Buried in a two-bedroom house inside Bengaluru's HSR Layout, a just-born company was busy designing a sole that can fit into a running shoe. The sensors in the sole can plot the runner's "pressure map" - every conceivable pressure that is exerted on the foot and knee. Not far away, in Koramangala, another start-up was designing a match box-sized device with a screen. Plug in the device to your body and it read the pulse rate, the body temperature and ECG. A third company, nearby, was working out of an incubation centre, prototyping something really cool. Jackets with a solar fabric; tuck the phone inside the pocket and it charges.
This was 2014. Bengaluru was buzzing with "wearables" start-ups. Fitness bands, smart garments, smart glasses, and the connected watch. The conversation everywhere was about how wearables could change our behaviour, the way we live, work and play in two years. It could make our daily lives easier, lazier, and more fun. It could also make us fitter than we are today, lower our medical bills and potentially disrupt the medical equipment market in a replay of mobile phones cannibalising the landline.
Many of those start-ups did not survive; a few flipped their business models. Nevertheless, the promise of wearables did not evaporate. Five years down the line, companies that managed to sell services along with hardware have survived and thrived. GOQii is one of them.
The company does sell a fitness band but it has evolved into a healthcare platform with live and interactive sessions, fitness coaches who guide and even a health store. Business Today recently spoke to founder Vishal Gondal on the company's progress and the exciting ways it is using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
People, in their fitness journey, often lose motivation. Gondal says that his company practices 'motivation mining' - data is used to ensure subscribers to his app stay motivated. "Every person has a different lever for motivation. Lot of people can get motivated by challenges but some hate challenges. Lot of people can get motivated when you give them prizes. Some get motivated when they donate to charity. Using AI, we see what levers work the best for you. We can optimise the experience for you accordingly," he says.
Where does the data come from? One, from the GOQii wearable devices and sensors. Second, from the data the subscriber feeds in - such as pictures of what they eat during the day, uploaded for their coaches to see. A third source of data is chats with the coach, which allows for sentiment analysis. Fourth is the coach's own assessment. A combination of structured and unstructured data, therefore, help the company understand motivation.
GOQii is now working with insurance companies to reclassify people's risks. The insurance company gets a health score and the score can be used to discount the premium. "We believe that over the next five-10 years, the wearable will be the primary diagnostic device. All diagnostic data will be available on demand," Gondal says. "We will launch an ECG device. It does an ECG report in 40 seconds," he adds.
The company does not make any medical claims just as yet. These are signalling devices as of now but it could disrupt the medical equipment industry, going ahead. "With all this data, insurance companies, healthcare companies are going to change. You would know which guy will have a health incident," Gondal says.
This prediction is not very different from the heady days of 2014. Business Today met a doctor in Bangalore associated with a wearable medical-grade device back then.
"Can we predict a heart attack two weeks in advance?" she asked, before answering herself. "We believe that 80 per cent of people have some warning in the previous two-three weeks and they don't heed that." A device that can pick up body signals such as electricity (ECG and EEG), pick up data around chemicals being secreted from the eye and skin, and read body odour will help in predictive healthcare. She went on to predict that the outpatient clinic will change as wearable medical devices proliferate - blood pressure, ECG and EEG machines may not be required; the stethoscope too.