Events, Know How, Maker

Wellness as a currency – Learnings from the 2013 Quantified Self Conference in San Francisco

After a wonderful experience at the Quantified Self Conference in Amsterdam earlier this year, my expectations for the Global version on the big stage in San Francisco were quite high. The program looked very promising and with the arrival at the beautiful Golden Gate Club in the Presidio of San Francisco, I couldn’t wait for it to start.

N=1: A “movement” of self-quantifying individuals

Whereas other conferences often open with an awkward get-to-know-each-other ceremony, a Quantified Self event feels more like an informal gathering of like-minded fellows. Recognizing many familiar faces from Amsterdam, I felt welcome from the beginning and it felt only natural to befriend the still unfamiliar ones. In the opening plenary, QS co-founder Gary Wolf once again shared his vision of Quantified Self as a n=1 movement of self-observing individuals (n=1 referring to studies with only one subject). Quantified Self simply is not about large scale research with control groups. Or as fellow blogger Whitney Erin Boesel put it: “It’s about adopting what “works” (for you), and ignoring what doesn’t.”


Nothing for passive listeners, go mingle!

The event was set up in conventional Quantified Self format with many simultaneous sessions. Next to the Plenaries, there were Show&Tell Talks, Conversations, Breakouts, and Office Hours providing lots of information to be shared during the frequent breaks. With all this material floating around, QS events come to life in the exchanges with others. Anyone just sitting in and passively listening would have a hard time getting his or her money’s worth.

My Thursday highlights

“If it’s relevant to you, it’s relevant!”

The first talk that caught my attention was given by Ian Eslick on “Doing Great Personal Experiments.” Ian contrasted clinical research with self-experimentation and highlighted the significance and value of both. Even though personal experiments might be flawed and statistically insignificant on a clinical level, they still might carry very important personal significance for the individual.

Meeting Linda Avey, Co-Founder of 23andMe and Curious, Inc.

My spit hasn’t found its way into one of 23andMe’s tubes yet but I am very intrigued by the powers of genetic testing. The company offers an affordable genetic screening that provides individuals with reports on their inherited health conditions, traits, and lineage. Linda then left the company in 2009 and established Curious, Inc., a platform that allows people to analyze and interpret their personal data and share it with their community. I was excited to discuss the combination of biomarker and genetic testing with this impressive and very approachable entrepreneur.

Rejection therapy: “Could I buy only one M&M?”

One of the funniest talks was given by AskMeEvery’s Mark Moschel who overcame his fear of rejection by… well… getting rejected every day for 30 days straight! During this month of social challenges, Mark confronted people with mostly silly questions such as if he could borrow money from a grocery store clerk to if he could visit the storage facilities of a warehouse. Even though Mark noticed a sharp increase in confidence during the 30 days, the newly won courage almost dropped to the starting point shortly after he had stopped the experiment.

My Friday Highlights

A crush on a guy called Zip

Highly entertaining was Kitty Ireland’s exploration of her grandma’s diary from 1942. Her grandma Pat painstakingly maintained a diary where she logged everything from meals she consumed, locations she frequented, and (quite a few) boys she had dated. Kitty then correlated her findings with patterns in her own life and identified several parallels. As engaging as this detailed look into a past life was, we were spared a happy end. Grandma Pat’s apparent partner of choice, a guy called Zip as highlighted decoratevily on several pages, disappeared from the log after some time.

A black market for sensor-less clothing and wellness as a currency

Most breakout sessions that I attended were either too crowded or too disorganized, or both. However, the session “QS in 10 & 100 Years” by QS co-founder Kevin Kelly had some very interesting visions of the future of QS. When everything we do is tracked and measured, we might become civilian scientist of our own biology. Our environment would then react to all of our immediate needs: sensors will tell us at all times when we should eat, run, sleep, work, and socialize to optimize our well-being. The information would then be shared with friends and families but also with doctors, employers, and insurance companies. A world of endless possibilities for easy self- enhancement might then turn into a scary rat race with wellness and privacy as a currency. The healthier and more transparent you choose to be, the less you pay. Someone even proposed that instead of reading about Forbes Magazine’s wealthiest people, we might find a list with the world’s biggest “healthionnaires.” Another fascinating vision was an overly transparent, technology-ridden world with black markets for sensor-free clothing and under-the-radar items.

