Fitness trackers are set to run amok in the coming year, but they all have one unfortunate thing in common: They’re not very good at quantifying activity outside of running, biking, and riding in a vehicle. Considering there is a much broader range of activities in the human repertoire, so limiting this activity reading to three sports reduces these devices to stylish accelerometers, unable to distinguish between the various things we do to stay fit. They allow for quantified-self workouts, but still require you to do most of the quantifying.
The Atlas team claims that what sets their fitness tracker apart from your average FuelBand or Fitbit is the way its sensors combine data from three separate axes along with your heart rate in order to identify what exercise you are currently doing, and whether or not you are using proper form. Used in conjunction with compiled data from other users and an accompanying smartphone app, Atlas aims to provide context to what it quantifies.
That context, says CEO Peter Li—who previously developed a motivational fitness at Johns Hopkins University—is a huge part of what makes Atlas special. He's joined by Mike Kasparian and Alex Hsieh, who worked at Philips Medical and Maxim Integrated, respectively. The team is actively working with personal trainers and fitness experts in their native Austin. "They're helping us compile data so that we can create a gold standard," says Li. That data would then be used to offer feedback to the user, along with a form score, offering advice for improvement.
According to Li, the Atlas as it currently exists is almost final. "We're looking to make a couple of changes to the binding mechanism so it's more robust but other than that it's all there; the modularity is there, the waterproofing, the display."
While Atlas is making its debut during this year’s CES where wearable fitness trackers are all the rage, it’s not the first startup to make this particular promise. A year back, a similar fitness tracker called Amiigo was announced, with an extremely similar feature set—we covered it at the start of its Indiegogo campaign as well. Whether or not it performs as well as advertised remains to be seen, as delays in production have lead to initial shipments being sent out sometime this month.
Where Atlas would differ is in its self-contained designed and its open-source API. The former, Li says, is the device's crown jewel and most significant development challenge:
"The algorithms and analytical engine that we built in to the device—it's all embedded, you don't need connection to your phone via Bluetooth. Of course, you can sync to your phone for the community thing—but a lot of time has been spent on building the analytical engine to not only combine the community's data but also to build a self improving algorithm so that the more the user uses it the better Atlas will understand every nuance in their style."
With Atlas's open-source API, developers would also be able to take the wider range of data that Atlas tracks and build applications that incorporate the device’s biometric data. But as smartwatches open to developers too, being open source will only be a draw if the tech delivers.
Until either band is out in the wild, it remains to be seen if the promise of an ideal quantified workout device—one that requires nothing more than for you to start working out—will be a reality. Only one question remains, the same question we asked a year ago when we spoke to Amiigo cofounder Abe Carter: Why isn’t everyone doing this?
"I’ve honestly thought that myself on a number of different occasions," Carter admits. "I saw the announcement of the FuelBand and my heart sank. I didn’t know about the FuelBand before. I just don’t know why Nike hasn’t done this yet."