Gadget makers get pumped up about health and fitness tech

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LAS VEGAS— While fitness technology is hardly a new category of accessories, it is a growing one: The CEA announced that this year's CES has 25 percent more booths related to digital health and fitness technology compared to last year’s event. Over 215 health- and fitness-related exhibitors are on hand in the South Hall this year, displaying gadgets and apps that help you track calories, access your medical history, coordinate with your doctors, or set up an exercise regimen—all from a smartphone or Bluetooth-enabled device.

With more than 6 out of 10 consumers saying they want a personal fitness device, according to the CEA, the fit tech industry expects to see over 300 million body sensors in use by 2016. In addition to the fit tech and mHealth exhibits on the show floor, this year’s CES is also home to the Digital Health Summit. This event features conferences spread out over four days, along with talks from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and author and columnist Arianna Huffington.

Tuesday’s Living in Digital Times conference highlighted over forty companies that are focused on developing devices, apps, and services focused on health and fitness. From well-known favorites like FitBit and BodyMedia to companies that are better known for their work in other areas (Texas Instruments, Qualcomm), everyone was eager to talk about how they could encourage a healthier lifestyle.

Fitness for all

The category is expanding from pedometers and trackers for athletes to include devices for consumers of all ages and health needs. For example, GeoPalz has an activity tracker for kids that allows them to earn prizes—or time in an online arcade—for playing and exercising. Matt Hasslebeck with MC10 spoke about the company’s skull cap: It can measure the force of an impact and is designed to help detect head injuries in athletes.

Other companies focused on the other end of the age spectrum: Electronics giant Philips has updated the idea of an alert system with its Lifeline, which can be worn around the neck as a pendant and features two-way communication to help seniors in an emergency. Lifecomm, a Verizon partner, was another company promoting a personal emergency response solution.

Meet mHealth

InteraXon’s Muse headset.

It’s not just the consumer base that’s expanding; it’s also the fit tech category itself. Fitness technology has expanded to include mHealth solutions. mHealth refers to services and gadgets that incorporate mobile devices into medicine and public health services. For example, Ideal Life provides a remote health management system that can show updates in real-time (think glucose monitors, remote diagnostics, and kiosks that provide health readings and information). Track pulse and blood oxygen levels with Masimo’s iSpO2, measure and track brain-wave activity with InteraXon’s Muse headset, or reduce stress and improve relaxation with HearthMath’s emWave 2.

What's next…

With everything from electric bicycles and treadmill desks to smart forks (seriously) and personal environment monitors, there is plenty happening on the hardware side. The majority of these focus on a hardware device—often paired with an app or Web service—that collects data on physiology and habits. With more and more consumers adopting fit tech and mHealth devices of all types and styles, there’s a great deal of data being collected.

The next step in the fit tech revolution is going to be what we do with all that data—a likely step looks to be to link fitness and health data to our doctors or personal trainers. Perhaps insurance companies will get in on the game and offer lower premiums to device owners who link their fit tech data, or maybe weight-loss services like Jenny Craig will partner with companies like FitBit. Companies could start walking challenges for their employees, tracking the results using digital pedometers, as could schools.

In a country where obesity and heart disease are major health epidemics, the marriage of fitness and technology is working to turn the tide and with such a rapidly expanding market, the possibilities are guaranteed to keep us on our toes.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation’s largest consumer electronics show, check out complete coverage of CES 2013 from PCWorld and TechHive.

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