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Listen up: New technology uses ears to measure workout stats

Valencell CEO tells SNEWS that its new technology can help fitness enthusiasts more accurately measure heart rate, calories burned and distance traveled – through their ears.

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Your ears are listening to your workout – not just the pounding of your feet on a treadmill or the grunts with every lift – but the measurable body data that evaluates it.

So imagine a world where earphones can track that fitness feedback – monitoring athletes’ distance traveled, speed, heart rate, calories burned and even VO2 max – all while they’re jamming out to their favorite tunes.

Valencell, a mobile fitness and health monitoring technology provider, is about to make it reality. The Raleigh, N.C.-based company recently received $5.5 million in Series B venture investment from Best Buy Capital and venture capital funds TDF and True Ventures to further its technology. The funding will allow Valencell ( to launch its Healthset powered earbuds, which measure the blood flow in the ears to gather fitness data, much sooner than initially planned with a product debut later this year and a full-scale launch in 2012.

“Turns out that the ear is the best place to measure stuff on the body,” Dr. Steven F. LeBoeuf, the CEO of Valencell, told SNEWS. “It’s as good as only one other place on the body – put an ‘r’ in front of ‘ear’. Be happy we didn’t pick that place.”

LeBoeuf said the earbuds have sensors inside that measure the biometrics of the body and sends the data wirelessly to a person’s music device – whether that is a cell phone or MP3 player. The ear, LeBoeuf said, shares blood flow with the hypothalamus and can easily measure cranial temperature and metabolic activity.


The sensors also accurately measure speed and distance traveled because they are on a person’s head, versus their arms or wrists.

“Where your head goes is where your body goes,” LeBoeuf said. “When you put something on your arms, it measures arm motion.”

The technology is compatible with GPS systems people are already using. LeBoeuf mentioned some of those are MapMyRun, Nike+ GPS and Adidas Micro. The technology also gives people the option to be coached using audio feedback.

Valencell was founded in 2006 to develop physiological monitoring technology. After development, the company validates the technology in clinical studies and licenses it to businesses in the fitness industry. Business partners license the technology’s design, chip (which measures the body’s signals) and the software development kit that gives partners the option to use whatever application it chooses to track the data.

Though LeBoeuf remained tight-lipped about whom all Valencell’s partners are for the Healthset earbud technology he said, “We focus on partners who have a presence in the sports and fitness markets.”

LeBoeuf said he and his team have been developing the earbud technology since shortly after it was founded and finally got it working in clinical studies through Duke University’s Center for Living Facilities in April 2010.

“I’ve always fantasized that I’d be the first to buy (Healthset earbuds),” LeBoeuf said. “The main reason we decided to (develop the technology) in 2006 is because all three founders wanted one and we’ve been working hard all these years.”

The recent funding will also allow Valencell to expand its team, increase the number of licensing deals with partners and add additional physiological monitoring capabilities in the future.

“We are looking at going deep and wide – deep into the fitness field and wide crossing over into the health space,” LeBoeuf said, adding he hopes to eventually provide doctors with the tools needed to monitor more closely their patients who are diabetic or who have hypertension.

“The mobile health market is still in its infancy,” LeBoeuf said. “The way to look at this is the fitness market is a gateway to the health market.”

— Ana Trujillo