Q&A: Steven Zhang, Lead Engineer for CALM.—a Wearable ECG Device Serving Unmet Mobile Health Needs

I touched base with a member of HWTrek’s community of creators,  Steven Zhang, who is the lead engineer for CALM., to learn more about the project and its development. CALM. is currently available for pre-order via Indiegogo, where the team has successfully raised about $39,000 (390% of its goal) and has been certified by Arrow Electronics.

Please introduce yourself and your project?

I am Steven Zhang, Lead Engineer for this project. We have made an affordable wearable ECG device, which we are targeting sports users at first, with intention of expanding to healthcare applications down the road. CALM. is for competitive endurance athletes.

What’s the inspiration for your project? What problem does it solve or address?

We saw an unmet need in the healthcare industry, for affordable wearable mobile health solutions that serve everyday monitoring and screening roles. Similar products are either 10 times more expensive or too big and clumsy to be useful.

We decided to target sports before healthcare because most of our team are triathlon enthusiasts, and we decided to provide training safety and sleep analysis for the sports market, while we iterate and go through regulations for healthcare (medical) use.

What solutions did you use for hardware design?

We used Autodesk Fusion 360 as well as Altium.

What solutions did you use for prototyping?

Hardware: 3D printing and small PCBA services

Electronics: Nordic Semiconductor nRF52 Development Kit, Analog Devices AD8233 Evaluation Board, a cheap Chinese ECG signal generator called SKX-2000, and a Hantek oscilloscope.

Mechanical: Anet A8 3D printer

Software: Balsamiq, Sketch.app, ionic framework, Amazon AWS

We skipped a lot of traditional prototyping steps, went straight to a small batch of PCBA samples, and did not make any breadboarded prototypes. We also went straight from 3D printing to injection molding and skipped CNC.

What resources have you used for sourcing and supply chain management?

We used Octopart and Alibaba.

What were the most difficult things to source for your project and how did you source them?

A cheap, reliable, and fast provider for plastic injection molding. We discovered Protolabs, and they had what we need, albeit with some restrictions. Their online quote and DFM system made it possible to go from CAD to plastic faster and cheaper than going back and forth via email and site visits to a traditional injection molding provider.

What tools, if any, do you use for real-time collaboration on your project (with team members and partners)?

For real-time collaboration, we used Autodesk A360 and Skype.

What have been the significant challenges or obstacles you’ve faced on the project? How were they resolved?

Getting the team to agree on unique creative designs. Using 3D printing significantly improved the process by being able to create multiple prototypes, and iterating quickly.

What challenges have you faced in the development of CALM. that are specific to the design and development of a wellness/health device?

Differentiating with existing players like Fitbit, Garmin, and communicating the differentiation to a crowd who are interested but not professors of fitness. We are always asked, even internally, “How is this beneficial to the normal person, who wants to stay fit?“ We are in fact, not targeting a “normal person”. Our target is competitive athletes. Trying to satisfy a broad audience often leads to scope explosion and being mediocre (less focused) at the main purpose.

What are the takeaways and lessons learned from working on this project that you’d like to share with other wellness/health device developers?

There are plenty of untapped niches for wellness/health. Don’t try to cater to everybody with mediocrity, create something that does one thing very well, and you can always add sub features later.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to the beginning of your product development?

Buy a 3D printer early on.

If you are planning a new version of your project or future devices, what will you differently?

We will be making accessories that expand the usage models for CALM. – such as waterproof accessories for swimming. We will also be working towards a medical model.

We all know the phrase “hardware is hard.” Is there something that was much easier than you had initially thought when you started out on your hardware journey?

No, hardware IS hard.

What trend do you see that is changing your sector/industry or what shift would you like to see happen?

More streamlined regulatory scheme for wireless communication devices, and medical devices.

What’s next for your project?

Ramping up mass production for this model, and kicking off development of our next model.

We are also continuously working to improve our analytics algorithms.

And now for something completely different, fun questions…

What are your ‘go-to’ sources for tech information and news? 

Engadget

What’s currently on your playlist, what are you listening to these days?

I am not a music fan.

What fuels you (coffee, tea, or….)? When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

A good sleep and energy drinks!

What do you recommend (place to go/see, what to eat) for a visitor to Tokyo?

Japan is very seasonal, research seasonal activities before coming. Cherry blossom in the spring, fireworks in the summer, food festivals in autumn, and hot springs in the winter.

