Slashdot: Mark, you are standing in front of a couple of different interesting looking little pieces here, you have some cases and some Arduino based boards.
Mark: I do.
Slashdot: Can you explain what it is? It is called WearDuino.
Mark: It is called WearDuino. Well, the name comes from combining ‘wearable’ which is a digital device that you can wear, and ‘Arduino’ which is you know is pretty much synonymous with open source hackable hardware. And to give you the back story, here's an example: This is a wearable device. It's a Fitbit and it's very popular. The problem is, while it gathers lots of really interesting data you don't own that data--you have to go to their website and you get only snippets of the data really. And I wanted to have a much closer relationship with my own data and I think a lot of people might want that as well. And I also if I can’t change it I don't like it. So I set about to build this. Now maybe a little bit about my background would help because you have to understand how crazy I am to understand how this came about.
Slashdot: You got a couple of different careers.
Mark: Yeah, I changed careers every 10 years. I was an electronic engineer for my first decade. I became a doctor and practiced medicine. I became an accidental software entrepreneur for ten years. I've been through an IPO, a bankruptcy and a sale to General Electric. And then I worked in a kind of a government policy role for a decade. And finally I said enough, I'm going to do what's fun and what's meaningful. And that's how this came about. So I think wearable health technology is very exciting, but I wanted to be personally open source customizable by individuals. So, this is an attempt to do that. And where we're at we could look at some of these things. This is right now in pre-launch. So we're just building prototypes. This little unit here is the basic board. It has a Bluetooth wireless module. It does have the computing in it. It's an ARM Cortex M0 processor in there as well. It has a 9-degree-of-freedom sensor, so you've got an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer. But the best part is this is expandable, so this little connector here brings out all the pins and if you want to do more than just motion sensing you add other boards--I'll show you some ideas.
So this particular unit here I built an amplifier that will pick up electrocardiograms signal--that's your heartbeat. If I put my fingers on these here and hold it it'll calibrate for a moment as you can see the LED is on and it will start to flash to my heartbeat which since I'm on TV will probably be faster than normal. You can see it doing that. If you wanted to make something that sense flexes like how many times you bend your knee or how much your ankle, this is a flex sensor that you could plug on. And basically there's no limit to what you could do with it. Whatever you can imagine you can create an expansion for it. Which is like an Arduino where you plug on shield. But that's a pretty big thing to try to wear. This is very compact and then when you're experimenting with it you would use this small board and you plug the main unit onto it and now you can connect through USB and you program it with Arduino IDE and then whatever sensor you’re experimenting with goes here and all the pins are broken out, so you're not flying blind. You can tell what's going on. And just to prove that it is an Arduino at heart I just went on the web and downloaded the Mario sketch. I'll hold that here so that you can hear the music. And now I'll pull it off so you don't go crazy. That tune is stuck in my head just as it is in many other people’s heads.
Now when it comes to a case it's interesting, but it's difficult to make cases in low quantities at low cost. So we decided we're going to recycle all of the Fitbit cases since I hear that two-thirds of those aren't being used anymore, so this is just an ordinary Fitbit case and when you take the basic Wearduino board you can pop it into a Fitbit case.
Slashdot: It doesn’t seem to offer much protection there?
Mark: We're probably going to have to do a plastic case that goes over that. Now let me do this again, okay. Cover your lens and I will less clumsily
Slashdot: When you start back from a in a sense something like, you said something on the lines when it comes to a case.
Mark: Okay. So the question is how do you wear this?
Slashdot: Let me backup. Here we go, go ahead.
Mark: Okay, then it comes to how do you wear this and we want a lot of options and it's difficult to make a case at low cost in low volume and it's a matter of tooling. So we're going to recycle all those cases out there for Fitbits. So this is just a standard case from a Fitbit designed to have a clip and we made our form factor such that it would fit in there. So you could just pop it in there.
Slashdot: There have to be millions of those out there.
Mark: Yes, probably the numbers will come out and there's even an aftermarket in alternative cases which it would fit in as well. So we may make some cases. I've done some simple 3D printed cases but we're going to see if we can piggyback on some of the other things and take that off the table. So that's a concept.
