Posts tagged with "Fast Company"

The Halo effect: Amazon’s first health wearable, is no Fitbit or Apple Watch clone

August 31, 2020

Amazon is launching Halo, a minimalist $99 health sleek,wearable, companion to an app that measures your body fat and gauges your tone of voice. Executives who worked on the project told Fast Company last week that the offering is more about the app and its various features than the wearable itself.

Right now, consumers can preorder the Halo band for $65, which includes six months of access to the app. After the first six months, customers will have to pay $4 a month to continue using the app. Once it ships in a few weeks, Halo will be $99, also with the $4/month fee. The app and the band work with both iPhones and Android devices.

Though that pricing puts the Halo in competition with Fitbit’s fitness trackers, Amazon—which has also purchased online pharmacy PillPack, developed both virtual and in-clinic employee health centers, and sought out HIPPA compliance for its Alexa voice assistant—is taking a different approach to health than its competitors in wearables.

For one thing, the company thinks Halo’s real value is in the app. Data tracking is divided into four sections, Activity, Body, Sleep, and Tone. The app also offers Labs, a series of health challenges designed by a range of professionals and expert organizations. While Activity and Sleep offer standard health-tracking capabilities, Body, Tone, and Labs represent Halo’s distinguishing features, Fast Company reports..

The Halo tracker is extremely simple: just a piece of water-resistant fabric and a small sensor-laden bit of hardware that lays against the wrist. There’s no display, notifications, clock, or other features that have become standard fare on even basic fitness trackers from other companies. (Like other wrist wearables, it does offer band options in several colors and materials.)

Halo tracks movement, heart rate, skin temperature, and the tone of a person’s voice. Notably, it doesn’t track heart rate variability. Both the Apple Watch and Fitbit’s devices have added heart rate variability in recent versions of their wearables, seemingly as a test of their ability as a diagnostic tool.

Amazon’s tracker captures steps, duration, and intensity of activity, as well as sedentary time to generate an activity score. While any activity will raise your score, you’ll be awarded more points for running as opposed to walking. The band can detect the difference between walking and running, and you can manually mark if you swim, cycle, or perform some other form of exercise. Sedentary time can negatively impact your score if you sit for more than eight hours.

The app also measures activity on a weekly rather than daily basis. “It’s more aligned with the [CDC] guideline recommendations, which clearly state that people should get 150 minutes of moderate exercise on a weekly basis at a minimum,” says Dr. Maulik Majmudar, a cardiologist and Amazon’s chief medical officer. Before joining Amazon in 2018, he practiced at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Halo tracks sleep too. Like the Apple Watch, Fitbits, and the Oura Ring, Halo identifies sleep duration and how long you linger in light sleep, REM sleep, and deep sleep. It also measures and monitors skin temperature at the wrist, to see if how this changes over the course of the night correlates to your sleep quality. Skin temperature is not the same as internal temperature, so it would not be a sound way to determine if someone has a fever, for example.

However, Body is one of the most distinctive elements of the Halo app. Using a phone’s camera, it captures a three-dimensional model of a person’s body to help them track their body changes over time and to track its fat percentage.

“You’re probably wondering, why body fat?” Majmudar told Fast Company in an interview. “Body fat percentage is actually much better indicator of overall health than weight or body mass index [BMI] alone.” A recent meta-analysis, published in the journal, Nature, shows that BMI isn’t a great indicator for obesity, which doctors use to look out for obesity-related disease. However, getting a good reading on a person’s body fat has historically been cumbersome and expensive. Amazon now suggests it can make this determination using a phone camera.

To get their body fat percentage, people must wear “tight, minimal” clothing, such as bike shorts and a sports bra. Placing their phone 4-6 feet away, they then take capture photos or “body scans,” one front facing, one back, and one from each side. Artificial intelligence renders those photos into a 3D view of their body shape.

