Hexoskin Wearable Products
Hexoskin is a line of shirts – tanks for men and women, as well as long-sleeved workout shirts for men, and a sleeveless shirt for juniors. The sensor arrays in the shirts connect to a Bluetooth monitoring device. One of the key attractions of the product is that it can gather a vast amount of biometric data about the user’s vital health and fitness signs.
- Heart Activity: Hexoskin monitors heart activity: heart rate; heart rate variability (which can be used to track fatigue); heart rate recovery (how quickly the heart resumes normal pattern after exercise); and provides a realtime ECG (electrocardiogram).
- Breathing: It also monitors breathing rate and minute ventilation (volume of air inhaled or exhaled per minute).
- Activity and Sleep: It monitors several measures of activity – intensity, peak acceleration, number of steps, cadence – including sleep (sleep position, heart rate, breathing.)
The “Brains” of The System
The shirts have received favorable reviews as to comfort, with their smooth, breathable material, which is machine washable. The battery pack, or “brains,” which the company refers to simply as the Hexoskin “device,” is carried in a small pocket on the shirt during workouts. Fournier states that the device has 30+ hours battery life in full recording and streaming mode.
To connect the device to the sensors, the company has designed a proprietary “washable connector.” This short tube-like device with nodes on one side is part of the shirt and is attached inside the pocket by a cord. The tube slips into the recording device, automatically turning the device on so that it can begin receiving data from the sensors. The connector device stays in the pocket when the shirt is washed. Fournier describes the connector as, “best of its kind.”
The device connects to the user’s smartphone/watch via Bluetooth. The company offers a free app – the iOS version requires 7.0 or later and works with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, while the Android version works with version 4.0.3 or later and with smartwatches. The company also boasts of compatibility with bike computers, GPS watches and other Bluetooth-capable devices.
The recording device can gather 42,000 data points per minute. Data is also stored in the recording device and can be downloaded at a later time for analysis or storage.
Hexoskin Business Strategy
While there are different prices for different models, the men’s tank version with the recording device and a USB cable for charging the device, retails for $399. Fournier states that the shirts are available throughout most of the globe. They are sold through outlets such as Amazon and Best Buy, as well as via partners in Europe and elsewhere. About one-half of sales are from the U.S.
The company’s business model for Hexoskin today is based strictly on device sales. They do not charge for their apps or storage on their cloud.
The company has sought patent protection covering various aspects of the physical properties of the shirts, such as the sensor integration and the circuitry. For software they rely on trade secrets.
Hexoskin has attracted a diverse group of users, beyond consumer fitness buffs. Among these are: “Olympians, Cirque du Soleil, NBA players, thousands of athletes and trainers worldwide,” as well as “aerospace and military organizations (including NASA).”
The shirt is also compatible with a number of leading fitness apps, including, Runkeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, Endomondo, and others. In addition, the company cites over 200 developers who are using the company’s data and API to develop new apps for Hexoskin.
Efficient Use of Resources
Carré Technologies has about 20 employees, primarily involved in R&D, software development, design and testing. In total, counting various partners, Fournier states that there are about 100 people involved in the Hexoskin supply chain. Hexoskin already constitutes “a significant part of the company’s business,” Fournier states. While the basic design has been done by inhouse staff, the company did also use the services of outside designers.
What are the trickiest parts of developing a functioning health and fitness monitoring wearable? Fournier states, “It’s hard to pick: hardware design and manufacturing with smart textiles is hard. However most of our investment has been on the software side (biomed data science, mobile apps, cloud infrastructure, etc.). Product validation is also very hard because it involves testing with humans. Everything takes a lot of time.”
The company has raised money from an angel investor, also via indiegogo raises and, Fournier states, also from projects in the aerospace and defense sector. “We’re following a path that is somewhat like that of the semiconductor industry in its early stages,” Fournier observes.
Healthcare Meets Fitness
Montreal-based Carré has been addressing software issues for the healthcare industry since its founding in 2006. The company has also been providing consulting services.
“We started out to solve problems with the health system,” Fournier explains, “from athletes to the sick.” He further asserts, “You have to deal with the whole spectrum of health and health management.”
Regarding past accomplishments, the company states: “Before entering the sensor-embedded clothing realm, we had developed many different health monitoring devices.” Their website lists several examples of products Carré had worked on, such as: Wearable ECG / EMG / EEG products; Wearable electronic thermometers; Wearable blood pressure monitors; Wearable breathing sensors, and others.
While it has a small staff the company points to its expertise in “signal processing, algorithm design, and machine learning algorithms.” They are also very proud of the widespread number of researchers working with Hexoskin – “hundreds of researchers in 12 countries.”
The initial foray into developing a biometric smart shirt took place under a 2011 contract with the Canadian Space Agency. The company’s first commercial smart shirt, the Classic, was released in 2013. The upgraded Hexoskin Smart came to market in 2016, with enhanced battery life and other features.
Fitness wearables are available in many forms – wristbands and watches, glasses, socks and shoes, other garments, various straps and other gadgets. Fitness trackers have been estimated as a $1.4 billion market as of 2015, heading towards $5 billion in sales by 2019 (NPD Group and Parks Associates.)
While garments are a modest part of this market, it appears that Hexoskin provides a great deal of convenience and simplicity of use for the serious athlete or fitness devotee to get a lot of feedback. The user can dispense with wristbands or chest straps and other paraphernalia.
What also sets the company apart is its continuing strong commitment to developing healthcare solutions. While their device is not certified by the FDA for medical diagnoses, the data it produces can be used by health practitioners.
The company identifies added uses for the Hexoskin product in “cardiology, sleep medicine, aging at home, work medicine, defense applications, and space exploration missions.” Fournier adds, “We’re still investing heavily in product development.”
Visit their website: www.hexoskin.com