Sunday, June 26, 2016

Soltrackr product review

As a mobile device sensor community insider, I couldn't resist doing a premarket review on one of the coolest gadgets coming to the market. Disclaimer: I know way more about how this product actually works than I can say on my blog, and it totally kills me not to be able to actually tell you all the amazing science that goes into this thing. However, as a random nonspecific example, I happen to know that some of the algorithms used in the device use custom built solar models engineered by NASA space mission contractors. By partnering with the best in mobile sensing hardware and science, Soltrackr brings serious firepower to their product.


Soltrackr Product Review

Target market: Skiers, hikers, swimmers, surfers, beach goers, campers, runners, coaches, parents, health conscious individuals, tech lovers

Overview: Bluetooth sensor key fob featuring combo UV sensor and photoplethysmography (PPG) heart rate sensor with an intuitive and insightful app that delivers personalized, relevant health information for lifestyle management.

Conclusion: Few devices will actually change your life by changing your habits. The Soltrackr sensor accessory is one of those products.

Soltrackr has some of the hottest sensor tech to ever go into mobile devices, but you aren't buying just jazzy hardware, you are getting a health management app that combines the best in solar science and cardio health. The user interface doesn't just spout a single number like UV index that means different things to different skin types. Soltrackr will teach you how to make personalized decisions about sun exposure that actually benefit your health. It doesn't just measure your  heart rate, it shows you how to lower your stress. Soltrackr heralds the emerging trend in Sensor 2.0 devices (sensor+service), going beyond measurement to lifestyle management.

 During hardware qualification, in a globe-spanning, three month side-by-side test, the hardware-software hybrid UV sensor tech in Soltrackr outclassed several meteorological grade UV Index instruments costing thousands of dollars. And, the heart rate sensor is FDA grade. But what excites me most about this product is the user experience. You actually get useful help:

-When should I go out to get vitamin D without burning?
-What is the UV level at my location?
-Can I get enough vitamin D before I burn if I wear a t-shirt and shorts?
-What is my burn time with SPF50 sunscreen?
-How long can I be outside with my skin type?
-How does the sun condition affect my skin aging?

This is stuff the growing health conscious population actually cares about. No longer do you have to go off of a generic UV index weather prediction for an entire region. You can measure it where you are with the Soltrackr UV sensor, automatically taking into account local effects like altitude, cloud cover and the varying UV reflectivity of local terrain such as sand, cement, snow and water. I look forward to using Soltrackr to help me protect my kids from harmful UVA and UVB rays, while allowing me to get the vitamin D I need to keep my immune system in balance. Vitamin D is critical in managing MS and other autoimmune conditions, and research is continuing to indicate the positive benefits of sunlight for managing depression and the unsung mobile-device enabled insomnia epidemic. But, too much sun can can negatively affect your skin. Knowing the right amount of sun exposure is easy when you have a product like Soltrackr that delivers metrics based on your individual skin type and locale.

Biofeedback is another feature I am excited about. When I'm stressed, my multiple sclerosis symptoms (like losing feeling in my right hand) are much worse. I value having the ability to see my stress level and actively reduce it using biofeedback.

Once my Soltrackr has been delivered, I will update the review with notes on battery life and cross platform bluetooth functionality.

The Soltrackr team boasts talent from some of the most innovative sensor teams in silicon valley, with veteran developers of advanced hardware platforms for mobile phones including sensors and power management ICs in some of the highest volume smart phones on the market. As the first company to take this level of technology and make it accessible to both Android and iOS mobile device users, Soltrackr is taking a step toward making a difference in health for active people.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

My Favorite DIY Suppliers

I rapid prototype several new sensor and hardware concepts each week. My productivity at the concept stage for medical sensor devices leans heavily on open source platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

Open source hardware hubs like SparkFun and Adafruit are always on a techie's radar with their easy-to-use, well-documented examples and active developer communities, plus instructional videos, project ideas and tech support. These are great places to get started and to challenge yourself with new projects.

Adafruit's NeoPixel products and code examples are fun way to light up your projects with inexpensive LED color strips.

I also like the inexpensive and versatile 3.3V 8MHz Sparkfun Adruino Pro Mini microcontroller boards.  The Pro Mini is useful for programming a device that works by itself and doesn't need to talk over serial to a computer. 3V operation means you can talk to most low power sensor ICs over I2C without a level shifter. Without the on-board USB connector it's a little cheaper than options like the Nano or Due. Don't forget to order the FTDI board, or you won't be able to program it. (Avoid the buggy Pro Micros, though.)
If you are just getting started with DIY and hardware projects, there is nothing better to start with than the Arduino Uno. You will find examples aplenty plastered all of the internet and most of the code you find will work on your Arduino Uno without modification. You can get them from the standby's mentioned above, or if you are cheap try these alternative suppliers:
China based and dirt cheap, UCTRONICS may have what you need at a fraction of the cost of a US-based supplier, like Arduino Pro mini's for $2.38! (vs. $10 at Sparkfun and Adafruit). If you can wait a few weeks, UCTRONICS will be your lowest cost source of sensors, development boards and microcontrollers, plus they source sometimes hard-to-find hardware like Arducam's NOIR camera module for Raspberry Pi with infrared sensitivity. Be sure to stock up on jumper wire and headers, but don't expect any documention for development boards! You are on your own--but at least you have some extra money left over in your project budget. is a US-based supplier of hardware and tools. Pic up cheap power supples, soldering irons and other accessories. If you save up and get an order over $50 or $100 MPJA often runs specials and you can land yourself a free multimeter or cordless solder iron--pretty sweet. Faster than UCTRONICS, but not as rock bottom cheap, head to MPJA when you need it faster than snail slow, but still want to save a penny. has much more than just hardware for projects. Get kits, gadgets, personal electronics and other geekware for dirt cheap. Fast delivery, low prices and so much to choose, from robot parts and apparel to DIY supplies and car accessories--even makeup (!?). With roots in China, but US stock, DX is like a geek-worthy overstock warehouse with stock products, too--truly the best of both worlds. Fair warning: if you spend all your birthday money at DX on drones and drone parts, don't blame me for not warning you!
Removable Arms, Excellent Flexibility, 360-degree Rolling, Three-level Speed Control, Headless Mode