Once calculated, the body fat percentage number is presented alongside a corresponding national average based on a person’s gender, age, height, and weight. The body model can be morphed to show how a person might look if they gained or lost weight. The visualization is designed for those trying to work towards certain body goals.(However, it could also be dangerous fodder for anyone suffering from body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or compulsive exercising.)

Majmudar says that by default, the body-scan photos are processed in the cloud and then deleted after 12 hours. The body model is only stored locally on the phone.

Tone is by far the strangest of the app’s features. Using its embedded microphone, the band listens to your voice throughout the day and detects its tone—positive, sad, irritated, or otherwise. The idea is to address your social and emotional health.

To use Tone, you have to create a voice profile by reading a piece of text. That way, it can recognize and measure only your voice, not other ones it may pick up. When Tone is turned on, it runs passively and intermittently in the background, picking up on snippets of conversations throughout the day. It then tells you how you sounded to other people. Among the list of emotions is content, concerned, happy, and tired.

“This gives you a simple way to reflect on your communications and interactions throughout the day,” says Majmudar. This feature also gives you summaries of your mood throughout the day, highlighting when you were noticeably energetic, positive, or warm. It also notes outlier moments when you sound different than they ordinarily do.

For those that may be concerned about Amazon tracking their every word, the company says this audio never goes to the cloud. It’s processed on your phone, and isn’t stored. Amazon appears to be drawing a hard line on privacy here. In the past, its stance on

Amazon is balancing its consideration for privacy with a healthy amount of data sharing. In order to make the data Halo collects useful, it’s turning to partners. WW (Weight Watchers) users can link to the Halo app activity, so they can collect FitPoints. Cerner, the electronic health record provider, can also hook into Halo and transfer a persons health data over to his or her larger medical record.

The Labs feature—which provides activities that users can perform to change their health outlook—also draws on Amazon’s partners. For instance, the Mayo Clinic offers a pet-free bedroom Lab that is supposed to lower sleep interruptions from a restless pet. Weight loss program LifeSum, has an activity for reducing calorie intake. Other partners include Apptiv, Orange Theory, Harvard Medical, and the American Health Association. These activities provide one more way for users to put that wrist band to use (and perhaps ensure that it doesn’t get relegated to a drawer somewhere).

How well does Halo track and analyze the data it collects? For now, it’s anyone’s guess. Majmudar says that Amazon has done lots of internal testing, but has not yet published any studies verifying the Halo’s capabilities.

Indeed, Amazon has good reason to want to get this right. But we won’t know how well it’s done until Halo arrives and independent researchers put it to the test.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Serena Williams designs limited edition Gatorade bottle

July 3, 2020

Tennis ace Serena Williams isn’t afraid of coming on strong—either on the court or off it.

Throughout her career, she has grabbed headlines not just for her dominance on the court, but for her self-designed bold outfit choices as well. To some, her now-iconic catsuits, tutus, bold prints, and more may seem to supersede function.

But to Williams, fashion and performance go hand in hand, according to her recent interview with Fast Company. “My sister and I both say, ‘Look good, feel good, play good,’” Williams says.

Now, Fast Company says, she’s channeling that philosophy into a limited-edition Gatorade bottle.

To promote Gatorade’s Gx customizable hydration line, Williams designed a bottle that encompasses more than just something to hold your electrolytic fruit punch.

“I wanted to create something that tells a story about—not only my strength as an athlete but also my strength as a mom,” Williams says.

Williams’s bottle incorporates bright, almost neon colors broken up by thick black lettering that, if you look closely, spells out “STRONG.”

“For me, bold colors are essential. And we have Gatorade’s iconic orange because when I was younger, my dream was to be a Gatorade athlete. So I wanted to keep that inspirational story with the orange,” Williams says.

As for the black, it’s a theme Williams translates into her strength on and off the court.

“Being an athlete is easy,” she told Fast Company. “Being a mom is so hard. That’s like the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Williams has what she jokingly calls a “lifetime partnership” with Gatorade—and the pairing has certainly produced some noteworthy campaigns. So for both Williams and Gatorade, this collaboration was more than just imprinting her name on a bottle.

