Larry Smarr Says Quantified Self is Awakening, Despite Zeo’s Failure

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It’s been over six years since Wired editors Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf asked, “What is the Quantified Self?” and nearly four years since computer guru Larry Smarr called attention to the concept of keeping track of your own personal health data.

Smarr, who is founding director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (and a San Diego Xconomist), was among the first scientific leaders to demonstrate just how useful such data could be when he basically self-diagnosed the onset of inflammatory bowel disease before showing any symptoms. That was in 2011.

Now the Quantified Self movement is a global phenomenon, with 156 groups and nearly 28,000 active members. And as Smarr put it last night during a presentation at a regular meeting of the San Diego MIT Enterprise Forum, “I think we can basically say we’ve reached takeoff.”

Smarr drew a standing-room crowd of more than 360 people to the event, held at the UC San Diego Medical Education and Telemedicine Center, which included a panel discussion with Rick Valencia of Qualcomm Life, Samir Damani of MD Revolution, and Kristian Rauhala of PEAR Sports. Aside from the buzz still lingering from last week’s International Consumer Electronics Show, where scores of health- and fitness-tracking “wearables” were on display, Smarr cited these recent developments as signs the entire industry has reached an inflection point:

MyFitnessPal, a San Francisco startup with technology that enables users to track their calories and share that information with friends, says it has 40 million users. Last August the company raised $18 million in a first funding round that was led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. “They’re not exactly slouches,” Smarr said.

Fitbit, the San Francisco-based maker of activity and weight-tracking devices, has raised close to $70 million in venture capital since it was founded in 2007. The dollar amount alone is indicative of the kind of investor exuberance that can be seen in the industry, Smarr said.

—San Francisco’s Jawbone agreed to pay more than $100 million last year to acquire BodyMedia, the Pittsburgh-based maker of health-monitoring armbands.

Zeo, the Newton, MA-based maker of sleep monitoring and management technology, shut down last year after raising more than $20 million in venture capital. So if Zeo is sleeping the big sleep, it might seem counter-intuitive that Smarr would interpret that as a sign the industry is awakening. But Zeo’s demise amid big funding deals and mergers represents a healthy ecosystem to Smarr. In any event, Smarr said he was able to recover more than 700 nights of his own sleep data before Zeo turned out the lights.

The size of the BodyMedia acquisition and the Zeo ‘shakeout’ “are what tells me this is taking off,” Smarr said. “We are going to see in our lifetime a complete revolution in healthcare and wellness.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Aziz Musa

    We’ve measured stuff since forever! It’s just now we call it Quantified Self http://bit.ly/1bJYE3fI