AI Talk: “Halo” and “Specs”

Sept. 4, 2020 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week’s I will focus on new wearable devices announced recently that seek to make us healthier. One is from the tech supergiant Amazon and another from a crowdsourced startup Auctify.

Amazon Halo

This past weekend I came across a blockbuster announcement from Amazon. Amazon has just released a new device, dubbed Halo. Actually, the release is a three-pronged solution for monitoring your health: a wrist band, the Halo app and a subscription service. The wrist band itself is packed with sensors to track your sleep, your steps, your heart rate, your speech and more. The Halo app can do a 3-D body scan using your phone’s camera and will let you know how much body fat you have. The most innovative feature of the solution is determining your emotional state based on your voice. The wrist band captures snippets of your voice and analyses them and comes up with a score that can tell whether you are angry, for instance. Not sure you need a device to tell you that you are angry though!

Amazon is positioning this as a comprehensive health service to give you continuous feedback on your state of health. Of course, it comes with a lot of privacy concerns. Using the app to analyze your emotions is an opt-in feature and body scan images are not going to be stored. Wellness solutions are getting progressively more invasive of one’s privacy. The tradeoff is getting information that can help you progress towards a healthier you. The wearable market appears to be in a hyper growth stage, with Apple driving the market, along with Google and its recent acquisition of Fitbit. Now, Amazon is in this space as well. Interestingly, the wristband is not tied to Alexa (yet).

Anti-procrastination Specs

Not to be outdone by Amazon, a startup called Auctify has announced a new smart glass creatively called Specs. I saw an interesting write-up in Verge on this announcement.

So, what exactly can the Specs do? A better question to ask is what doesn’t it do! It can track your calorie burn and activities using a variety of sensors. It allows you to take calls and listen to music using bone conducting sound transducers. These functions are staples of many fitness tracking devices. What is new here? It monitors what you see and can categorize the type of activity you are involved in.

So what is the big deal? Essentially, this capability helps them create a whole new category of functionality for the user. You can set goals on what activities to focus on. And, you get nudges in your glasses to help you focus on what you need to focus on: it’s an anti-procrastination device. It can help you through guided meditation–or at least that is part of the claim.

Of course, they have to deal with privacy issues as well. The continuous stream of images that are captured by the glasses are sent to your smart phone and they claim all the processing of the image is in your smart phone. After processing, the data is deleted and nothing is sent to the cloud. So, in that sense, your data is as secure as your phone. It appears they have engineered this device to look exactly like normal spectacles. Probably a lesson learned from the advent of Google glasses, which triggered a visceral response from the public when it was introduced (check out this Wired story from 2018. It’s a postmortem on what happened to Google Glass almost a decade ago). The device is not currently being sold, but is available for preorder. What will the reception be for this new incarnation of a smart glass? Only time will tell.

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Director of Research for 3M M*Modal and is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.