Spire Takes Wearables Beyond Steps, Measuring Breaths to Track Mood

When Neema Moraveji and Jonathan Palley first started working on Spire, a wearable device that tracks movement but also measures state of mind, there were no wearables on the market. A few years later, it seems like almost everyone is clipping on a tiny device to track movement and fitness. But to Palley, the device explosion isn’t a bad thing. “We’re pretty happy Fitbit and Jawbone came up when they did,” he says. “To be frank, they educated the market for us.”

When Spire launches preorders of its device today, the challenge isn’t convincing consumers that they need another fitness tracker, he says. Consumers are already on board with that. It’s showing them that wearables can be more than just digital pedometers.

According to Palley, the average American moves for about 16 percent of his day. Even with encouragement and data about your own movement, he says, at most you can increase that to about 20 percent. “The problem we’re solving is what about that other 80 percent of the day? We have to spend time in front of our computers. Is that totally lost time, or are there opportunities to be healthier and more productive during that period of time, and how can technology assist you?”

For Palley and Moraveji, founder of Stanford’s Calming Technology Lab, that means using Spire, a small, stone-shaped device that clips onto a waistband or a bra to measure your breathing and analyze your state of mind. Breathing patterns can tell you when you’re stressed, when you’re calm, and when you’re intensely focused. The device can measure those factors—not just your breath rate, but 10 different metrics associated with breathing—and track your mood throughout the day. Its accompanying app will also ping users and, suggest, for example, that they go for a walk, or take ten deep breaths in a row to help reduce stress levels. Users can also tailor reminders to fit their needs, check out patterns in their stress levels, and use the app for things like guided meditation.

To Palley, wearables are useless if they only provide data; the utility is getting users to take action. Devices that only track fitness might tell you to walk 500 more steps today, but if you’re stuck at work, you can’t always do much about it, which Palley finds “depressing.” But workers stuck in front of their computers can still take a few minutes to meditate, figure out what habits lead to their most focused, productive time, or find a way to reorganize their work to make it less stressful. According to Palley, during their pilot program at LinkedIn, employees reported feeling significantly more focused when they used Spire.

Though many hardware startups have gone the crowdfunding route to prove there’s a market for their devices, Spire chose not to. Instead, they waited until they had bridged the gap between a prototype and their final engineering orders before they started taking direct preorders today. “Maybe it’s a little old school, but we didn’t want to sell a product when we weren’t clear on when we could deliver,” he says. Conveniently, Palley had also lived in China for seven years. He speaks Chinese, and was familiar with the manufacturing process, so the 11-person team—about half of which is on the ground in China—was able to leverage local networks. “I’ve been in tons and tons of factories,” he says. “I really understand the huge gap between making a prototype and something you can mass product in a factory,” he says.

Spire had already shown prototypes to potential angel investors, and “they got it immediately,” he says. “So that was a very clear validation point.” To date, Spire has raised around $1.5 million from investors including Rock Health, Stanford StartX, and angel investors.

When the company first started creating the device, design was really important. Palley didn’t want to make something that looked like just another piece of hardware, and above all, he didn’t want to have to plug it in. “More cables just feel like more clutter in our lives,” he says. To that end, the stone-shaped tracker refuels by sitting on top of a wireless charger partially made of cork. Together, both devices will cost $149.99. The company expects to ship in September.

Though Palley says no one else is doing exactly what Spire is—after all, the company’s patent on wearable respiration sensing is pending—the crowded space does offer a lot of competition. Plus, he says, marketing materials for other devices are making claims like an app can track food intake, when really, users have to input all the data themselves. “I think that’s one of the biggest challenges,” he says. “We have a very legitimate product that creates a far more engaging experience out there, but there’s a lot of money being invested in marketing that is mixing what is self-reported and what is passive data. The winning experience is not sitting there and taking pictures or inputting what you eat or pressing a button when you go to sleep. We strongly believe in passive tracking.”

 

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  • Scott Mendelson

    Finally, a device that can answer the age-old question, “Are we having fun yet?”