“When you think about Serena Williams, you think of someone that’s different and stands up and stands out for lots of different things outside of tennis,” Williams continues. “That was the same method that I wanted to do when I was designing this bottle.”

Research contact: @FastCompany

NASA’s human spaceflight leader mysteriously resigns before SpaceX Crew Dragon launch

May 21, 2020

The head of NASA’s Human Spaceflight program, Douglas Loverro, has resigned after spending about seven months at the agency.

The unexpected exit has set off alarms in Congress about the flight, itself—as well as how this disruption could affect the historic mission.

Indeed, in a letter to NASA employees, Loverro said that he is leaving the program “with a very, very heavy heart” after making a “mistake” during his tenure, according to a letter obtained by Politico,

The resignation comes little more than a week before NASA and SpaceX—the latter, a private American aerospace manufacturer—are slated to launch two astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station for the first time, Fast Company reports.

Meanwhile, Ars Technica reports that Loverro was set to give the final okay for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will carry astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.

That job now will fall to Ken Bowersox, the acting associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations.

Loverro wrote that he was leaving the agency due to an undisclosed “mistake,” according to the letter obtained by Politico. Throughout my long government career of over four and a half decades I have always found it to be true that we are sometimes, as leaders, called on to take risks,” Loverro reportedly wrote. “I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences.”

The question is, why?

Top lawmakers demanded answers late Tuesday, May 19, about Loverro’s departure, especially since it occurred just eight days before the maiden voyage set for May 27 of two astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

“I am deeply concerned over this sudden resignation, especially given its timing,” Representative Kendra Horn (D-Oklahoma), the chairperson of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee, said in a statement. “Under this administration, we’ve seen a pattern of abrupt departures that have disrupted our nation’s efforts at human space flight.”

The bottom line is that, as the committee that overseas NASA, we need answers,” she concluded.

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who chairs the science panel, was “shocked” by the development; but said in a statement. “I trust that NASA Administrator [Jim] Bridenstine will ensure that the right decision is made as to whether or not to delay the launch attempt.”

“Beyond that, Mr. Loverro’s resignation is another troubling indication that the Artemis Moon-Mars initiative is still not on stable footing.  I look forward to clarification from NASA as to the reasons for this latest personnel action.”

Reached by Fast Company, a NASA spokesperson sent over a boilerplate statement confirming Loverro’s departure and said that the agency is “unable to discuss personnel matters” beyond it.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Pedal to the metal: Elon Musk dares California to arrest him as Tesla plant reopens

May 13, 2020

He has challenged the laws of mobility and gravity with his companies, Tesla and SpaceX, so why should Elon Musk bend to the laws of Alameda County, California?

This week, Musk has escalated his war with Alameda officials—tweeting that he is reopening Tesla’s manufacturing plant there despite a local ban by authorities who believe it’s not safe to do so.

If county officials don’t like it, Musk said, they can arrest him, according to a report by Fast Company. Indeed, he tweeted on May 11, “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

Indeed, he says, county officials are illegally flaunting California law. Also on Twitter, Musk noted, “Yes, California approved, but an unelected county official illegally overrode. Also, all other auto companies in US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out. This is super messed up!”

The tweet and decision to reopen Tesla’s only U.S. plant come after a dramatic weekend, during which Musk threatened to move the company’s headquarters from California to Nevada or Texas, Bloomberg reports.

The threat came after California Governor Gavin Newsom gave the okay last week for manufacturers in the state to start operations again, but Alameda County officials overruled that decision. It should be noted, however, that Governor Newsom granted local authorities the power to remain more restrictive with their stay-at-home orders than the state’s as a whole, essentially allowing them to decide when certain types of businesses can reopen in their areas.

That did not sit well with Musk, and Tesla then sued Alameda County over the weekend.. In response, Alameda County health officials issued a statement saying they were aware Tesla’s plant was reopening and hoped the company would choose to comply with local stay-at-home rules “without further enforcement measures.”

