We recently spoke with CEO Marina Nikeschina of e-Senses and Pim van der Meer, project lead development at HYB, a fresh team on the IoT scene that just celebrated its first birthday. e-Senses is focused on health and wellness and is determined to help people achieve the vitamin D levels they need in a way that’s never been done before - with a cutting-edge ring.
For folks just now hearing about you, tell us about your business; how did you get started?
Well, our original inspiration was actually due to a friend of the founders who had concerns about elderly patients. Essentially, in his research he realized that light had a profound effect on happiness and quality of life in the individuals he saw. Seniors who get outside are eating better, sleeping better, virtually everything better than people who stay inside. Older patients who are aren’t going outside, they get depressed, they get sick.
So he asked if it was possible to make something that you can put on people to see how much light they receive. Troubleshooting this idea, we realized that the only two parts of our body typically not completely covered in clothes as the seasons come and go are our face and hands. So we decided to make a ring, because a ring is one accessory that’s unisex and just not really intrusive for people to adopt. That’s how our Helios Smart Ring was born, and it’s the first vitamin D tracker in the world.
Starting out, we decided to look at a lot of medical studies about light, vitamin D, and sunlight. And we were surprised to learn about the many advantages you can get for free from the sunlight. So we ultimately decided to make a very serious product, not just a small, simple tool to measure basic light exposure, but a wearable device for everyone.
And we designed a corresponding app that helps breathe life into the data the ring collects; it has three modes or “coaches.” Mode one is a “Vitamin D Coach” that shows how much vitamin D you are absorbing every day from the sun by the minute. Mode two is the “Sunlight Coach” that helps measure the strength of the sun and tells you how long you can stay outside without any danger. Then we have a “Daylight Coach” mode that calculates the minimum amount of light that you need every day and displays in percentages how far along you are for your daily goal.
Tell us about some of the challenges you faced in developing such a small device. I know you had to hit some hurdles getting this much functionality out of such a small, unobtrusive object.
I would say we faced two main challenges in development. The first challenge was how to charge the device. The first prototypes used contact points for charging, but the low pressure on the charging pins that the limited weight of the ring gives will result in bad contact due to corrosion of the contact points. So we retooled the ring to have its own charging coil inside and make the charging process exclusively wireless, eliminating that issue entirely.
Secondly, achieving a long battery life was challenging. Our initial goal was to have at least a 24-hour battery life, but our initial prototypes were only holding a four- to six-hour charge. That obviously wasn’t acceptable to us. After what could only be described as a bout of sheer obsession to solve this problem, a very talented engineer got the battery life up to two to three days of wear, which we’re really pleased with because of the ease of use that grants our users.
Well, we think this is a really amazing health application. Can you also tell us what Silicon Labs products are you using in the Helios and why?
We are using the Si1133 in the Helios Smart Ring. It was very difficult to find components for our recent circuit board because we were looking for the smallest components in the world. A ring is such a small form factor and you want durability as well. Everything we are using is the smallest, smallest, smallest. But we didn't want to compromise on quality. We were looking for sensors that can measure daylight and sunlight accurately, and that were small, light, and production-ready. We came across Silicon Labs’ solution and knew this was our winner.
In your view, what does the future of IoT look like in the next 5–8 years given your experience?
It’s obviously been amazing to witness how widespread the IoT has become now that network and power solutions have evolved to allow so many product designs actually come to life. That said, what we most hope to see is that we don’t overly automate the human experience itself. Such as with the Smart Home concept, it’s great that you can open and close a window and control a thermostat remotely—those are things that can save energy costs and add a level of convenience that is enriching for an end-user. But there is no reason to automate someone’s blankets being rolled off of them in the morning or every other small detail of every daily routine in life. We hope that the IoT’s biggest gains will be rooted in truly enriching people’s lives and health in ways that can matter the most.