Pitching my project Biotrakr to Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof Executive

What a wonderful feeling to get positive feedback on what you’re working on from one of the field’s greats. Dave Asprey, supposedly the first person to ever sell anything on the internet, cloud computing expert, long-term biohacker, and founder of The Bulletproof Executive brand, really can be considered a pioneer in the field of QS. When I presented him with my idea for Biotrakr, a web-based and intuitive health coach that provides personalized health recommendations based on biomarker diagnostics, Dave was intrigued and shared with me some of his learnings as an advisor for WellnessFX. Moreover, Dave called Vitamin D the “most important biohack” and described eagerly how he prepares and smokes his own bacon at his home on Vancouver Island.

A meal tracker, a breath-taking shirt, and Finnish QS domination

In comparison to Amsterdam, I really liked that we had a separate room for companies showing off their newest gadgets this time. And there were many very cool ones!

AIRO – The next generation wristband

It’s been only a couple of weeks now that I’ve received my UP band replacement (as in so many other cases, it broke after about 3 months) and restarted tracking my activitiy and sleep… Activity and sleep? How basic! AIRO is now working on a spectroscopic tracker that not only tracks activity and sleep but also stress levels and calorie intake. Automatically! Preleminary release is set for the end of 2014 so we’ll have to wait a bit.

OMSignal – The future of clothing

OMSignal is definitely making some noise. They just took home the DC to VC People’s Choice Award at the Health 2.0 conference in Santa Clara three weeks ago and they also were one of the major attractions at QS 2013. Their prototype shirt allows continuous tracking of biometrics by monitoring heart rate, breathing, and activity. The consumer can then display the data in real-time on a mobile phone.

Ambro – The 20-ingredient meal replacement

Amazing, how the Finnish constantly come up with great ideas in the QS space. Ambro is only one out of three of my personal highlights (the other two being Beddit and Health Puzzle’s app YOU). What I really like about Ambro: they don’t claim that you can entirely live on it like their most famous competitor Soylent does with its product. Instead, they offer a highly nutritional drink for the occasional cooking inertia.

Beddit – ZEO 2.0

The team around Lasse Leppäkorpi had presented its sleep tracking sensor that is placed under the sheet already in Amsterdam. This time, I had the chance for a lengthy conversation with Lasse about the origins of the company six years ago, it’s takeover of the ZEO team along the way and its upcoming move to the Valley. Subscribe here for updates, sleep trackers!

There were plenty more captivating ideas, apps, concepts, and services that I’m not going to list. If you want to find out more, visit some of the other blog articles on the conferences listed below. I also added a link to a youtube video of the talk by Zipongo, a company that makes personalized healthy meal plans based on your eating preferences.

Did the event eventually meet my expectations? Right after the event, I wasn’t sure. It didn’t flash me as much as my first QS conference. But now, after gathering my thoughts and looking over my notes, I say: definitely! There certainly were aspects that can be optimized such as the temperature (it was freezing inside), the organization of some of the sessions (a simple agenda would suffice), and the coffee refills (ran out several times). Other than that, hat’s off to the organizers! I hope to see all of you in Amsterdam next year!

On a side note, I loved the healthy, organic, gluten-free, vegan snack bars as well as the large plates full of cooked eggs!

Final words: turn up the heat and see you in Amsterdam!

