you guys doing for the API? What technology are you using there?
Eugene Jorov: For the moment we are focused on our app which will integrate with other existing web platforms. We are not building our platform for now.
John: Oh I see. Okay. So if someone wants to integrate with your API they’re programming against the C++ APIs that you’ve exposed. Is that true?
Eugene Jorov: Actually, there are several layers. You can either connect to Angel directly over Bluetooth from any device you want.
John: Oh okay.
Eugene Jorov: Or you can use our SDK on iOS or Android. You can of course develop on Windows or Mac using their Bluetooth libraries and if you want to build a web application you have to make sure that data from Angel goes to one of the existing web platforms and you get it from there using their web APIs.
John: I see.
Eugene Jorov: You either connect directly or use our SDK on mobile devices or use library functions on PCs and net or you integrate with existing web APIs.
John: Oh I see. Okay, that makes sense that the communication would be over the Bluetooth communication. Okay. One last thing I was curious about here. I was reading your blog or the blog list you had on and about you taking the leap. I have another podcast called Entreprogrammers and so I'm always curious to hear what was your story in making this leap. It’s a risky thing to go out on your own and try and create this device. How did that go about and what were you thinking about that?
Eugene Jorov: I think it all started when I took interest in agile for the first time and I started thinking on not just the results of my work but also on the process, on the methodology. Improving the way I do things over time was really interesting to me and eventually started managing teams. It was about 10, 15 years ago and I think I got quite good at that and over time I think the whole thing became clear to me when I ran into The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I am sure all of your listeners are familiar with this book and I think that was the moment when this understanding that I wanted to try doing things my way crystalized in my mind. It was a long way but the decision was instant. When I was ready it was very easy for me to make this decision. It wasn’t that easy to implement it but the decision itself was natural.
John: Yeah, I just finish rereading The 4-Hour Work Week. Just last week I reread that book. I'm picking up more as I'm now and own my own doing my own entrepreneurial type of thing I’ve picked up a lot more than I did the first time around when I read it and I was still working for someone else.
Eugene Jorov: Unfortunately we are working 14 hours a day now trying to fulfill our obligation to the guys who put their trust on us on Indiegogo but I do hope to improve that over time.
John: Yeah, I think that’s the one part of the equation that a lot of people leave out when they say work smarted not harder. It’s like you kind of got to work hard and smart for like a 3 to 5 year period and then you can kind of relax a little bit. A lot of people look back on their success and they forget about the part where they work they’re butt off for a really long time, really hard in order to be able to get to the point where they can now put things on autopilot and step away a little bit.
Eugene Jorov: I just want to share that even though I work 12 hours a day sometimes and more I don’t really allow our engineers to do that because I think it really hurts their creativity. I think it wasn’t just once that we had to go into overtime and everybody who did that got a few days off immediately afterwards to refresh their minds.
John: Yeah, that makes sense. There’s only a finite number of amount of focused concentration you can maintain for any period of time. Alright, I just got to give a quick shout out to our sponsor for this podcast SignalLeaf. If you are looking to start your own podcast go and checkout signalleaf.com. SignalLeaf has been the sponsor for this podcast for quite a while now and they make it really easy for you to create your own podcast. Just go to signalleaf.com and sign up for their services and you can get your podcast up and running pretty quickly. Well, thanks again for doing this interview. I'm really excited to get this technology, to get this in my hands. I didn’t get a chance to get it on the Indiegogo but when it’s available for retail sale I’ll definitely be one of the first people to put down my money and get one of this. This is definitely something that I would utilize.
Eugene Jorov: Thank you.
John: Alright and don’t forget to checkout Get Up and CODE at getupandcode.com and if you have any suggestions for who you’d like to see on the show, any comments just send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll talk to you next week. Take care.