Slashdot: A lot of the projects that are here on this hardware showcase are intended to I think at least hopefully make a lot of money – that doesn’t seem to be your motivation.
Mark: No, that’s really not the motivation here. When I was in my early years I had a lot of mentoring and help from people who knew what they were doing and I didn't have to pay them. The guy next door helped me learn about Ham radio. Other people helped me learn about other things I got into. I'm trying to just give back a little bit of that. So by coincidence I have knowledge in both electronics, hardware some software quite a bit in health and medicine. And I'm trying to see if we can help other people achieve their ideas or show off their inventions create a proof of concept without having cost be a big barrier. So I am trying to make this at cost just to have a little sustainable business that would go and put this out there and create a community.
Slashdot: One thing, since this is described as an open source project, being hardware open source could mean a lot of things when it comes to software or hardware. So explain in what elements and in what way are the elements of this project open source.
Mark: Basically every single thing that we would use to make it we would publish – the hardware design, the schematic, the printed circuit board layout, so you could use it or you could take it and change it and make your own. The firmware that runs on it – that's Arduino code, we published that. Various applications that might run on mobile device or a laptop and in the case of a laptop we'd like it to run on Linux, Windows and Mac. I need some help. So if you're watching this and you're a good developer get in touch because I'm a little stronger on the hardware and the firmware than the software. So we want to publish all of it. Not only that, but create a community that shares knowledge. So if you invent a new sensor board we want to put that out there so that people can see it and they can learn from that when they do their own work.
Slashdot: One other thing that comes to mind is that, when it comes to anything medical, I picture that there is this large barrier that is the regulatory system that says that, if it is medical and touches your body that it is hard to get approved.
Mark: That's a really good question you've asked. So there's a secret code. As long as you don't promise to diagnose or treat disease and you say it's a consumer device for your own interest and entertainment it's okay. As long as you don't make something that's going to hurt someone. So here's the thing: A coin cell battery won't hurt you unless you swallow it. Okay. Three volts won't hurt you, touching this won’t hurt you. So nothing needs to be FDA approved as long as we don't say this will let you diagnose a disease or treat a disease. This is something to learn about yourself, experiment, play with, it is all consumer and experimental so we really don't have to make it FDA approved. The minute you make it FDA approved the price goes up. I am letting you in on a secret by a factor of a 100 if not more because that takes it into another world which I was in and I'm done with.
Slashdot: Well, I should point out, this is part of the quantified self movement in a larger sense.
Mark: Definitely. I'm a Quantified Selfer, I'm one of the organizers in Portland and this is an ideal tool if you're interested in understanding yourself better--your habits, your behaviors, your physical activity, your mental state. These tools can help you do that. And especially if you can customize them it's much more motivating. So a lot of these tools if you buy them and you wear them you get bored. Because they're not exactly telling you the story of yourself, they are telling you the story interpreted through someone else's profit motive.
Slashdot: One more thing then right now, although I know you said you’re stronger on the hardware than the software side, if you have one of these devices that have been gathering data, what’s the output that you get to see, is there a GUI form, you can say here is my heartbeat for the last 24 hours, what you can look at?
Mark: Yes, well depending on what sensor you hook to it, basically we're going to say CSV files or sort of the standard basic way that you should be able to get anything you want. So here's a time series of data like, here's your acceleration in X, Y and Z axis. Here's your EKG waveform every 5 milliseconds so you get the raw data. Now if you want to in your app process that--great. But none of the raw data will be hidden.
Slashdot: When will these be available?
Mark: Well we are in pre-launch but we're very close. We're just building prototypes now to figure out how much it'll cost and where to get them made. So we hope to launch it, I would say in the next one, two or three months. And if you'd like to keep in touch and know when it launches then you should go to crowdsupply.com – that’s a crowdfunding platform for open source hardware projects, and we're on there as WearDuino. And put your e-mail in there or follow @wearduino on Twitter--we'll let you know when it's ready and we hope you can join our community.