According to Fast Company, after Musk announced the Tesla plant would reopen, employees at the plant were emailed a memo announcing their furlough ended on Sunday and that they will be contacted within 24 hours with their return-to-work start date. Tesla said those who aren’t comfortable returning to work can stay at home—but they will be on unpaid leave and lose any jobless benefits.

The news outlet says that, since lockdown orders began, Musk has been the most vocal billionaire demanding people get back to work—going so far as to channel Trump in random outbursts on Twitter ranting against stay-at-home orders.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Flat broke during the lockdown? Then this ingenious $300 flat purse might not be for you

May 7, 2020

Ikea built its home furnishings empire on the strength of one simple idea—products designed in such a way that they can be flat-packed to reduce shipping costs and eliminate the need for a delivery truck. Now, that same level of innovation has come to global handbag and purse manufacturing.

The Milan, Italy-based bag label Up To You Anthology has created a flat-pack purse that it is selling in a variety of shapes and sizes, along with leather and felt options. And yes, just like Ikea furniture, you have to assemble it yourself, Fast Company reports.

Designed by the prolific Japanese firm Nendo, which is known for taking surprising approaches to the design of everyday objects, the bag is called the Mai.

Each bag is laser-cut from a single piece of leather. The consumer is instructed to fold the leather in half to assemble the bag; fitting the rivets into precut holes. And within about a minute of work, you have a fully functional, 3D purse, the business news outlet notes.

As COVID-19 keeps most of us home and puts tens of millions of people out of work, fashion retailers are in a lot of trouble notes. Indeed, J. Crew just filed for bankruptcy, and many direct-to-consumer companies are finding themselves underwater.

Mai wasn’t developed in response to COVID-19. Up To You Anthology told Fast Company in an interview that development actually started on it last year. But it was created specifically to be a bag sold through e-commerce. “Each bag had to be delivered to the customer’s house, so they designed a bag that could be delivered flat, to simplify this process,” a spokesperson explains. “And the customer would assemble the bag themselves. It can be fun!”

Indeed, the slight work of assembly could give the buyer more ownership over the bag—much like the old adage that Betty Crocker cake mix could have been formulated in a way that removed the need to add an egg, but that this modicum of effort makes it feel like you actually baked something.

But ultimately, this bag isn’t just flat to ship but 20% smaller in overall volume when deconstructed than it would be if mailed fully assembled. It costs money to ship air!

For a purse that runs around $300, saving the $8 between a USPS flat-rate envelope and a small flat-rate box might not seem like a lot. But especially as you get into international shipping, the difference jumps closer to $35.

The fact of the matter is, competitive online companies now are being forced to subsidize or eat their shipping costs entirely, Fast Company says—making it a huge expense for every online product company that doesn’t have the leverage of Amazon. And if these businesses are to survive the next two years, every dollar counts.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Artful masks let you wear the smiles of William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale, Picasso

April 29, 2020

Even if you’ve perfected the art of “smizing”—“the expression you get by smiling with your eyes without moving the rest of your face,” as Tyra Banks calls it—the now-ubiquitous protective face mask leaves a person with a lot of blank canvas to work with below the eyes.

Now, a new fundraiser for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) called “Smile for our NHS” puts that canvas to good use, with a series of masks depicting famous artists from the nose down, Fast Company reports.

A mask that covers up facial features can be downright disorienting, since we humans rely on nonverbal cues, such as the degree to which a person smiles, when we socialize, according to Fan Liu, an assistant professor of Decision Sciences and Marketing at Adelphi University.

Industrial designer, architect, and artist Ron Arad seems to think so too. Arad designed a series of painterly masks for the NHS project that depict the smiles of William Shakespeare and Florence Nightingale, as well as grinning portraits taken from paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Dalí.

