Outdoors + Tech newsletter – August 20, 2018

Outdoors + Tech news articles, blog posts and research papers for August 20, 2018



Exclusive: Google is developing a wearable health and fitness assistant called ‘Google Coach’

AndroidPolice, Ryan Whitwam from

Google has launched numerous products infused with AI technology, and it looks like health and fitness is its next target. Google is working on a health and wellbeing coach fittingly called “Google Coach.” The name could change before launch, but Google already has a lot of ideas in the pipeline for how this service will work.

Google Coach won’t just be an exercise tracker, but helping you stay active is a big part of its job. Coach, which is also known internally as Project Wooden, will leverage the data Google has about you to deliver health and fitness data proactively. It may recommend workout routines, track your progress, and recommend alternatives if you miss a planned workout. When you do hit the gym, Coach can log your activity and use that data to inform future suggestions.

Google Coach will also help monitor your nutrition and recommend foods. For example, you might be able to get a healthy order recommendation for a meal out based on your location and patterns. If you prefer to cook at home, Coach could instead generate a weekly meal plan and shopping list, and beam it all right to your email. Google suggests that Coach might even be able to use your calendar data to figure out how many meals it needs to plan.


Feeling Stressed? These Wearables Could Help You Relax.

Outside Online, Christine Yu from

For the past year, Jonathan Levitt has kept tabs on his daily stress with the help of a Garmin Forerunner 935 smartwatch. Based on what he’s learned from tracking his data, Levitt now deliberately programs downtime into his day. “I use it to understand when I should add more restful moments and to nail my rest days,” he says. (Levitt, an amateur runner, also operates the lighthearted Twitter and Instagram accounts @restdaybrags with athletes Amelia Boone and Caroline Burckle.) When he’s feeling run-down, instead of rushing straight to the gym from work, he’ll lounge on his couch for 20 minutes first. As a result, he feels stronger and more resilient, even as he’s increased his training volume and intensity. He also claims he’s sleeping better.

Garmin is among a recent wave of companies who’ve entered the stress-wearables market. The new devices move beyond activity tracking to monitor the body’s stress response—using markers such as breathing rate, skin temperature, and heart-rate variability—and alert users when tension rises above normal. A buzz or beep acts as a subtle nudge: How about a break or a deep breath? The aim is to rein in your fight-or-flight instinct. In theory this should short-­circuit acute stress and stave off chronic stress, which is linked to a host of health conditions that include heart disease and diabetes.


23% of U.S. broadband households own a wrist-worn connected health devices

Parks Associates from

New Parks Associates research shows 23% of U.S. broadband households own a wrist-worn connected health device, the most common of the connected health devices. Parks Associates will host its fifth-annual Connected Health Summit: Engaging Consumers, August 28-30 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, to discuss strategies to drive both adoption and ongoing engagement among connected consumers for these solutions.

“Wrist-worn devices such as smart watches and fitness trackers are lightweight and portable and can integrate key functions such as PERS or medication reminders,” said Kristen Hanich, Research Analyst, Parks Associates. “They’ve easily integrated into consumers’ daily routines—75% of smart watch owners use their device every day.”


How to Track Your Heart Rate With Wearables

WIRED, Gear, Author: Pia Ceres from

… “It’s important to understand that there is a spectrum of what constitutes a normal heart rate,” says Dr. Gregory Marcus, Director of Clinical Research for the Department of Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco. He’s also part of the research team for the Health eHeart Study, which aims to shed light on heart disease by analyzing digital health data from participants’ mobile health-tracking devices.

You might have heard that a healthy resting heart rate—the rate when you’re physically and mentally relaxed—typically falls between 60 and 100 bpm. But Dr. Marcus explains that it’s not so simple, since heart rates vary from person to person.

“In many cases, the more fit a given individual is, the more their heart rate will slow while they’re at rest or while they’re asleep,” says Dr. Marcus. So a person who is very athletic might find that their resting heart rate slows to 30, even 20 bpm. This is because the heart muscle of a physically fit person doesn’t have to strain as much to support the body’s needs.