Maximilian Gotzler

This is a guest post from Maximilan Gotzler, Founder of Biotrakr and supporter of the Berlin Quantified Self Meetup

Augmented Human International Conference in Stuttgart, Germany

The Augmented Human International Conference will be taking place in Stuttgart on March 7-8. At the AH’13 experts and scientists will meet for the 4th time in a row to discuss the extension of the human capabilities based on innovative technologies. The conference will cover topics like the augmentation of the human perception with optical and haptic interfaces, data recording with different sensor technologies as well as approaches for processing information in the areas architecture, industry, healthcare and education. I’ve been invited to this conference by the organizers of Augmented Human. I look forward to highly innovative, inspiring insights and will be covering the AH’13 on

International Quantified Self Culture in Berlin

Along with several co-organizers, I founded the English-speaking Berlin Quantified Self Meetup Group this October 17th. With this group, we want to organize meet-ups at the same level as other European metropolises in the future. The first meeting of our new Berlin group will take place on the 22nd of November. Amongst the speakers, there will be two well-known people from the Quantified Self scene. Steven Dean is a designer, a lecturer at the New York University and an entrepreneur in the digital health sector. In addition, Dean is a partner of the incubator PREHYPE and the organizer of the New York QS group. At the Berlin meet-up, Dean will give a keynote speech about the history and background of Quantified Self and will report how he used self-tracking to help prepare himself for an Iron Man competition.

Steven Dean at the Quantified Self Europe Conference 2011 (cc by Rain Rabbit)

Denis Harscoat is the founder of the start-up company DidThis and a co-organizer of the Paris and London QS groups. He is particularly interested in habits and the regular practice of the behavior necessary to achieve mastery in a certain field. At the Berlin meeting, Harscoat will be talking about self-tracking behavior, the “programmable self” and how self-tracking keeps him motivated to change his lifestyle. Aside from the international guest speakers, the Berlin scene will also get their chance to speak up. Peter Lewis is one of the co-organizers of the new Berlin Quantified-Self group und a developer of educational apps designed after the “spaced repetition” principle (SRS). This method takes account of the human memory retention, thus helping to optimize efficiency in learning new contents. At the new group’s meet-up, Lewis will be talking about various SRS algorithms, their potential for future applications and his personal experience in learning new things with this method. Next to these contributions, the developers of self-tracking applications will also present their position towards personal data, self-awareness and behavioral changing. After the presentations, there will be a demo-hour, in which the visitors will be able to collect information about Berlin start-ups from the QS-scene. All self-trackers, those interested to learn more about QS and press representatives are warmly welcomed to join us at the meet-up on November 22nd. You can find more information about the new group and about the event here. If you are planning a trip to Berlin and would like to present a Show&Tell at one of our future meetups, please contact us. We are looking forward to welcoming further international speakers.

The MEDlove 2012 Conference in Berlin

On November 23rd, a number of creative and healthcare professionals met in Berlin for the MEDlove. This conference, which took place this year for the very first time, placed its emphasis on usability and service design in health care, thereby offering an interesting perspective. Tastefully housed in the Friedrichstrasse Auditorium, the MEDlove offered a coherent mix of presentations and networking. The program was opened by Steve Dean from New York, an entrepreneur and lecturer at the NY University. True to the theme of “sense and sense-making”, he spoke about the importance of patient data and how service design can improve health care. Dean, who is the leader of the New York Quantified Self group, also depicted the potential of new consumer solutions such as pedometers and other networked sensors for a healthier lifestyle – a topic which was mentioned often throughout the conference.

MEDlove 2012
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My personal highlight of the conference was Mark A. M. Kramer’s presentation “Developing Participatory Design Strategies for ePatients”. Kramer talked about processes in hospitals and conveyed the technology situation in German and American clinics. Pictures of seemingly outdated technology and communication devices that are far-flung from the solutions used on a daily basis in private life made apparent the sort of potential for innovation that can still be tapped into there. When Kramer mentioned that these observations had been made during his own cancer treatment, the atmosphere in the room clouded and reminded me and many others present of why we were at the MEDlove – The impending revolution in the healthcare system is about competition between contesting interests where significant improvements can only be achieved by innovators with strong personal convictions.

