Beat Box

The app that makes music from your heartbeat could also save you a trip to the doctor

August 1, 2013
August 1, 2013

BioBeats, the big data company that made it possible for you to dance along to music tuned to your heartbeat, announced today that it now hopes to venture into more serious health and wellness apps. With $650,000 in seed funding, its team wants to get people thinking about their health before (and after) they develop medical problems.

BioBeats’ first app, released in March, uses your phone’s camera to detect slight color changes on the pad of your finger, which indicates the beating of your heart. Using the detected pulse, the app creates music around it in real-time. The pulse detection method is neat, but it’s decidedly more about entertainment than health and wellness. “What we’re trying to spawn here,” CEO Nadeem Kassam told Quartz, “is a new sector that I call adaptive media, where our entertainment can react in real-time based on our vital signs.” For an idea of what the ultimate realization of adaptive media would be, he suggests watching a horror movie in a living room full of sensors. By keeping track of your heart rate and movements, the media player could sense how scared you are, and adjust the pace, musical score, and scenery of the film to maximize your adrenaline rush.

Because that kind of intuition requires a massive host of medical sensors, Kassam thinks that medical applications are an obvious parallel track for the company. Though he does consider Pulse’s adaptive music to be a contribution to wellness (“I believe music is medicine,” he said, “and I will set out to prove that.”) he’s also brought in a new chief medical officer, Columbia trained MD Kristin Shine, to come up with devices that specifically target health.

“When I first met the team,” Shine told Quartz, “They were doing cool stuff in entertainment. I asked if the same building blocks could be used for health and wellness, and I started seeing opportunities for heart rate, breathing, and movement tracking technology to be put into different combinations to address different health issues.”

What makes BioBeats different, they said, is that the company wants its apps to entertain and engage people.

“Whether we’re talking about a medication or an app,” Kassam said, “having a lot of downloads is great, but retention and engagement have a sharp decline after a short period of use. So my vision is to merge healthcare and entertainment to create lasting health and wellness.”

For now, the company is focusing on expanding their heartbeat-music integration into apps for people suffering from stress and anxiety, but eventually the group hopes to tackle the management of everything from cystic fibrosis to hypertension. “I’m skeptical of anyone who thinks that one thing will solve a health problem,” Shine said, “but we want to take things that doctors already recommend—like breathing exercises—and make them easier and more fun.” Making people more interested in their heartbeats by turning them into Dubstep? Well, Ali G would like it.

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