Future of fitness trackers: State of play and what comes next

Wareable (UK), Conor Allison from

… As fitness trackers have become cheaper, Fitbit’s wares have largely stayed the same, with its premium options sitting at around $149.99. You can get in on the ground floor for around $40–$60, but you have to sacrifice a lot of features in the process.

We’ll be discussing some far-reaching ideas fitness trackers may adopt further down, but in Fitbit’s case, the immediate next steps are clear: bring the fitness trackers more in line with what we’ve seen from its smartwatches (GPS, NFC, waterproofing and health monitoring sensors) or bring down the price to compete.

In the long-term, well, signs are encouraging. Fitbit is set up best to deliver next-gen features, including glucose monitoring, blood pressure and sleep apnea.


non-wrist wearable

Wearable Devices and Mobile Health Technology: One Step Towards Better Health

Boston University School of Medicine from

With increasing efforts being made to address the current global obesity epidemic, wearable devices and mobile health (“mHealth”) technology have emerged as promising tools for promoting physical activity. However, current literature seems to indicate that these new technologies may serve best as part of a larger overall health plan, rather than working alone to encourage weight loss.

In a review for this week’s Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity, Nicole Spartano, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine at BUSM, comments that recent literature shows that self-monitoring behavior has a role in encouraging weight loss, but may not be enough to keep people healthy when used without thought to behavioral strategies. “There is not sufficient evidence that wearable devices can promote sustained behavior change and long-term weight maintenance on their own.” She cites one study in which a game-based intervention produced significant improvement in step counts compared to a group of individuals using a fitness tracker without an incentive program, concluding that “using social or financial incentives and techniques like gamification may support motivation of behavior change”.


Superflex Rebrands As Seismic, Acquires Assets Of Lumo Bodytech: Seismic To Unveil New Prototype Of Powered Clothing™ At TechCrunch Disrupt 2018

Textile World from

Today the company formerly known as Superflex announced it has rebranded as Seismic and acquired the intellectual property (IP) of Lumo Bodytech, a motion science company known for its posture-correcting and fitness devices. Lumo’s legacy products include the Lumo Lift Posture Coach and Lumo Run Running Coach, both designed to track body posture and form to improve everyday movement. The acquisition of Lumo Bodytech IP strategically enhances Seismic’s suit control algorithms with extensive body posture and activity data. Additionally, key members from Lumo’s machine learning and algorithm team will be able to continue their groundbreaking work in motion science as the newest members of the Seismic team.


LifeSignals Gets FDA Clearance For ECG Patch

Wearable Technologies from

LifeSignals, a company that provides solutions for businesses improving health and wellbeing, announced that it received FDA clearance for its wireless LP1100 Life Signal Patch for enabling the next generation of wearable, healthcare monitoring devices.

The patch is built on two solid technology foundations to provide unrivalled characteristics achieved by any other ECG patch product to date. It deploys the company’s recently launched LC100 Life Signal Processor (LSP) Platform and a patented, integrated multi-electrode architecture.

The FDA clearance now allows OEMS to use Life Signal Processor™ to develop ECG and other vital sign monitoring wearables with wireless connection to the cloud. It also provides a needed biosensor patch for companies looking to deliver certain health applications in the low acuity patient monitoring space, consumer wellness, senior care and animal health.



btlejack: Bluetooth Low Energy Swiss-army knife

GitHub – virtualabs from

Btlejack provides everything you need to sniff, jam and hijack Bluetooth Low Energy devices. It relies on one or more BBC Micro:Bit. devices running a dedicated firmware.


Why Women (and Everyone Else) Should Code

Medium, Anna R. Karlin from

  • I want to point out some of the highly dynamic factors influencing the enrollment of women in computer science (CS) that are not addressed by Reges’ article and make the case that significantly different conclusions are also possible.
  • I want to strongly encourage undergraduates at UW and elsewhere to take CS courses. I especially want to make sure that UW students know that all of our instructors, including Reges, care deeply about recruiting all talented and passionate students into CS, regardless of who or what they are, and are 100% behind the agenda of “encouragement and removal of artificial barriers” (a quote from Reges’ article).
  • I want to reach out to other computer science educators to say that we need to actively encourage all students to learn CS and programming. If we want the very best students to be entering our field, we need to compete for them (both women and men). It is not easy to identify the most talented and passionate students.

