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Exclusive: The Healbe GoBe calorie-counting wristband is real, and we saw it in action

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How the Healbe GoBe sensor works

We have yet to fully test the device, merely having the privilege of witnessing a demonstration. Our inspection of the device may be cursory, but we can attest that it seemed to work to some degree. How accurate the readings are, we can only speculate — more on that when we get a demo device. But for now, if you’ve put down money for a GoBe body manager on Indiegogo, you’ll get back more than a hollow piece of plastic.

It takes at least a week to truly test the GoBe tracker.

Another reason we can’t swear by the accuracy of the device is that it takes at least a week to truly test the GoBe tracker. According to Healbe co-founder and Managing Director George Mikaberydze, it would take that much time to get optimal accuracy from the device, since it needs to learn patterns such as your sleep cycle and the changes in your glucose level throughout the day. The company told us that a full-fledged review unit will be available to Digital Trends in May because they are still making changes before shipping out the GoBe tracker.

They also explained the science behind the device to us, in an effort to shed light on the many questions surrounding it.

The basics

The GoBe tracker uses an impedance sensor to calculate calorie intake. The sensors take readings four times per minutes to measure the body’s “glucose curve” (the changes in the body’s glucose levels) throughout the day.

Mikaberydze demonstrated GoBe’s glucose curve readings by drinking a can of Mountain Dew, which produced a spike in his glucose levels within minutes. Healbe CEO Artem Shipitsin explained the mechanics behind the upswing: “It’s really fast because it’s sugar, it’s simple starch.”

The GoBe reads the glucose curve through a roundabout process. Shipitsin said that his approach is unique because the device first measures the amount of liquid in tissues then uses the information to produce other readings.

Healbe GoBe display

“We measure not glucose, we measure fluid in general,” Shipitsin said. “When we eat something, glucose appears in our blood and cells need to absorb this glucose. When glucose come to the cell, there’s not enough room. Cell needs to release liquid … Sugar is very fast. Glucose in our blood has the highest frequency parameter change in our blood. We need insulin. It’s like the key to the cell. When we use impedance, it’s like signal from two different frequencies, high and low. The electric signal can go through cells on the low frequency. On the high frequency, the signal goes through the tissue. if we understand the differences between high and low frequency, we understand the level of fluid inside cells and outside cells.”

By detecting the amount of liquid that the cells release, the GoBe is able to get a reading on a person’s glucose levels. The sensors detect changes in the amount of liquid that cells release by sending high and low frequency signals through the tissue. According to Shipitsin, liquid detection is what sets GoBe apart from other devices that measure glucose.

“Existing impedance method is too simple. Our body doesn’t work in this way … Many, many companies try to use this. But their main mistake is direct correlation between sugar and measuring parameter … Impedance can’t measure the sugar, impedance can measure the water. But water depends on sugar. It’s a link that’s not direct. It’s what we use,” he said.

Impedance-based analysis of cells is not new. It has been around for about three decades and has applications in cell biology research. What’s new is how GoBe is trying to use impedance.

We asked experts to weigh in on the method’s effectiveness for measuring liquid and sending back readings for glucose and calorie intake. The makers of the Basis smart watch, who claim to produce “the world’s most advanced health tracker,” declined to comment on Healbe’s claims. A spokesman for Samsung, which makes a health tracker called the Gear Fit, laughed when asked if it were possible.

Calorie counting using glucose

The changes in the glucose curve are used to detect how much fat and carbohydrates a person consumes. The proportion of carbohydrates and fat in a person’s meal affects the shape of the glucose curve. If a person eats food with a lot of fat, the absorption of glucose would be slower. If the meal is heavy on carbohydrates, the absorption would be faster. The company claims that the GoBe activity tracker has a 15-20 percent margin of error for calorie intake measurement compared to calorie counts on food labels. Shipitsin said that the next step for the device would be the ability to provide automatic nutrition recommendations. Given the device’s ability to detect a person’s glucose index, Shipitsin claims the company can generate food recommendations when people are at the supermarket. This feature is not yet a part of the service.

We asked a nutritionist to comment on HealBe’s calorie counting claims. Similar to previous analysis, the device and claims inspired doubt.