MEDlove 2012
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This awareness gave the talks at the MEDlove something very pleasant and grounded, so that I enjoyed networking late into the night as I seldom had at previous conferences. With its content orientation, its excellent provisions and its relaxed timing of the conference program, the MEDlove was a real highlight for me, and I am already looking forward to visiting it again next year. I congratulate the organizer for this innovative and coherent concept, and I wish him all the best for the future MEDloves.

The Health 2.0 Europe Conference in Berlin

On the 6th and 7th of November, the Health 2.0 Europe took place in Berlin. At the conference, which took place in Berlin for the second time, about 200 entrepreneurs, investors and experts met for discussion panels with various focal points revolving around digital technologies in healthcare. Already in the days leading up the two-day conference, several additional Health 2.0 events took place. On the 3rd and 4th of November, for example, a number of developers, designers and entrepreneurs took part in the Code-a-thon, which was endowed with a prize money of ten thousand Euro. For this competition, seven teams developed apps and services for the Health 2.0 sector, and in the end, the smartphone app “Jog-War” emerged as the winner with an interesting game mechanism. In the GPS-based game solution developed by a four-person international team, the athlete marks a virtual territory by running and has to defend it against other joggers.

Health 2.0 Europe 2012
The Health 2.0 panels covered such topics ranging from open data and the financing of Health 2.0 technologies to gamification and wellness. For each main subject, solutions from various companies were presented and their specific trends and challenges were examined. From a technological standpoint, according to one of the speakers, healthcare has a ten-year lag behind other sectors. In this context, it was unanimously agreed that the main lesson learned from other European projects was that progress in using digital solutions required absolute transparency and had to be demanded by patients. In other areas of the system there were simply not enough incentives, so that the potential of digital solutions in improving medical care could only be realized through civil participation. This premise was impressively demonstrated by the start-up MySugr, which presented a smartphone app for measuring blood-sugar levels. The founders and employees of the young business are themselves diabetic, and have to record their blood-sugar levels up to eight times a day. That’s why the game mechanics integrated into the app help make the regular logging of blood-sugar levels, a necessity due to illness, as easy and pleasant as possible. The founder of the Viennese business clearly demonstrated how technological progress driven from the bottom up can lead to a better quality of life for patients. On top of that, numerous other experts and entrepreneurs gave further insights into services and solutions that will certainly improve the conditions of patients and caretakers significantly in the next years.
With two day’s conference and its accompanying events, the Health 2.0 delivered a wide thematic overview and good networking opportunities for developers, entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers in the health market. The regular event will be hosted in Berlin again in 2013. Already, at the beginning of next year, the Health 2.0 Middle East and the Health 2.0 India will be taking place. Meanwhile, the innovators of the Health 2.0 network will also be meeting at regular local events. You can find information about the Berlin group here.

The 2012 Quantified Self Conference

This year, the Quantified Self Conference took place on the 15th and 16th of September 2012 in Palo Alto, California. At the Arrillaga Alumni Center of the Stanford University 600 self-trackers, scientists, entrepreneurs and journalists met up to exchange their stories and to network. Two days beforehand, more than 40 organizers from cities such as New York, London, Amsterdam, and Singapore had met up to discuss the development of each of the Quantified Self groups they led and to give each other tips for building up the community. This was a great opportunity especially for the organizers of European Quantified Self groups to get to know each other better and work out ideas of how to provide better support for each other.

From left to right: Gary Wolf (QS Labs), me and Maarten den Braber (QS Amsterdam) (cc by rajiv zumi)

The conference itself kicked off on the 15th of September with a keynote speech by Gary Wolf, Co-Founder of Quantified Self. Along with a line of other speakers, he gave an overview of the origins of the movement and the importance of Show & Tell as a central element of the Quantified Self meetups. In these short presentations, the speakers offer an insight into their self-tracking projects and can thus convey what they have learned about themselves. The visitors could convince themselves of the entertaining qualities of this form of presentation in a total of 26 contributions throughout the conference. In the further course of the keynote speech, Davis Masten emphasized the potential that the growing dispersion of sensor technologies has for science and research. Thus, according to Masten, the number of sensors built into smartphones will increase from five to fifteen in the next years, which will constitute an enormous source of data. Also, the amount of sensors, which are installed in cities in order to measure traffic, the air quality and many other parameters are expected to increase 20-fold by 2020. The data that governments, communities, businesses and even private individuals are able to generate with these technologies can be used in research and development at a completely new level of detail.