    Update to Privacy Zones functionality

    Medium, Strava Engineering, Matthew Gordon from

    … given enough activity data, we came to realize that a bad actor could deduce the ‘focal point’ of a Strava member’s Privacy Zone; a location which is likely to be the activity owner’s home or office.

    Because our implementation of Privacy Zones centered the area to be obscured — a circle of one of several fixed radii — around the location entered by the athlete, it was possible to use the body of a Strava member’s activities to surmise that user-entered location.

    We knew it was critical for us to address this issue. Happily, this was one of those rare cases where the simplest solution also turned out to be one of the most effective. Because the demonstrated method for identifying potentially sensitive locations depended on the fact that this location was at the very center of a Strava members’ Privacy Zone, we were able to effectively invalidate this approach by simply centering the circular area to be obscured around a nearby and, crucially, random location.



    This $2,995 home gym is like Peloton for weight-lifting

    Fast Company, Katharine Schwab from

    Tonal, a new strength training device that uses an engine to create resistance instead of heavy metal disks, looks just like a vertical flat screen television and wouldn’t be out of place on the wall of your apartment. When you’re ready to work out, you turn on the device and pull out two adjustable arms that enable you to do 200 different exercises. After the trainers on the screen run you through an initial baseline test, Tonal pre-sets the weight, up to 200 pounds, for every exercise, automatically cataloging and tracking your progress as you curl, lift, and squat.


    Wahoo KICKR CLIMB In-Depth Review

    Ray Maker, DC Rainmaker blog from

    After nearly a year, Wahoo has finally started shipping the Wahoo CLIMB to customers. Real-life, actual paying customers. For those not familiar, Wahoo’s CLIMB is a ‘grade simulator’, which basically means it makes the front of your bike go up and down, replicating the climbs and descents of your nearby hills (or in my case living in Amsterdam now, the meanest of canal bridges).

    Of course, given the $599 price tag of such a product, opinions roughly fall into one of two camps: ‘Holy crap that’s cool’, or ‘Stupidest waste of money ever’. Regardless of where you stand on that scale, there’s certainly more than enough pent-up interest for the product. One only need to look at either my or Lama’s YouTube video view stats for our respective early preview CLIMB videos last summer – easily the most ‘popular’ product out of Eurobike 2017.



    Invigorate Your Run in Brooks Levitate 2

    Runner's World, Amanda Furrer from

    … The Levitate 2 is a shoe that will help you endure long runs and invigorate your legs on easy days. Its durability and springy ride even spurred one tester to declare they had found a kindred sole: “I will run in this shoe for as long as it will let me.”


    These exercise startups are sweating it out

    The Boston Globe, Scott Kirsner from

    … In the near term, however, True Rowing is working to build its first 100 machines with a manufacturing partner in Taiwan and expects to begin shipping them to customers early next year. Smith is using Peloton’s pricing as a guide: The bike costs about $2,000, and a subscription to the on-screen classes is $40 a month. “Our price will be very close to Peloton’s,” he says.

    True Rowing isn’t the only fitness startup layering new tech atop your daily workout.

    A few steps away in Harvard Square is VirZoom, founded in 2015. It brought in $5.5 million in funding earlier this year. The company blends a basic exercise bike with virtual reality goggles and a handlebar-mounted controller to turn cycling into a video game. As you’re driving a Formula One race car in the virtual realm — pedal faster to pass — you’re working up a real sweat. (You can also fly like a Pegasus or pilot a tank and blast opponents.)

    The company has recently signed distribution deals for its product with Life Fitness of Illinois and Gym Source, based in Newton. CEO Eric Janszen says the company is hiring regional sales reps around the United States.


    Extra Extra

    The Pudding, Jan Diehm & Amber Thomas from

    Women’s pockets are way too small, a problem that has now been visualized by the creative data visualizers over at The Pudding.

