Even if you drink eight glasses of water a day, you still might not be properly hydrated.
That’s the message Dr. Dustin Freckleton wants to get out to the public with a new product called the LVL band – a wearable fitness tracker that uses infrared light to monitor your hydration levels in real-time and offer advice about how much water you need to stay healthy.
“Everybody understands very strongly how important hydration is,” says Freckleton, who was inspired to create LVL band after suffering a severe hydration-related stroke when he was in medical school.
Even at the sprightly age of 25, Freckleton needed three months of physical therapy before he learned to walk again. And though he eventually completed medical school, he decided that becoming a practicing physician was less important than helping the public avoid the negative effects of dehydration: poor sleep, poor cognitive function, and, in extreme cases, debilitating injury.
“When we express that we not only measure hydration, but the problems it solves, like around sleep and exercise, there’s an A-ha moment for people when they say ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what I need,'” Freckleton, the CEO of the data and performance company BSX Technologies, tells Business Insider.
In the same way your eye uses incoming light to create a visual image, the LVL band shines near-infrared light into your body, which then comes back to the band in the form of a spectroscopic image – essentially a fingerprint from inside your bloodstream. Software in the band analyzes that information to measure specific biometrics, like heart rate and hydration level.
Throughout the day, the LVL band gives wearers a small vibration to notify them when their hydration levels are getting low. A smartphone app that accompanies the band offers an estimated dehydration level, say “18% dehydrated,” and advises you to drink a certain amount of water accordingly.
Over time, Freckleton says, the app will learn when you tend to exercise and go to bed and calibrate its recommendations based on those behavior patterns. For example, you might get a notification encouraging you to drink 12 ounces of water two hours before your regular workout time, so that you’re in the best state possible to exercise.
Later that night, you might get another notification reminding you to drink 10 ounces before bed, to keep you hydrated as you go 6-8 hours without water.
Freckleton believes the device is superior to other fitness trackers because of what’s under the hood. Most other trackers use green light technologies to gather biometric data, but Freckleton says the light doesn’t penetrate very far and too easily gets absorbed in the body. The margin of error in its calculations- say, in measuring heart rate – is therefore greater than it would be with the LED technology found in LVL band. LED gets 10 times deeper into the body and easily reports back to the device with the desired fingerprints.
This near-infrared technology isn’t new, Freckleton says, but its application is novel.
Hospitals, for instance, have been using infrared light therapy for years to speed up the healing process for burn victims. Even Olympic athletes prefer the technology for recovery because it helps cells regenerate more quickly, getting the athletes back to competition.
Freckleton says companies like Apple and Garmin are already making the switch to red light in some of their products because they realize how much better it is for measuring the body’s signals. When the LVL becomes available in summer 2017, the device will cost $199 (though people who pre-order through Kickstarter will receive it for up to 50% off).
BSX began researching red light technologies five years ago. To date it’s gathered data on thousands of subjects, many of whom have entered BSX’s scorching-hot “Sweat Lab” to willfully get dehydrated through vigorous exercise. As part of the research, BSX tracks subjects’ health via blood and urine samples and cross-checks the LVL band’s readings with the formal results.
So far, the data has come back wholly positive. Results shared with Business Insider show that the LVL band is highly accurate, exceeding even military or first-responder standards for hydration measurement, Freckleton says. The measured levels were only 0.32% off from the actual values tested in the lab. The band also tracks heart rate with similar accuracy.
According to Freckleton, the results are so specific that they can predict how much better you’ll perform in several hours based on how much water you drink right now. That’s how smart the data has allowed the algorithm to become.
“Before a person goes to bed, let’s say the middle of the afternoon the previous day,” he explains, “we can say, ‘Hey, you’re about 19 ounces low right now. You’re gonna sleep 23% better tonight and feel better in the morning if you drink that now.'”
He adds that the LVL band’s ability to offer specific recommendations demonstrates that data isn’t the ultimate goal – regular people often need help interpreting all those random numbers.
He admits that there are challenges in convincing people that hydration is worth adding a tracker to your wrist. Yes, people should drink when they are thirsty, Freckleton says, but that common-sense approach only gets you so far. Given his own history, Freckleton wants to empower people as much as he can. And he’s confident the data will back up the band’s utility.
“[LVL band] takes the information and puts it into action,” he says. “It gives you something very real to act on and see the benefit from the next day.”