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? 


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.