    A team of 200 scientists have published 94% of the sprawling wheat genome.

    There’s an intriguing (semi-paywalled) article at The Economist on how the internet has improved dating, making it easier for the marginalized to find each other.



    Flexible and Conductive Mesh for Implantable and Wearable Bioelectronics

    Medgadget, Conn Hastings from

    Researchers at the Institute of Basic Science in South Korea have developed a highly stretchable bioelectronic mesh patch which can monitor electrophysiological signals, such as heart muscle electrical activity, and can apply electrical and thermal stimulation for therapeutic purposes. The mesh can be implanted, such as around the heart, or can be worn on the skin.

    Research into new materials for wearables and implantable medical devices is proceeding rapidly. This latest study demonstrates a new material developed by Korean scientists, which can record electrical signals from tissue or skin it contacts, and deliver stimuli to the area.


    Novel sensors could enable smarter textiles

    University of Delaware, UDaily from

    A team of engineers at the University of Delaware is developing next-generation smart textiles by creating flexible carbon nanotube composite coatings on a wide range of fibers, including cotton, nylon and wool. Their discovery is reported in the journal ACS Sensors where they demonstrate the ability to measure an exceptionally wide range of pressure – from the light touch of a fingertip to being driven over by a forklift.

    Fabric coated with this sensing technology could be used in future “smart garments” where the sensors are slipped into the soles of shoes or stitched into clothing for detecting human motion.

    Carbon nanotubes give this light, flexible, breathable fabric coating impressive sensing capability. When the material is squeezed, large electrical changes in the fabric are easily measured.

    “As a sensor, it’s very sensitive to forces ranging from touch to tons,” said Erik Thostenson, an associate professor in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering.


    Battery breakthrough: Doubling performance with lithium metal that doesn’t catch fire | University of Michigan News

    University of Michigan, Michigan News from

    A rechargeable battery technology developed at the University of Michigan could double the output of today’s lithium ion cells—drastically extending electric vehicle ranges and time between cell phone charges—without taking up any added space.

    By using a ceramic, solid-state electrolyte, engineers can harness the power of lithium metal batteries without the historic issues of poor durability and short-circuiting. The result is a roadmap to what could be the next generation of rechargeable batteries.

    “This could be a game-changer—a paradigm shift in how a battery operates,” said Jeff Sakamoto, a U-M associate professor of mechanical engineering who leads the work.



    Muscle ‘Switch’

    Harvard Medical School, News from

    Some people respond well to both aerobic exercise and strength training, while others don’t. And some of us respond well to only one of those things, but not both.

    Harvard Medical School scientists at Joslin Diabetes Center now have uncovered a surprising molecular “switch” that may help to explain this lack of response to exercise and provide clues to better treatments against diabetes.

    “We’ve identified an exercise-activated biological pathway that hasn’t been studied at all,” said Sarah Lessard, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Joslin and first author on a paper published in Nature Communications.

    Studying both lab animals and humans, Lessard and her colleagues discovered that a protein called JNK helps to drive response to exercise.


    Rural railroads are more important than your new trails

    High Country News, Forrest Whitman from

    Advocates for “Rails to Trails” often ask why we’re so determined to keep some of our little short railroad lines going. Two quick answers: We need them to fight forest fires in remote areas, and railroads can boost local economies.

    In Walsenburg in southern Colorado, for example, the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad only has 149 miles of track. It is often a cash-strapped route, abandoned by the old Rio Grande some years ago as unprofitable. Its route is incredibly scenic, though, traveling over 9,380-foot-high La Veta Pass. It might be a perfect bike ride.

    But this summer, the railroad has been proving its worth by helping to fight the huge Spring Creek Fire. Every day during the fire, 10 tanker cars were filled with water in Alamosa, Colorado, and hauled by train to near the fire lines. The railroad was closed beyond that point by the fire, but it reopened once the flames were quenched.