“The issue is that there are many foods that have no impact on serum glucose levels that still contain calories. So for example, a tablespoon of olive oil would contain 135 calories but because it has zero grams of carbohydrates your glucose levels would not elevate at all,” said Tanya Zuckerbrot, a dietitian and the creator of the popular F-Factor Diet.

The impedance sensor cannot directly calculate carbs and fat, but the company uses an algorithm it calls “Flow Technology” to determine them.

“If you use a few tablespoons of olive oil per day that could be an extra 500 calories that would not be monitored. Same with protein — whether it’s beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish, seafoods, egg, or cheese. None of these foods contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted to glucose and glucose concentration is what they’re measuring to monitor caloric absorption. So it’s not explaining how it’s going to regulate calories from foods that do not increase glucose levels.”

According to Healbe’s website and what we were told, the impedance sensor cannot directly calculate carbs and fat, but the company uses an algorithm it calls “Flow Technology” to determine them. There are also options in its app to let GoBe know if you are on a low-carb diet. As you use it over a period of days and weeks, Healbe argues that it will get more and more accurate, thanks to Flow’s ability to learn your patterns.

“The relative proportions of fat and carbohydrates in your meal affect the shape of the glucose curve,” reads the FAQ on the Healbe site. “Generally speaking, carbohydrate-heavy meals cause rapid uptake of glucose by your cells. Meals containing more fat lead to a slower absorption of glucose. Flow uses a sophisticated mathematical model to analyze the dynamics of your glucose curve and determine the percentage of calories you consume from carbohydrates vs. fats.”

Shipitsin told us about another process, which helps Healbe specifically calculate fat content in your diet, but asked us not to share the details of it because a patent has not yet been granted.

With the amount of time needed to get an accurate calorie counting reading, we can neither address nor affirm Zuckerbrot’s doubts about the device. For now, we can only say that we’ve seen the device work. Until we get to fully test it, we won’t know for sure.

How accurate is it at calculating glucose?

The original technology for the tracker, from which the device derives the ability to take non-invasive glucose measurements, was developed by consulting firm Gen3 Partners. The Boston-based company has since acquired a stake in Healbe. Its involvement in the venture resulted in a collaboration between Healbe and its subsidiary Algorithm. The HealBe-Algorithm connection, in turn, set off the development of the GoBe’s automatic calorie-counting capability.

The technology for the GoBe body manager came from somewhere else. HealBe merely steered its application from medical use to health and lifestyle, the company says. When Gen3 first consulted Shipitsin about a device for diabetics, they were attempting to persuade doctors to use the technology. In an attempt to avoid the process of obtaining FDA approval, Shipitsin convinced Algorithm to develop the device for a different purpose. “It’s big money,” he said.

In spite of repeated declarations that the GoBe is not a medical device, Shipitsin said that their body manager works just as well as glucometers, which diabetics use to determine the glucose concentration in their blood.

Healbe GoBe back

“This is not official, but if you go look at the documents of usual glucometer, which diabetics use right now, the accuracy is the same,” Shipitsin said. “If you look at the documents, you’ll be surprised.”

Handheld glucose meters, which are regulated by the FDA, are required to have an accuracy rate of 95 percent. That is, 95 percent of the results must be within +/- 20 percent of the true value. Several studies have also shown that many blood glucose meters in the U.S. and Germany fall short of the standard. We were told that the GoBe tracker has an accuracy rate of 80 percent for detecting glucose levels. That figure is off the official books, however. In the FAQ on its website, the company said that the body manager is “not designed to measure glucose in the treatment of diabetes, and it is not a substitute for regular glucose monitoring.”

HealBe wants to steer away from the medical industry to corner the “body manager” market, which in actuality it has invented. “It’s a question of market, it’s a question of pharmacy, we don’t want to discuss it all. We don’t want to compete with medical,” Shipitsin said. Getting approved by the FDA for medical use is a difficult process. Still, if the device is as accurate as Shipitsin claims, it may be useful to those keeping track of their glucose. Few doctors will recommend it, of course.

Next page: How the Healbe app works, and when it’s coming

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