Spire, a San Francisco-based company best known for its stress management and activity tracker called Stone, has recently launched their new product, Health Tag. Health Tag is a health-tracking device designed to overcome some of the limitations present in many of today’s wearable devices, such as limited battery life or having to remember to don the device at the start of the day.
Spire’s Health Tag is a small device that adheres to the user’s preferred article of clothing to continuously capture and analyze various biosignals, including respiration, heart rate, sleep, and activity. The Health Tag offers up to 1.5 years of battery life and is washer and dryer proof, which means that once you adhere the tag to your desired pieces of clothing, you simply forget about it while it discreetly tracks your health day-after-day.
By launching Health Tag, Spire has become one of the few players in the quest to transform your own garments into smart ones. We at Medgadget had the chance interview Jonathan Palley, CEO and Co-Founder of Spire, to learn more about Health Tag and the company’s new approach to health tracking with wearable technology. Also, we personally tested the product for a few weeks and included our brief review in this article.
Kenan Raddawi, M.D., Medgadget: The wearable tech market is a rapidly growing market. Up until now, wrist-based devices have dominated the industry. However, Spire, with its new device Health Tag, is delving into the world of smart clothing. Why did you decide to go this direction instead of sticking to a wrist-based product?
Jonathan Palley, Spire: Wristwatches have been around for hundreds of years, so it’s natural that companies have looked to evolve an existing approach and technology. And for many purposes, wrist-based devices are great. But they’re also inherently limiting, with certain biosignals, like respiration, that just can’t be gathered accurately from the wrist.
Many people also simply don’t want to wear a bulky, “techie” smartwatch, either because of the appearance or the hassle. Wrist-worn health devices require too much daily maintenance, including needing constant charging, and as a result, they often end up in a junk drawer in a few weeks. If we’re going to serve the people who can benefit most from health monitoring devices, including the elderly with chronic conditions, the approach has to be far easier and more passive.
Health Tag’s first-of-its-kind form factor allows it to disappear into the clothing you already wear and provides actionable insights to improve your health. All you have to do is simply tag the clothes you wear most often — underwear, bras, pajamas, activewear — and that’s it. You leave them on through the washer and dryer, and never need to charge them. A caregiver can even put them on for an elderly patient, and the elderly patient never needs to interact with them.
Additionally, by moving the sensor suite to the body’s core, we’re able to get data that’s simply not possible at the wrist, including extremely detailed respiratory patterns, and more accurate heart rate and activity data.
Medgadget: What sets Spire’s Health Tag apart from the other relatively comparable competitors such as OMsignal and Sensoria?
Palley: To date, the approach that most companies have taken with “smart clothing” is to create a completely new garment, like a smart t-shirt or sports bra. They tend to be expensive, hard to wash and dry, and severely limit your freedom of choice. Whatever t-shirt or sports bra they’re selling, that’s what you need to wear in order to capture your biosignals. But the reality is that people have all sorts of different preferences when it comes to apparel, and very few people want to wear a certain polyester fitness shirt or sports bra every day.
Our view is that a much better answer is to integrate seamlessly into the clothes you already own. Health Tags can be adhered inside anything that’s tight fitting, like the waistband of your underwear or the wing of a bra. That makes it effortless to wear every day. You simply get dressed in the morning as you normally would, in your normal everyday clothes, without a second thought. Health Tags operate invisibly in the background, passively monitoring a wide range of physiological signals day and night, and providing health insights and guidance (a feature we call LiveInsights) to you or caregivers.
Medgadget: Many apparel makers, such as Nike and Under Armour, have already entered or plan to enter the market of smart clothing. How does Spire aspire to keep its competitive edge?
Palley: We see apparel manufacturers as partners much more than competitors. We want consumers of those brands to buy whatever products they feel best suit them, and then they can simply apply Health Tags to those garments — from underwear and bras to compression shorts, yoga tights, running shorts and more.
But to be clear, our primary focus is health, including chronic condition monitoring, not just fitness. We’ve done extensive validation studies to ensure that our health monitors are clinical-grade. We’re partnering with a wide range of healthcare organizations on rigorous clinical studies using Health Tags, including on COPD, asthma, sleep apnea, anxiety and more. We’ve recently been awarded a grant to collaborate on a study with the National Institute of Health to explore how Health Tags can help treat anxiety in substance abuse patients. Additionally, we recently announced a research grant from the BARDA division of the Department of Health and Human Services, which will allow us to build out our technology to detect early signs of influenza. It will also help advance us further toward FDA clearance, which we will be pursuing over the next year.
Medgadget: Can you please give our readers a brief overview of Spire’s Health Tag, what health biometrics it is able to track, and what kind of information it could provide?
Palley: Health Tags provide a deep and accurate measurement of a variety of biosignals, including respiratory rate and respiratory rate variability, heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep duration, sleep stages, and activity.
Our proprietary respiration force sensor measures respiratory effort, monitoring the expansion and contraction of the thoracic cavity and lower abdomen to get a highly detailed view of the full respiratory waveform. This respiration signal provides data that potentially could help identify respiratory distress, including asthma and COPD exacerbations, as well as potentially providing a warning signal for potential cardiac events. It also enables extremely accurate monitoring of sleep duration and staging, including potentially identifying sleep-disordered breathing conditions like Obstructive Sleep Apnea.