Gary Wolf at the keynote speech (cc by chloester)

After this keynote the conference programs were officially opened. In six blocks over the two days, visitors were given the opportunity to choose between multiple presentations taking place simultaneously, which resulted in more than 200 presentations and workshops available in total. These numerous offers along with multiple breaks allowed for plenty of time for the participants to exchange information. From all the presentations and workshops that I visited, the workshop offered by Michael Kim about Habit Design particularly impressed me. There, the leader of the San Francisco Habit Design meetups talked about the elements necessary to develop products and services, which can support people in acquiring positive habits. Kim showed that Quantified Self and Gamification alone are mostly not enough to achieve long-lasting changes, but that instead many further circumstances in the user’s daily routine also play a determining role. In particular, he underlined the importance of triggers such as reminders, in order to practice new behavior regularly. I learned so much from this discussion that I would like to offer some deeper insights into this topic in one of my upcoming articles.

Conference Room in the Alumni Center of the Stanford University (cc by chloester)

One of the highlights among the many program points was surely the testimonial given by the entrepreneur and biohacker Dave Asprey, who had conducted self-experiments on his sexuality. Thus, he had managed, with the help of a number of various exercises, to experience an orgasm that lasted 20 minutes (to those, who are interested, it should be mentioned at this point that Mr. Asprey seriously advises against any imitation. here you’ll find further information). The presentation by the former wrestler Calvin Buhler about targeted changes of one’s physique also proved entertaining. Buhler described how he had started losing so much muscle mass after ending his wrestling career, that he ended up being half the man he used to be. Finally, with a special fitness and nutritional program, he built up 40 pounds of muscle mass in 40 weeks and then presented to his audience the process of the changes in his physique depending on nutrient in-take. Besides the many presentations and workshops, some of the most popular companies in the Quantified Self scene such as Bodymedia, Zeo and 23andme along with numerous start-ups such as Lift, Scanadu, Tictrac and WikiLife introduced themselves. This gave a good overview of upcoming trends and enabled a direct contact to the founders and developers of these companies.

The organizers of the worldwide Quantified Self groups (cc by rajiv zume)

A further highlight of the conference was the closing speech by Kevin Kelly, Co-Founder of Quantified Self. Here, he talked about the development of the self and the importance of data. When considering cultural history, awareness of the Self is a relatively young achievement, whereas the sense for individuality hadn’t developed in our historic ancestors for the longest time. According to Kelly, the current advance in sensor technology results in an expansion of the self based on the information that we can derive from the world we live in – a data sphere. The potential of Quantified Self and the capturing of data therefore lays less in numbers and graphs as much in opening our senses to allow us to perceive things that had previously remained concealed to us. In the second part of his speech, Kelly talked about data, its value and how it should be used. In this illustration, he advocated an open approach to data, which in their raw form, much like the letters of the alphabet, can serve as a basis to create larger structures with profound meaning. Not until data is coalesced with the enrichment of its context can naked data produce valuable information. Thus, Kelly concluded, raw data should not be considered as the property of businesses and institutions, but rather should be made accessible to third parties, in order to make their inherent potential available for refinement. This philosophical and visionary view of the Quantified Self and the potential of personal data was an apt closing and inspired many participants to further discussions even after the official end of the conference that shall surely soon find their continuation. The next Quantified Self Conference will take place in Amsterdam in May 2013.

