is raising money toward launching the strapless heart rate monitor, Alpha, through Kickstarter.com.
Mio, a company that has been in the heart rate monitor business for 13 years, is on the brink of releasing a device that may change the way people think about tracking heart rate. The Mio Alpha promises to monitor heart rate without the use of a chest strap. How does it work? Basically, the inside of the watch has light beams that sense your heart rate.
Another unique aspect of Mio’s Alpha is the way in which the final phase of development is being funded. Mio turned to Kickstarter.com, a platform that allows everyday people to invest in creative projects, to raise $100,000 toward releasing Alpha to the public. They’ve already surpassed that goal and think they could reach the $500,000 mark by their deadline of Aug. 9.
We caught up with Mio CEO Liz Dickinson to find out more about the technology behind Alpha, ask about the decision to go to Kickstarter.com and learn when the product will be available to the public.
Triathlete.com: How did you get involved in the heart rate monitor business?
Liz Dickinson: I have always been passionate about technology. Back in late 1999 I had been in high tech for about 20 years. After the birth of my third child I had even less time to exercise, so it was important that I optimize what little time I had. I did a lot of research and found that using a heart rate monitor can really help you make the most of your exercise. I decided to try one, but really hated using the chest strap. But, that was all that was available. It was unbelievable to me that people just accepted the strap, and I soon found that others shared my frustration. So right then and there I decided to invent a strapless heart rate watch. I have always been technical, and I had done a lot of business in Asia so I was able to find the contacts I needed to pull off a prototype. I took the Mio prototype to a trade show and I was blown away by the enthusiastic response I got. I decided to raise capital and really go for it full-time, and I did.
Triathlete.com: Where did the idea for the Alpha heart rate monitor come from?
Dickinson: The best we could do at the time was a technology that required you to touch the watch to get a reading. This technology was fine for lifestyle users like walkers, hikers and people interested in exercise mostly for weight loss, but athletes never really embraced it. To really get traction in this market, you need to have a product that satisfies the athlete. So, as early as 2001 I started looking for technology that could take a continuous heart rate at performance speeds without finger sensors.
Triathlete.com: How did you come up with the technology?
Dickinson: I spent many years looking at various technologies being developed in many different countries: ultra-wide-bandwidth radar, ultrasound, infrared optical and light sensors. So, I got a really good sense of what was possible and the obstacles to success. I kept looking at opportunities as they arose and evaluating the strength of the development teams I was speaking to and their likely capability to overcome the obstacles.
Triathlete.com: How does the technology work?
Dickinson: Two light beams and an electro-optical cell “sense” the volume of blood under your skin. Because the blood volume pulsates in the rhythm of the heart, so does the signal from the electro-optical cell. This signal is processed by an advanced electronics circuit and passed on to a highly specialized computer program that is embedded in the Alpha. To date, the stumbling block with this type of technology has been that when you are walking or running, arm movements strongly interfere with the electro-optical signal. To solve this problem the Alpha has a separate motion detector. The computer program is able to use the information from this detector to compensate for the disturbance that is generated in the electro-optical signal by walking or running motions. As a result, the Alpha can display an accurate heart rate even during motion-intense activities.
Triathlete.com: Why the decision to launch the product through Kickstarter?
Dickinson: My company had funded the development of Alpha to get it to the point of being a working prototype that we knew we could manufacture. I knew I needed to raise capital to complete the project. Traditionally my choice would have been to go the venture capitalist route, but recently many different people sent me a link to the Pebble watch project on Kickstarter.
They suggested that Alpha was so unique that perhaps Kickstarter might be worth trying as a vehicle to raise our funds. I looked into it more deeply and I agreed. The advantage of Kickstarter is that you don’t have to give up equity in your company. Instead, the pledges that you collect, which are rewarded with Alphas, are really just pre-sales of the product. Those funds can be used in advance of having to deliver. It really is a great model. People can participate in making a product they really want come to life.
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Triathlete.com: What has the support from the Kickstarter community been like?
Dickinson: We were so excited to have reached our goal of $100,000 after five days. Pre-sales continue to be strong and it looks like we are on track to collect about $500,000 in pledges or more by the end of the 44 days the project was set to run. I‘d say that is a pretty good endorsement of the market demand for Alpha.
Triathlete.com: Is it too late for individuals to invest in the project?
No, not at all! And, as long as they pledge before Aug. 8, they have an opportunity to get Alpha at a much lower cost than the price will eventually be at retail. On Kickstarter you can get Alpha starting at $99; at retail it will be $250.
Triathlete.com: Triathletes will be curious to know if it will work while you bike and run.
Dickinson: Alpha is truly amazing because you can get your ECG accurate heart rate even while you are running at speeds as fast as 12mph. And there is no problem getting your heart rate during high-intensity biking.
Triathlete.com: Is it waterproof?
Dickinson: Alpha is waterproof so it is the ideal product for the triathlete. It can go from the swim to the bike to the run with no worries.
Triathlete.com: Will it work with other devices, such as bike computers?
Dickinson: Absolutely. There are a lot of products out there like GPS devices and bike computers that use a low-energy communication protocol called ANT+. Alpha is instantly compatible with those devices, and we have a Bluetooth 4.0 version as well to allow for communication to the smartphone.
Triathlete.com: When and where will triathletes be able to buy the Alpha heart rate monitor?
Dickinson: We will be delivering Alpha in November to our Kickstarter supporters. After that it will be available directly from us on Mioglobal.com and eventually through retail outlets, like sporting goods stores.
Triathlete.com: Any plans to pair this technology with GPS?
Dickinson: We definitely want to implement GPS into this product. However, the most important thing at this point in time is to finally deliver accurate, strapless continuous heart rate to the athlete—and to do that really, really well.
Go to page three to watch a video about Alpha and the Kickstarter project.