What gadget would you love to have from your favorite science fiction film or book?

Geordi La Forge’s bionic eyes (Star Trek The Next Generation)

This is a screenshot of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s character Geordi LaForge from the episode Suddenly Human. It is used for identification of, and critical commentary upon the fictional character “Geordi LaForge”

If you are working on an IoT healthcare device or want to transform your existing device into a smart, connected one, check out our opportunity to jumpstart your project through our 5-day Asia Innovation Tour – Connected Health Solutions – that will take you and more than 20 other global connected health innovators on visits to manufacturing facilities, certification labs, top-tier medical companies, distributors, healthcare market research firms, and discussing product development strategies with more than 500 industry leaders at the HWTrek Meetups in Shenzhen and Shanghai. This event is free admission. We will arrange and cover the costs of a single company representative, local transportation to visiting companies, institutions, and factories. However, please be aware you need to cover your flights and accommodations, and possibly need to apply for a visa. Learn more and apply here.

Interview with IDT—Oregon Scientific and the Oregon Air Smart Air Monitor

We interviewed a member of the HWTrek expert community, IDT, about their Oregon Air Smart Air Monitor, a product developed under their Oregon Scientific brand. IDT is an ODM/OEM provider of lifestyle products in three major product groups. They are experienced in areas of sensors, digital imaging, digital voice and music technology, smart home, and smart metering, and other IoT related technologies. They have 40 years of experience in sports and health products.

If you’d like to contact an expert from IDT, you can connect with Sam Tang on the HWTrek platform. IDT offers four solutions on the platform: ODM/EMS for Smart Home Products, ODM\EMS for Smart Learning & Educational Products, Smart ODM /EMS Service for IoT Applications, and ODM/EMS for Sport, Fitness, and Healthcare Products.

Following is a brief translation of part of the interview.  The complete interview, originally published in Chinese, can be found here.

HWTrek: During the process of product design and manufacture, what was the biggest challenge? And how did you overcome it?

IDT: Oregon Air is an intelligent air detector that has many core functions. The primary components include PMI sensor, humidity sensor, 1.3-inch OLED display and 2600 mAh rechargeable battery. Our biggest challenge is combining all of these components and at the same time making the product size smaller. So when choosing the sensors and components, we needed to balance accuracy, quality, size, and cost requirements. After continuous research, analysis, verification, and communication with different suppliers, we successfully put all the sensors into this limited space while retaining the original fashionable design at the same time.

HWTrek: Will the strong R&D and manufacturing capabilities of IDT be open to other hardware innovators? How does one cooperate with IDT?

IDT: Smart Service is a team dedicated to the development of other innovative hardware products. With an R&D team of more than 100, it provides innovative customers with R&D, industrial design, patent registration, product certification, product localization improvement and integration with mature supply chain management systems, production quality control, professional production lines, and logistics management to provide timely delivery of high-quality products to help their creative ideas become real industrial products while improving the process to reduce development time to 90 days to meet market demand.

IDT: Sanpower Group has more than 25,000 retail outlets worldwide, a variety of retail channels including distributors, B2B, and electricity providers. IDT’s Oregon Scientific brand has mature sales channels in Europe, the United States, and Asia Pacific. Relying on these powerful sales channel resources can provide a broader sales network for innovative creators to help them grow more quickly.

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HWTrek: How do you improve internal coordination and integration of resources to achieve innovation relying on your strong group and corporate resources?

IDT: For the first time, we tried to promote our product on a crowdfunding platform. This is a new model that presents a great challenge for the traditional enterprise. But Oregon Scientific, always at the forefront of innovation, unafraid of challenges, and with a positive attitude, achieved good results by surpassing the crowdfunding goal on the first day. Next, Oregon Scientific will continue to make a breakthroughs in this direction, gather the online flow entry, in addition relying on the Group’s strong offline retail sales channels for transfer of offline customers to mobile terminal, followed by the formation of word of mouth guiding more traffic to the offline experience or consumption and the formation of an “Internet + retail” sales model.

The Oregon Air was launched on JD.com’s JD Finance crowdfunding platform in China.

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Interview with Serge Didenko and Alireza Tahmasebzedah, Co-Founders of BLOCKS Wearables

We reached out to a participant in our first tour HWTrek Asia Innovation Tour (Spring 2014), Serge Didenko, and his fellow co-founder, Alireza  Tahmasebzedah, of BLOCKS Wearables, to learn more about their project and insights.