In addition to the benefit the masks provide by reducing the spread of coronavirus, “the primary benefit of these non-medical face masks is to others: These designs turn them from something impersonal and frightening into coverings that will make people smile,” the project’s website reads. (Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder—some might find the contrast of reality and its painterly depiction downright creepy.)

The project is currently seeking new manufacturers to set up a supply chain and make the masks available to the general public—both as ready-made final products and by making the designs available for personal assembly, Fast Company says..

In reply to a comment on the charity’s Instagram feed April 26, Smile for our NHS wrote, “We are currently preparing stock and we will share our website with all the relevant information in due course.”

So why are private charities raising money for a government entity? The NHS has suffered years of budget cuts under a conservative government—and in a bit of an about-face, the public has become the safety net (although the NHS and its workers on the front lines are well-loved), Fast Company says.

Beyond the altruism of the project, Smile for our NHS is about as close as we’ll get to seeing the smiles in masterworks relatively up close for some time now. But we think there might be one that’s missing—Mona Lisa’s.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Pokémon Stay? Niantic is updating Pokémon Go so you can play from home

April 17, 2020

Pokémon Go will soon get a bit easier to play at home—even from that indent you have created in your couch over the past few weeks, Fast Company reports.

The augmented reality mobile game was a smash hit when AR pioneer Niantic launched it in 2016. That may be eons in technology time—but Pokémon Go is still quite popular to

However, the COVID-19 lockdowns have made the most compelling features of Pokémon Go so impracticable, so, San Francisco-based Niantic has announced that it is working on “new and exciting gameplay that can be enjoyed both from home and when we’re able to go out and explore together again.”

According to Fast Company, Remote Raids is the big change coming to players nextRaid Battles, added to the game in 2017, enable players to get together at a physical spot to battle powerful pokémon. “Soon,” Niantic says, “you’ll be able to join any Raid Battle you can see on the Nearby screen or that you can tap on the map.”

Indeed, TechCrunch reports the feature will be “live in the coming days.”

Niantic teased other updates in the works, “including improved battle-screen design” and bonus Field Research “activities that you can complete from home.” Check out Niantic’s blog for more details.

Research contact: @FastCompany

American Giant leads coalition of apparel brands to produce 1 million medical-grade masks a week

April 6, 2020

U.S. healthcare workers soon “will be wearing” happier and less-stressed expressions, thanks to the American fashion and apparel industries, Fast Company reports. The San Francisco-based startup, American Giant, which is known for its durable, domestically-produced clothing, is saying, “Hold on sweatshirts; hello medical masks,” on its website.

Indeed, American Giant has retooled its entire North Carolina factory and retrained all of its sewers to make medical-grade masks, in order to help the U.S. healthcare community fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “durable, not disposable” clothing company is part of a coalition of 11 U.S. apparel brands—among them, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, and Los Angeles Apparel—that will start manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus, Fast Company says.

While much of apparel manufacturing has been shipped out of the United States over the last four decades, a small number of companies have chosen to invest in making products locally. These brands are now able to more quickly shift their production and deliver much-needed gear to hospitals in the United States.

Equipping hospital workers with the necessary tools has become a top priority as COVID-19 cases spread across the country. The coalition companies are joining forces to make one million masks a week that have been certified by the Department of Health and Human Services.

To do this, some of these companies have had to stop the production of their own goods. American Giant, for instance, is no longer making its regular line of clothing, which means that when its current inventory runs out, it will not be able to restock. But, much to its credit, it would rather restock hospital inventories than its own store shelves.

Research contact: @americangiant

Brown University researchers find that Adderall and Ritalin don’t improve focus and attention

March 25, 2020

Alert the public! Adderall and Ritalin are frequently prescribed to ADHD patients—and are just as commonly swallowed and snorted as late-night study aids by college students—because they are widely believed to increased concentration and focus.

Except it turns out that these stimulants don’t work that way at all:  Indeed, research conducted at Brown University has determined that Adderall, Ritalin, and other, prescription stimulants interact differently in the brain and the body than previously understood, Fast Company reports.

