Rithmio aims to help your wearable device distinguish a bicep curl from a bench press

Wearables are in need of some revitalization, and a startup in Chicago may have just the thing: software that helps wearable devices quickly learn and discern specific motions. This has particularly compelling implications for people who wear fitness-tracking wristbands and smartwatches while working out.

Rithmio, a startup co-founded by a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and his Ph.D. adviser, has developed a software platform that “integrates with motion-sensing devices such as wearables or smartphones to learn, track, and analyze gestures,” according to its website.

One of the applications is enabling wearable devices to more easily recognize a dynamic range of gestures and activities without having copious movement data. Currently, people who wear fitness bands and smartwatches are often hamstrung by those devices’ ability to track only a limited number of simple movements, like running, cycling, and climbing stairs.

Rithmio hopes to kick the door open to a wider range of fitness-tracking possibilities. The startup says its software can learn new activities (e.g., squats, bicep curls, bench presses, jumping jacks) in a matter of seconds and measure speed and repetition, for instance. The algorithm can also distinguish between subtle differences, such as small and medium-sized arm rotations. The next step for the software is determining your form and efficiency compared to previous workouts, according to Adam Tilton, Rithmio’s CEO and co-founder.

While the company’s apps haven’t been released yet, the company plans to share software tools later this year to let developers use its gesture-recognition know-how on Android Wear smartwatches, the Apple Watch, and the iPhone, according to MIT Technology Review. Tilton says Rithmio is working with the likes of Intel to embed its technology into chips and devices. He adds that Rithmio will be built into products sometime next year.

Wearable devices that can track and analyze a wider range of movements and activities could revive a flagging industry. About a third of fitness-tracking devices are abandoned after six months, according to research firm Endeavor Partners.

“A health care investment fund, Rock Health, says Fitbit’s regulatory filings suggest that only half of Fitbit’s nearly 20 million registered users were still active as of the first quarter of 2015,” according to the Associated Press.

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