Over the course of the past two years, HWTrek hosted 80 hardware creators and accelerators to visit Taiwan, Beijing, and Shenzhen on Asia Innovation Tour 2016 (April), Asia Innovation Tour 2015 (August), and also on the first tour in April 2014. We’re organizing the next tour in November 2016 to Shenzhen, Osaka, and Kyoto. You can register on the HWTrek platform and create a project to apply to join the Asia Innovation Tour Winter 2016 cohort destined to meet manufacturing industry experts, see assembly lines in China and Japan, and gain insights about their consumer markets for smart, connected devices.

Serge participated in the first Tour, April 2014. Here’s what he had to say about it:

I’ve learnt a lot from this trip, not just from the manufacturers, but [also] from [fellow participants], so I think it’s great to connect to those people here [on] this trip…Looking forward to working again with HWTrek.

And furthermore,

HWTrek has been instrumental in connecting Blocks to leading manufacturing companies in Asia, superior to any other organizations that offer similar services. Not only that, they were also incredibly helpful in developing a detailed manufacturing plan with our team. Altogether it has undoubtedly accelerated our delivery time by at least 4 to 6 months.

Blocks successfully raised $1.6 Million on Kickstarter in November 2015.


HWTrek: We’d love to catch up with what you’ve been doing since you attended HWTrek’s Asia Innovation Tour in April 2014. What are you working on?

Blocks is the world’s first fully customizable smartwatch – an open platform for wearable technology.

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HWTrek: Since your successful crowdfunding campaign, you’ve opened to general pre-orders for Blocks, how is that going?

Ali: Very well. We are getting a good level of pre-orders with minimal marketing efforts and we are happy that our community is growing.

HWTrek: What solutions did you use for hardware design?

Ali: It took us a long time and many different iterations to arrive at the current connectors, protocols, screen type, and module selection, etc. At times we were actually building the prototypes and testing it, and at other times we used simulation solutions.

HWTrek: What solutions did you use for prototyping? What chipsets/MCUs/development kits did you use?

Ali: A range of different platforms like ARM mbed, Intel’s Edison, and BeagleBone, etc.

HWTrek: What wearable chipset/MCU solutions did you choose for going to mass production?

Ali: We are using Qualcomm’s Wear 2100 platform.

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HWTrek: What are some of the major lessons you learned along your entrepreneurship journey?

A dedicated team that is ready to keep going no matter what (getting investment and building prototype on time do not always go to plan).

HWTrek: What advice would you give someone who might have an idea, but has yet to launch a hardware startup?

Love what you do because you will have to work very hard for it and give up most of your free time for that dream. But the journey will be also fun as long as you have the right team.

What resources have you used for sourcing and supply chain management?

Ali: It was mostly done by our ODM but at points, we used help from HWTrek.

What were the most difficult things to source for your project and how did you source them?

Ali: The sourcing was mostly done by the ODM. We did make some higher level connections with the management of the supplier companies for some.  

HWTrek: Looking back, what are your takeaways from participating in HWTrek’s Asia Innovation Tour during April 2014?

The power of network – try to befriend a couple of hardware startups ASAP. Spend some money on actually going to Taiwan and staying there – there is nothing like doing development and talking to manufacturers on the ground.

HWTrek: What trend do you see that is changing your sector or what shift would you like to see happen?

Consolidation of the first wave of smartwatch makers – the big players are coming in. There is still a lack of a true killer application out there. We hope to bring the variety of much-needed sensors with Blocks.

HWTrek: Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen to article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?

kevinrandom.com/startup-ceos-101/

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Who will become the next wearable chip overlord?

In the evolution of wearable device chipsets, there are generally three types:


 

  1. Mobile chipsets: early on existing mobile chipsets were used to develop products. For example, Samsung Galaxy Gear used Exynos 4212, Google Glass used OPAP 4430. The advantage is an effective use of an existing platform with rich features.
  2. Microcontroller (MCU) based products: such as Pebble Watch and FitBit One bracelet that are based on MCUs as the core to develop the product. The advantages being low power consumption, simple operation, continuous data collection and transfer to the Host side. Intel Curie and ARM Cortex-M architecture MCU products are developed out of this concept.
  3. Smart wearable device chipsets developed specifically for these applications: Intel’s solution for wearable devices, Intel Edison, is dual-core. The dual-core chipset supports Android system high-performance computing and real-time OS and wireless communication. Qualcomm launched the Toq processor, with ARM Cortex-M3 architecture, tailored for wearable device products. Broadcom introduced the BCM4771 processor with integrated GPS. Ingenic’s JZ4775 integrates CPU, Flash, LPDDR, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM, NFC and pressure sensors, temperature and humidity sensors.