The 2012 Wearable Technologies Conference

The 2012 Wearable Technologies Conference gave a comprehensive overview over the trends in fitness and health technology currently available on the market and also covered applications that might be realized some years from now. The conference program started with a keynote from Professor Paul Lukowitz from the Embedded Intelligence Lab at the DFKI Kaiserlautern. In his quick runthrough over wearable computers of the past, he concluded that the smartphone with its market penetration of about 50 % of the adults in western countries is the starting point for wearable systems in fitness, health and personal data computing. He thereby made clear that with the smartphone as a personal information hub, we are now entering an age when our lives will be supercharged with sensors, additional interfaces in wearable gadgets and technologically enhanced textiles.

In order to successfully introduce these technologies into our everyday lifes, wearable technologies must follow the same princeples as the clothes we have been used to wearing for ages. Just as we can take our jackets off or change them for a different garment, wearable technologies must seamlessly integrate themselves into our personal information system, the basis of which has just been built with the new Bluetooth Smart standard. After this keynote, the conference speakers held presentations on lifestyle and wellbeing, trends in health and medical and future innovations in the Wearable Technologies field. Here are some of the findings that seemed most interesting to me.

As a topic of lifestyle, representatives from Philips Vitality Solutions and Mr. Papastefanou from the Mannheim-based institute Gesis – presented their approaches for emotion tracking and behaviour change. Focussing on consumer products, Philips presented a bracelet that measures the stress level in its users’ everyday lives. Mobile apps for easy event tagging and collection of data such as calendars and timelines make it easies to undersand emotional triggers and learn how to lead a healthier life in the lines of emotional wellbeing. Researcher Papastefanou in contrast presented a state-of-the-art emotion tracking solution designed for professional use that measures a variety of body metrics.

From the health section, the Munich-based company Moticon presented its pressure-sensitive shoe inlay that can give a precise analysis of the user‘s weight distribution when standing, walking or running. With this innovative technology, Moticon can help cure leg injuries or facilitate learning complex sports like skiing. In such a case, the pressure monitor helps the user find an optimal position while skiing, which in return leads to less exhaustion and a flatter learning curve. Once the technology is ready for mass marketing, a lot of applications might profit from these in-depth analysis capabilities.

After just having launched their platform, Quentiq introduced its health management solution centered around its core metrix Healthscore. Based on the analysis of millions of health data points from some of the biggest long-term studies available, Quentiq has built an index that represents the overall physical conditions of its users. In order to calculate this healthscore, the company offers mobile applications for tracking sports activities, integrating data from various available sensors and utilizing self-assessments for its users. All this information merged together cumulates in the Healthscore, a single number that describes your overall health likeliness. Just as discussed in the German media as a future scenario, Quentiq‘s business model intends to cooperate with health insurance companies, which might take the neutral healthscore as a basis to create an incentive for their customers to lead a healthier lifestyle. Quentiq‘s promise to foster fitness with game mechanics is an interesting approach to cope with the ever-rising health costs in our society.

As an outlook for the future of wearable technology, Vladimir Leonov from the Belgian nano electronics research center IMEC gave an introduction to their energy harvesting technology. With thermo-electric elements integrated into textiles, we might be able to produce all the energy neccessary for our sensors with our own body heat. Obviously, huge improvements in energy consumption of the distributed electronics will be necessary before this can be implemented into future sensors. The presentation by David Icke from the research company MC10 seemed even more futuristic: In his work on the future of electronic circuits, Mr. Icke presented flexible, printable electronic circuits that can be placed on any subtrate such as textiles or skin. This would allow the most seamless solution to physical monitoring and could make medical applications much more effective in performance, data quality, compliance and comfort.

Getting back to the prospects of 2012, the solutions presented at the Wearable Technologies Conference made clear that the megatrends in quantified self, mobile health and wearable technologies are just beginning and still have lots of great opportunities to come. Wearable Technologies will present a number of wearable products at the CeBIT 2012 from March 6th to 10th where I support their team. Meet us at our booth C20 in hall 8.