Tech start-up of the week: Lumafit

8 Mar 2014

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Dublin-based Lumafit is a sensor technology company that aims to make health and fitness fun. The company’s first product is a sports headset that tracks motion and heart activity and can tell what exercise you are doing and how well you are doing it.

“At home it can track bootcamp-type exercises, such as sit-ups, press-ups and lunges,” said Lumafit CEO Darran Hughes. “At the gym it can tell you if are on a cross-trainer, treadmill or rowing machine and give you high-resolution metrics on your workout.

“As well as being a personal trainer, the sensor is also a mindfulness coach, being able to track relaxation levels during yoga breathing sessions. Giving you guidance and feedback that you are doing it correctly, it provides a fun way to get Zen anytime. 

“When launched in the next few months, it will be the world’s first wearable sensor for both mind and body fitness. Were really excited and see 2014 as a big year for us,” Hughes said.

The market

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Hughes explained that the market for wearable sensor technology is exploding in the US. Growing at more than 200pc per year, the market is already worth US$6bn worldwide and is quickly expected to become a US$50bn space.

“The current wrist-worn trackers are mainly aimed at step counting,” Hughes pointed out. “We wanted to go way beyond this and be able to track gym and bootcamp sessions precisely so we believe we have a world-beating product.

“The future of health combines two big trends, one is behavioural, making user experiences that make being healthy more fun, the other is about data, giving people tighter feedback on their overall health and insight into how to make this data meaningful. The market is in its infancy but growing rapidly. 

“A big player in the space, Fitbit, was a start-up like us only fours years ago so we see a big opportunity to be the next billion-dollar company in the sensor and health informatics space.”

The founders

Both Darran and the company’s CTO Stephen Hughes previously worked at MIT MediaLab Europe when it was in Ireland. There they worked on multiple projects linking brainwave and other biological data to computer-game applications.

“Stephen leads our sensor design, bringing huge experience in hardware development, including work for companies such as Sony and Philips. 

“My own background combines eight years of research in sensor data analysis for speech and heart data, with 12 years in the games industry, working as lead developer on a number of PlayStation titles for Funcom here in Europe, as well as Xbox titles in Microforte over in Australia.”

The technology

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Design meeting at Lumafit

Hughes explained the sensor uses pulse oximetry to measure medical grade heart data at the ear lobe.

“We shine infrared light through the earlobe and measure the light that reaches the other side. Every time the heart beats it pushes a wave of oxygenated haemoglobin through your artery system.

“As oxygenated haemoglobin absorbs infrared light differently to unoxygenated haemoglobin, we can pick up this pulse waveform exactly. The data we have allows us to go way beyond just heart rate but it delves deeper into heart state, picking up subtle signs, such as the person’s stress level.”

He said the sensor also measures head motion using accelerometers (in a similar way to a Wii controller).

“By tracking head trajectory we can identify exercises precisely. The head provides a much better location than the wrist to identify exercise motions (as it moves a lot less).

“The combination of heart and motion sensor has a huge amount of applications. We are already working with researchers in Trinity to track and identify types of heart arrhythmias that creep into our heart activity as we get older.”

Accelerate

The product has been in development for two years now and will launch within the next few months. 

Lumafit raised €650,000 at the start of 2013 and it is currently looking to attract investors for the next round of investment.

The company is also the first European company to partner with PCH International as part of its accelerator programme.

“PCH have been an enormous help in both design and production of the sensor. They also bring huge a network to retail channels for consumer electronics in the US and we are currently in talks with a number of distributors.”

Running up that hill

“We have had a plenty of challenges along the way, both technical and commercial,” said Hughes. 

“Probably the biggest was how to create a world-beating hardware product yet remain very lean. We’ve built a small but expert team in-house and have been working round the clock to get the product market ready. 

“We’ve had to be very focused on what the launch product would be and the quickest and leanest ways to achieve this.

“I think the start-up scene is buzzing in Ireland. We are based in the Guinness Enterprise Centre (in Dublin), which means we meet and network with lots of other start-ups here at different stages of development. 

“There’s a huge positive vibe, the economy seems to be at last on the rebound and I see a lot of optimism for the future.

“I think Enterprise Ireland have also been fantastic in helping to support the start-up community, especially at the early stages. I don’t know if it is said enough, but without the help of Enterprise Ireland we would not have made it through our first 12 months as a business.”

The passion to win

Hughes’ advice to other start-ups is to envision the road ahead.

“If you see an opportunity and can visualise the path to building a successful business around the opportunity, then I would always say go for it.

“Do be strict with yourself though. See yourself and your co-founders as a venture capitalist in the company with your time and passion as the investment and always look at the business with a critical eye. 

“Customers and partners are key, and try to aim to create a minimal viable product as soon as possible, getting customer feedback and input from the get-go.”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com