“We’ve known for a long time that when you give people these types of stimulants, you get enhanced performance,” said coauthor Andrew Westbrook, a post doctoral research at Brown University, in a press release. “But is that due to an increased ability, or is it due to increased motivation? We didn’t know which of these two factors were contributing and to what degree.”

The key phrase is cognitive motivation. The study shows that the medications spike mental awareness of the benefits of completing a difficult task. They do this by increasing the amount of dopamine released into a part of the brain called the striatum. Dopamine moderates motivation, and so the mind downplays the costs and difficulties of a task, while increasing the apparent advantages. The researchers found no increases in ability, Fast Company said.

This is news to the more than 16 million adults who are prescribed stimulants such as Ritalin annually, and the 5 million more who misuse prescriptions, according to a 2018 study from the National Institutes of Health.

Research contact: @FastCompany

Nudity, feline photobombs, and farts: People report side-splitting screw-ups when working from home

March 20, 2020

Right now, millions of Americans are adjusting to working at home—quarantined in small domestic spaces, along with assorted family members and pets. And Fast Company reports, it’s kind of easy to think that you are conducting business as usual, until your child inevitably runs into the room during a video call—cutting off your boss mid-sentence, shouting, “Poo poo!”

So now, the news outlet advises, we all will need to adjust to the new normal work environment, in which toddlers and flatulent dogs are free to roam.

But until we adapt, the following are some of the worst work-from-home (WFH) fails that Fast Company has see online (mostly on Twitter) during the past week. They prove that, however rough your work-from-home experience has been, it could have been a lot worse.

  • Whole house WFH day 1 report: I whispered “I LOVE YOU” loudly into what turned out to be my spouse’s active meeting headset mic.
  • Day 3 of WFH and my family started screaming while I was in a meeting and my co-worker remarked: “Now I understand why you prefer to go into the office everyday.”
  • Pro-tip: if you and your husband are both working from home, check to see if he’s on a four-way video call BEFORE running past the office naked to get a towel from the linen closet.
  • Big WFH learning for me today: Remind Ryan to put some clothes on before he goes into the bathroom first thing in the morning. Today he walked past my team video call BUTT naked.
  • The people on this conference call don’t know, but I BARELY muted my microphone before my dog did something I can only describe as a yell barf.
  • Working from home today and my cat optioned to join me for my work meeting. She means business.
  • First WFH meeting and my dog decides to show his ass.
  • Just started talking to my cat in the middle of a 68-person Zoom meeting—and i wasn’t muted!!!
  • Start meeting. Unmute to speak. Washing machine starts spinning. Hurriedly get up to escape the noise. Do not realize charger is plugged in. Proceed to loudly knock pint of water plus cup of coffee all over *everything.* Continue speaking calmly as if nothing happened.
  • I’m in a WFH meeting and my Google Home just answered a question someone on the video call asked, unprompted. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
  • Every WFH meeting so far: “I’m sorry, you go…” “No, sorry I-” “Well what I was sayi-” “I’m sorry, were you saying something?” “Go ahead, no sorry, you go…” *5 voices speak at once . Suddenly no one speaks SLOW PORTAL ZOOM INTENSIFIES DURING AWKWARD SILENCE**#COVID19
  • WFH Day 3: Was in a 15 person online meeting, thought I was muted, farted.
  • The subject of every WFH Zoom meeting is actually “Oh, so that’s where you live.”
  • WFH diary, day 1: Power went out during recording; construction workers are extra loud today; daughter walked in on a meeting singing “I like banaaaaanas” at the top of her lungs.
  • Day 1 of mandatory #WFH while watching a sick kid: pretty good, other than my 4-y/o running into the middle of a supervision meeting yelling “DADA, I HAVE TO POOP!” Textbook “disorienting moment” pedagogy!
  • My kid just walked into my video conference, yelled “Look at my penis,” and hit the button on his fart machine. Working from home going really great!

We hope that your WFH experience is going just as well—if not better.

Research contact: @FastCompany