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

Who knew counting calories could give the Web high blood pressure?

Russian company Healbe boldly claims that sensors on its activity tracking wristband can discern how many calories you’re consuming each day, simply by resting on your skin and monitoring the sugar level of your cellsThe company has raised $1,054,127 on Indiegogo based on that pitch, and for anyone with diabetes who constantly draws blood to monitor their sugar level, the very idea is a game changer.

Yet the company’s claims and the crowd-funded cash have led to widespread blowback, notably from James Robinson of Pando Daily, who has written 14 separate reports on the GoBe wristband since March 20, labelling it a scam and calling the team at Healbe “fraudsters.” Other media organizations including us have also criticized the device.

The GoBe appears to be a real device with real people behind it, and a real history.

To get answers, Digital Trends met with senior leadership of Healbe in our New York office. During exclusive interviews running from April 24 to 25, Deputy Managing Editor Jeff Van Camp and myself saw the GoBe watch in action and interviewed top company leadership about the controversial gadget. It was the first public demonstration.

We were not permitted to wear it ourselves, nor were we left with a review unit. But we did watch as Healbe Managing Director George Mikaberydze ingested a can of Mountain Dew, and then observed as the bracelet detected that he had ingested a lot of sugar. When he took it off on our request, we saw his glucose levels fall to zero on a companion iPhone app. He put the bracelet back on. They soared again.

It was not rehearsed.

The GoBe appears to be a real device with real people behind it, and a real history.

The calorie counting controversy

The Healbe GoBe activity tracker has been the subject of intense criticism since it approached (and then exceeded) $1 million in fundraising on Indiegogo this spring. Healbe claims that, if you wear it all the time, the GoBe wristband can accurately measure how many calories you ingest on a daily basis, while also tracking how many calories you are spending using accelerometers and heart-rate sensors. It monitors calories with a special “impedance” sensor, a pressure sensor, and a lot of complex math algorithms that we’ll delve into shortly.

Media sites like Pando Daily have contacted nutritionists, doctors, and other medical folks who all say it sounds too crazy and magical to be true. The science isn’t there, and neither is the paper trail of research, they argue. Digital Trends has also contacted scientists, who have also been sceptical of the company’s claims.

If this is a purposeful fraud or con, Healbe is terrible at conning. The company came to the U.S. to secure independent testing of its device and meet with Indiegogo, but it also spent two days talking to us, trying to explain how its device works. We had two separate meetings filled with broken English, thick Russian accents, lots of hand-drawn diagrams, and three guys each correcting and talking over each other to try to best explain this thing.

It was like a recent episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley, in which an engineer running a startup company cannot for the life of him explain to ordinary people how his file-compression algorithm works. Healbe has been thrust into the spotlight thanks to a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign and now it’s dealing with the repercussions of that success. (A great article at TechCrunch looks into the startup crowdfunding process through the lens of Healbe.)

HealBe and DT
Jeff and Christian in DT’s NY office speaking with Artem Shipitsin of Healbe.

Healbe CEO Artem Shipistsin, Mikaberydze, and Brian Blanchette from New Hampshire PR firm MicroArts Creative Agency spent more than two hours drawing pictures of cell membranes and sensors to bridge the language barrier and explain the complex science purportedly behind this device. Both Shipitsin and Mikaberydze struggled with English and had really thick Russian accents. It required a “translation train” of sorts to get accurate explanations: Shipitsin made his statements in English but would naturally revert to Russian, at which point Mikaberydze (also Russian) would interject with the rough English translation; after that, Blanchette would intervene in American English to make things clearer.

It took hours and two separate sessions to get an explanation of how the device works. If HealBe is going to make it anywhere with GoBe, it’s going to need a lot of professional marketing and branding help.

Still, Healbe’s difficulty explaining its gadget does not make the gizmo a fake. We don’t know how accurate the GoBe is, but after seeing it, we’re prepared to give Healbe the benefit of the doubt — for now.

On the next page, we’ll begin explaining how Healbe’s GoBe watch actually tracks calories.

Next Page: How GoBe works

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