We’ll be introducing a number of notable wearable chipsets and development kits below, including ARM Cortex-M0, NXP Hexiwear, MediaTek MT2523, Intel Curie, and Ingenic M200, as well as relevant experts on the HWTrek platform with whom you can directly connect.


ARM Cortex-M0

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ARM Cortex-M0 processor is an entry-level chip widely used in simple control and computing applications.

Last year, ARM announced a much-loved thing, the release of the Cortex-M0 processor and preferential licensing fees to support startups and other manufacturers of chip development process. Specifically, customers have free access via the ARM DesignStart portal to Cortex-M0 processor tools including Cortex-M0 SDK and ARM Keil MDK development kits. In addition, the Versatile Express FPGA development board – designed to accelerate the prototyping stage – is available at the low price of $955. However, licensing the Cortex-M0 processor from ARM for commercial production costs $40,000.

Chinese startup MYIR Tech Limited commented, “the low cost, low power consumption and relatively simple Cortex-M0 is ARM’s most licensed processor. Many large manufacturers such as ST, Freescale, and NXP have introduced Cortex-M0 core-based products.”

“The Cortex-M0 is a very elementary thing; it probably cannot do complex applications. But, it has its advantages in simple applications, such as for Bluetooth modules, because of its low price and low power consumption. Of course, free development tools are still very tempting for engineers,” added MYIR Tech.

Source: Leiphone

Looking for a Cortex-M solution or expert? Check out one of many on the HWTrek platform:


NXP Hexiwear

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Hexiwear is a new generation of IoT development platform designed to speed time to market. It uses a compact design with on-board ARM® Cortex®-M4 120 MHz MCU with built-in Bluetooth Low Energy 4.1 and integrated sensors, including temperature, pressure, humidity, light, optical heart rate, accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope, rechargeable battery, and 1.1″ full color OLED display. It also features a package of open source embedded software, mobile apps, and cloud connectivity. With a selection of commonly used sensors onboard that allow the developers to build a complete hardware device in the shortest possible time afters selecting which sensors to use, creators can concentrate on software and application development. NXP Hexiwear also includes a docking station through which it can be quickly expanded with more than 200 click boards™ sensor and other modules.

Using NXP Hexiwear, with respect to software and hardware, supports going from prototype to mass production, avoiding the difficult problem of going to mass production from Arduino. Users need only change the layout and small parameters to suit the product appearance. This allows the product to better support all requirements and quickly move to mass production.

Source: www.nxp.com

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Fancy a chance to score a free Hexiwear sample to accelerate your wearable device development? Learn more and apply here. Also, check out our interview about Hexiwear with NXP’s Mohit Kedia here.


MediaTek MT2523

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MediaTek’s MT2523 chip, featuring GPS and dual-mode Bluetooth low energy system-in-package (SiP), is primarily designed for smartwatches and other wearable devices. The SiP integrates CPU, GPU, GPS, Bluetooth BLE, MCU, PMU (power management unit) and other chips. Furthermore, MediaTek enables smaller form factor devices than Android Wear consumes less power, and be used for more than one week when fully charged. The built-in Cortex-M4 coprocessor handles most tasks in standby mode without booting the more power consuming main system. With respect to display assembly, MediaTek provides the MIPI-DSI standard interface, so there’s not much required of the creator.

Source: news.smzdm.com

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MediaTek LinkIt™ Assist 2502 development platform offers device developers a professional environment in which to design and prototype the software and hardware for Wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This SoC works with MediaTek’s energy efficient Wi-Fi and GNSS companion chipsets also. This means it’s now easier to create devices that connect to other smart devices or directly to cloud applications and services. Learn more about MediaTek solutions for IoT and wearable device development here or connect with one of their experts.


Intel® Curie™

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At the core of Curie is Intel’s own Quark SE SoC with 384 KB Flash, 80 KB of SRAM memory, and clocked at 32 MHz. Designed as a solution for ultra-low power consumption smart wearable devices, Curie is equipped with a combination of power management IC, DSP, six-axis accelerometer and gyroscope sensor, supports low-power Bluetooth technology, and wake-up function. However, based on the module and Curie development board, it is more suitable to non-wearable smart devices. According to Intel, it is positioned for “fashion, sports, and life” applications. Though adding the development board significantly increases the size to provide more comprehensive interfaces, a full CPU, memory, and Flash components, making it more suitable to makers and embedded developers.

