Wearable fitness trackers are certainly en vogue, but they haven’t reached their peak usefulness yet. For a fitness tracker to be more than just a snazzy pedometer, it needs to do more than keep track of how much you’re moving—it needs to act as a personal trainer. That’s what’s driving the creation of Atlas, a much-hyped fitness tracker that could be on the market by the end of the year.
In an interview with Johns Hopkins University’s HUB, Atlas co-founder Peter Li says that current fitness trackers are just “glorified pedometers.” While he won’t call any of his soon-to-be-competitors out by name (though FitBit, Basis, and Nike Fuel Band are all guilty of being high-tech pedometers), the message is clear. “I feel very strongly that people are starting to realize that everything they’re getting right now is not doing it,” Li told HUB. “The data you get from these other products…we believe it’s limited.” In fact, he doesn’t think they’re worth the money. “From a legitimate scientific perspective,” he told HUB, “they’re all really estimating. And people are paying [a lot of money] for a pedometer on their wrist.”
How is his product different? Li says it’s able to distinguish between different kinds of exercise—even between regular push-ups and triangle push-ups—in order to give the user a much more accurate read on their physical activity. The key is its multiple sensors built into the wrist-worn device that track movement speed and trajectory, and an algorithm that Li says didn’t come together without a few years of trial and error.
It can already distinguish between very similar exercises, Li says, and his team is analyzing athletes in the gym so the device can critique form, too. So instead of just telling you that you’ve done 12 bicep curls, the device will also say that you had great technique at first, but got tired and sloppy halfway through. All of this will be accessible from the face of the device. Smartphone integration will be optional, not necessary.