    Why Ethiopia’s running success is about more than poverty and altitude

    The Guardian, Michael Crawley from

    It is 3.15am and I have just woken from a fitful four-hour sleep. I am already wearing running shorts and I quickly pull on a T-shirt and step outside. It is pitch black and my breath turns to mist in the cold air. Fasil is washing his face at the outdoor tap. He has a night off his job guarding a half-constructed building and is staying with Hailye. He beams, clearly surprised that I kept my word about joining them for this session. “Ante ferenj aydelehim,” he says. “Jegna neh”; you’re no foreigner, you’re a hero.

    We jog slowly to Kidane Mehret church and down the asphalt hill in silence before Hailye turns, crosses himself and leads our first run up the hill. The only light comes from the occasional bare bulb hanging outside a kiosk. By the seventh or eighth rep, I have learned that the hilltop comes faster if you watch your feet, not the summit. After an hour, Hailye stops. “Buka,” he says. Enough. As we jog home, he tells me: “Now you should have a cold shower outside and then you should sleep. That’s going to be the most wonderful sleep.”

    He was not wrong. This training session was the start of the time – six months or so after starting fieldwork with Ethiopian long-distance runners in Addis Ababa – when Fasil started telling me I was habesha, a term denoting unified, proud Ethiopia.



    The role of muscle strength on tendon adaptability in old age.

    European Journal of Applied Physiology from


    The purpose of the study was to determine: (1) the relationship between ankle plantarflexor muscle strength and Achilles tendon (AT) biomechanical properties in older female adults, and (2) whether muscle strength asymmetries between the individually dominant and non-dominant legs in the above subject group were accompanied by inter-limb AT size differences.

    The maximal generated AT force, AT stiffness, AT Young’s modulus, and AT cross-sectional area (CSA) along its length were determined for both legs in 30 women (65 ± 7 years) using dynamometry, ultrasonography, and magnetic resonance imaging.

    No between-leg differences in triceps surae muscle strength were identified between dominant (2798 ± 566 N) and non-dominant limb (2667 ± 512 N). The AT CSA increased gradually in the proximo-distal direction, with no differences between the legs. There was a significant correlation (P < 0.05) of maximal AT force with AT stiffness (r = 0.500) and Young’s modulus (r = 0.414), but only a tendency with the mean AT CSA. However, region-specific analysis revealed a significant relationship between maximal AT force and the proximal part of the AT, indicating that this region is more likely to display morphological adaptations following an increase in muscle strength in older adults. Conclusions

    These findings demonstrate that maximal force-generation capabilities play a more important role in the variation of AT stiffness and material properties than in tendon CSA, suggesting that exercise-induced increases in muscle strength in older adults may lead to changes in tendon stiffness foremost due to alterations in material rather than in its size. [full text]


    Exercise improves mental health? What you need to know

    HealthNewsReview.org, Joy Victory from

    Last week, HealthDay News (and many other news sites) covered a study from The Lancet Psychiatry looking at the association between exercise and depression. People who said they exercised tended to report fewer days of poor mental health compared to those who said they didn’t exercise, according to the study.

    That finding was unfortunately misreported as showing that “exercise really can chase away the blues, to a point.” Why was this misleading? The observational study wasn’t capable of showing cause and effect (or, as statisticians might say, that it wasn’t a “causal” relationship).

    It’s the classic chicken-or-egg dilemma. We don’t know, for example, if exercise led to better mental health or better mental health led people to exercise. It’s feasible that both are true, too.

    Even though the data set had 1.2 million people, observational findings like these–that can only detect patterns–are reversed all the time when a true experimental, randomized controlled trial (RCT) is conducted. Just last week we wrote about this happening when savvy researchers used both an observational study and an RCT to study workplace wellness programs. While observational data showed the workplace wellness programs got employees to exercise more, the RCT found that wasn’t the case.

    That’s not to say there’s isn’t some RCT evidence indicating positive effects of exercise on mental health. There is.


    Open Data for the Carr Wildfire

    DigitalGlobe Blog from

    “When crises like this occur, DigitalGlobe is committed to supporting the humanitarian community and fulfilling Maxar’s purpose of “Building a better world” by providing critical and actionable information to assist response efforts. As part of our Open Data Program, DigitalGlobe will publicly release pre- and post-event imagery of the affected areas to support disaster response.”


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