Before Curie, Intel launched the Edison and Galileo Arduino development boards, both equipped with the Quark SoC. Because of high price and running the Linux operating system, they didn’t draw much attention. On the foundation of the previous two development board, Curie was improved with a smaller form factor, price reduced by half, and running a small real-time operation system, making it more suitable for beginners.

Source: Leiphone

Intel Edison2
Intel® Edison is a development platform for IoT and wearable devices. It is designed to help hardware creators and entrepreneurs with rapid prototyping so that they can efficiently produce innovative IoT products that keep us connected and transform the ways in which we live. If you are interested in an Intel solution for wearable development, you can learn more and connect with an expert here.


Ingenic M200

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Among China’s IC design companies, Ingenic was the earliest to focus on wearables. The greatest feature of Ingenic chips is their ultra-low-power consumption and higher performance per watt. The 40 nm process Ingenic M200 Wearable Processor Unit uses the micro-architecture design XBurst CPU core. The 32-bit dual-core XBurst CPU includes the 1.2 GHz XBurst-HP core and 300 Mhz Xburst-LP core and consumes 0.07 mW/MHz of power. It features a voice trigger engine that can wake up the system from standby/sleep mode, supports 720p video and 3D graphics acceleration along with MIPI camera interface and internal ISP image processing functions, and supports LPDDR2 memory. The slim package size of 7.7 x 8.9 x 0.76 mm (with a chip thickness of only 0.76mm) makes it suitable for any wearable device. The M200 WPU solution biggest advantage is long battery life. Ingenic Glass is superior to Google Glass in battery life, heat dissipation, operating temperature, size, and cost.

Source: Leiphone

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This Solution is brought by the Ingenic Semiconductor, a fabless technology company, designing CPUs for mobile and consumer System-on-Chip (SoC) solutions. They offer an array of powerful devices for IoT development. Learn more about the M200 solution or connect with an expert from Ingenic here.

6 Questions: Mike Kasparian, Atlas Wearables CTO

Last year, HWTrek sponsored 30 hardware startups and creators to visit Taiwan and Beijing on the Asia Innovation Tour 2014. We’re doing it again this August. We reached out to Mike Kasparian (CTO and co-founder of Atlas Wearables), a participant in the tour last year, to see what he’s been up to during the past year.


HWTrek: We’d love to catch up with what you’ve been doing since you attended Asia Tour last year. What are you working on?

Mike: We’ve made a lot of progress since the Asia Tour including securing our CM partner, completing tooling development, and 3 pilot runs. We’re now a couple months away from mass production of our first product.

What are some of major lessons you learned along your entrepreneurship journey?

Build your network early on, utilize it, but also give back. Strong relationships, and close friends are key, especially as you grow your company into new territory. Hear lots of people’s stories (especially those similar to what you’re working towards), learn as much as you can, and continue learning as you grow. Remain open to advice, and make informed decisions.

Test, test, and test more. There’s no better way to make a decision than by backing it with data.

What advice would you give someone who might have an idea, but has yet launch a hardware startup?

Especially in emerging hardware startups it is extremely important to design and iterate as much as possible early on in the design and development of the product. The further along you get in development, the harder it is to turn back.

Hardware is hard! Be prepared for a long journey. Prototyping is just one small step to production – it’s a much larger beast to get a hacked together design turned into thousands!

Looking back a year on now, what are your takeaways from participating in the tour last year?

Two of the biggest takeaways were networking with some very smart people in a similar space, and getting to see the technology and manufacturing landscape in China: the largest manufacturers, smaller, more niche suppliers, and everything in-between.

What trend do you see that is changing your sector or what shift would you like to see happen?

Certainly seeing smartwatches slowly take over a lot of the fitness tracking market which we expect to happen over the next 1-3 years. We expect this to continue and in the end see a coexistence of true activity trackers (like the Atlas Wristband) with smart watches due to different design and user experience requirements for the different use cases.

Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?

Some of the best stories to learn from are from the recent failed crowdfunding companies. I’d highly recommend anyone interested in getting into this space to read about the stories from Kreyos, and CST-01, and any others that come out.