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.

Popular Consumer IoT Devices on SoftBank’s +Style Platform

SoftBank launched its +Style platform in 2016 connecting IoT hardware device makers with Japanese consumers who are keen on adopting the hot, new technology into their lifestyle. At the beginning of 2017, SoftBank introduced the +Style as a program on HWTrek to attract the developers of cool IoT devices to the Japanese market.

SoftBank’s +Style has collaborated with ARM Innovation Hub to feature products developed with ARM technology. Six products that use ARM technology are currently available for sale on the +Style platform and four have been offered for pre-order on the crowdfunding section of the platform. For more innovations developed with ARM technology, check out the ARM Innovation Hub.

Planning: Participatory product planning

The Planning component of the +Style platform provides an opportunity for hardware companies to connect with potential consumers of their products during the planning and prototyping stages of their product development. The most talked about project in the Planning component of +Style is a consumer smart health device project called Ketto, developed by Tokyo-based E3 Enterprise. Ketto measures blood sugar, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels. It received more than 120 comments and more than 150 people favorited the project.

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Quantum is Tokyo-based open innovation corporate startup studio that supports the development of innovative IoT products from the product planning and design stages through to business development and strategy. Connect with Toshi Shiwa, Chief Engineer at Quantum, on HWTrek to learn more.

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Arrk Dison specializes in manufacturing industrial design models and product prototypes including appearance model, function model, silicone mold, temporary vacuum casting, CNC machining, and SLA laser light modeling. To learn more about their services, connect with Sam Liao on HWTrek.

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The Smart Aluminum Bag is a sophisticated, craftsman smart briefcase from Tokyo-based Garret Interior. The designer is considering a number of features that include smartphone charging, LED light, GPS logger, and locking mechanism controlled by a smartphone app via Bluetooth connectivity. The project idea was favorited 38 times and received 33 comments.

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Crowdfunding: Raising money for product production or testing the market

The two most successful campaigns crowdfunded on +Style are Beam, a smart LED light projector, and Code Horizon, a connected, real-time strategy board game. IoT hardware developers can leverage crowdfunding on SoftBank’s +Style platform to help ease Japan market entry and help to speed go-to-market strategies.

The Beam, which raised 1,346,600 yen, is a smart projector that fits in any light socket (E26/E27 type socket compatible) and can also function as a lighting fixture with its 12 LED lights and is controlled via an iOS or Android app. The Netherlands-based Beam Labs initially raised $759,656 on Kickstarter before testing the Japanese consumer IoT market via +Style. It runs on Android OS, features both Bluetooth and WiFi wireless connectivity, and has two built-in speakers.

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Code Horizon is a real-time strategy board game, developed by Yokohama-based Mira, that knocks down enemies by deploying realistic robots, VRO (Valkyrie Rover), on the table and virtual infantry units on the iOS/Android application, using all the tactics while identifying the speed change situation. The VRO robots use ARM Cortex M0 processors and are wirelessly connected to the player’s iOS or Android device via Bluetooth 4.0. The project’s campaign raised 527,800 yen on the +Style platform and also raised $30,407 on Kickstarter.


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Tokyo-based Kiluck provides planning, product, mechanical, and PCB design services and prototype consulting. Connect with Yaoxuan Zeng, who is responsible for Global Marketing at Kiluck, on HWTrek to learn more about their services.

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Shopping: Purchasing products unavailable in Japan

The shopping or e-commerce component of the +Style platform gives consumers the chance to purchase the latest in innovative IoT products that are not yet available in the Japanese market. Some of the most popular devices on offer for sale include a web-connected video camera that can dispense pet treats remotely called Furbo, TrackR bravo, which is an item tracking device backed by a Crowd GPS network, and a wireless robotic button or switch pusher called MicroBot Push. Slovenia-based Ulla Lab’s, a member of the HWTrek community, sells its Ulla personal hydration monitoring device that attaches to a user’s drink to monitor hydration and issue reminders to drink more water. Ulla was developed with ARM technology.

IoT hardware developers looking for assistance in developing a cloud-based network such as TrackR’s Crowd GPS can look to ACCESS on the HWTrek platform. Tokyo-based ACCESS is a provider of advanced IoT software development and solutions. Check their profile and connect with Takashi Sasaki here.

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Together with SoftBank’s +Style program, HWTrek provides a complete end-to-end hardware development ecosystem—a one-stop shop—for IoT hardware innovators collaboratively working to manage their product development, connect with manufacturing and supply chain industry experts, and bring their connected device projects to market in Japan.

Check out the +Style program page on the HWTrek platform to learn more about +Style and connect with SoftBank +Style representatives Jack Akita and Masato Furuno.