Health Tags also integrate a best-in-class optical PPG sensor and accelerometer. Sitting underneath clothing on the core of the body is a huge advantage when it comes to accuracy of these measurements.
Health Tags regularly communicate processed as well as raw data through Bluetooth. The Spire Health Platform is able to run advanced deep learning algorithms on that data, identifying deviations from personalized baselines and triggering notifications. Spire also provides an open API, with full raw and processed data, enabling other healthcare organizations to build bespoke applications based on the rich flow of data made possible by continuous, accurate and long-term monitoring.
Medgadget: Each Health Tag attaches to only one article of clothing. If I wanted to continuously track my biometrics, a more logical choice would be to attach the tags to my underwear. Let us say I have 15 pairs of underwear, how much would it cost to tag all of them? Do you think this is a competitive price point?
Palley: Although people often have quite a bit of underwear in their drawers, our research has shown that men on average wear about 7-8 pairs of underwear regularly and women wear an average of 5-7 bras. Of course, some wear more and we provide a range of pack sizes that will work for everyone’s needs. On our site, we offer a 3-pack for $129, a 6-pack for $229 and an 8-pack for $299. We’ll also be offering a clip option soon so that people can easily move a Health Tag to additional pieces of clothing they wear less often. Additionally, we have special healthcare and corporate pricing available for larger purchases. There are certainly cheaper fitness-oriented alternatives out there, but given the advanced health capabilities that Health Tags provide and the fact that they will keep being worn, versus sitting in a drawer, we feel that the pricing is very competitive.
Medgadget: Health Tag has a battery life of 1.5 years, which is quite impressive. How did you manage to acquire that, and did any compromises have to be taken to achieve this battery life?
Palley: Squeezing all of this technology into a raffle ticket-sized device was an enormous design challenge– it’s taken over 5 years of R&D to get there. There are a couple keys to making it work.
The first is our proprietary respiration sensor that we developed from the ground up. It requires extremely little power, and we use it not only to monitor every single breath but also to help us intelligently manage power in the overall system, deciding how often to use more power-intensive components like Bluetooth and the Optical PPG sensor.
The second key is thinking about the devices as a system. When one device is active, the rest are sleeping. So although one device used continuously would last a few months, the system approach enables the set of devices to last over 1.5 years together.
Comfort and Fit
Health Tag is incredibly easy to install: you just peel off the adhesive pad on the back of the device and push the tag firmly onto any article of clothing you use the most. I opted to tag the waistbands of my underwear since the Health Tag sensors should be in direct contact with your skin. The Health Tags are supposed to remain attached to an article of clothing for the 1.5-year lifespan of each tag. With our limited testing time, we obviously could not assess this. However, I did notice that after a few washes, the corners of the tags start to detach from the fabric. This was especially true if the waistband of the underwear is not that wide. Nevertheless, the company reported that they rigorously tested this adhesive to ensure it retains a solid hold throughout the Health Tag’s 1.5-year lifespan, including regularly going through the washer and dryer. The Health Tag is lightweight (0.33 ounces), slim, and covered with a soft, moisture-absorbing fabric, all of which makes the tag extremely comfortable. As a matter of fact, I never felt the tag when I was wearing it.
Usability and App
For the initial set up, you need to download the Spire’s free app on your iOS device – unfortunately, it is not available on Android yet – open one of the Health Tags, and apply pressure to the tag to power it on. The Health Tag will automatically pair with your phone via Bluetooth. Once you connect one of the tags to your phone, the app will simultaneously connect the rest of the tags included in the package you purchased. Keep in mind this prevents you from sharing your tags with other users.
The Health Tag is literally one of the easiest wearable trackers I have ever used. To use your Health Tag, all you need to do is simply wear any article of clothing you have tagged, and the device will automatically connect to your phone and start tracking your biosignals. The Health Tags have pre-charged internal batteries that, again, should last up to 1.5 years, but you cannot recharge the batteries after that.
The Spire app is well-designed and simple to use. The app allows you to check your respiration rate, heart rate, and step count in real time. The app constantly analyzes your breathing rate and pattern to let you know if you are calm, focused, or tense, and how much time per day you spend in each state. Furthermore, you can set it up to notify you via a gentle vibration whenever your breathing becomes tense. I found this instant feedback extremely helpful, as it allowed me to act immediately to reduce my stress level through deep breathing. I can see how this may help minimize my risk of stress-related health issues in the future.
Health Tags utilize advanced biosensors and its auto-detection capabilities to monitor your sleep and activity level. It records how long you sleep and the time you spend in different sleep stages. It also tracks the number of steps you take and the time you spend working out.
Overall, Health Tag is an attractive option for tracking one’s health using wearable technology for several reasons, including comfort, ease of use, and real-time feedback. The main thing that sets Health Tag apart from many of its competitors is its ability to integrate seamlessly into a user’s life. It allows users to focus on enhancing their health instead of stressing about adding one more task to their already lengthy to-do lists.
Spire is available for purchase from Spire’s official website and in Apple Stores. It retails for $49 for a single tag or a 3-pack for $129, a 6-pack for $229, or an 8-pack for $299.
Product page: Spire Health Tag…