Nobo sees the light on hydration


Innovation: B60 hydration monitor

The number of wearable fitness devices seems to be ever-increasing. Whether it’s devices that track the number of steps walked, your heart rate or how you slept, there are plenty of choices. A Pewaukee-based health care technology startup hopes it can build a business measuring users’ hydration levels.

The B60 wearable hydration monitor from Nobo uses light to measure a person’s hydration level.

The B60 wearable hydration monitor from Nobo uses light to measure a person’s hydration level.

Many of those involved at NoBo have a background in medical devices and health care information technology. With the development of new sensors, the company’s goal is to better understand the human body.

The first product, B60, is a wearable hydration monitor the company launched in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The device uses optical technology to continuously monitor a person’s hydration levels. Different light wavelengths are projected into the body and the device can tell whether someone is over- or under-hydrated based on how the light is absorbed by tissues in the body.

“Fundamentally, it actually lends itself to a fairly small, low-power device, which is what you need for a wearable,” said Russ Rymut, Nobo founder and chief executive officer.

There are a number of potential applications for a wearable hydration device, but Rymut said the inspiration was an observation his mother made a number of years ago. She was helping an elderly couple in their 80s and noticed the couple and their friends just didn’t consume a lot of food or liquids. She saw them continually going to the hospital and felt their hydration levels may be an underlying cause of some of their issues. Part of the problem was there wasn’t an easy way to monitor their hydration. The traditional methods include urine or blood analysis, or tracking changes in body mass.

Rymut thought he had an idea of how to measure hydration on an ongoing basis. He said he “literally bought some parts off of eBay” and built a prototype.

He’s now validating data from his third-generation prototype and hopes to have a model delivered to targeted clients by the middle of the year. Beyond the elderly, Rymut sees a number of potential applications for the device, including hospitals, armed forces, firefighters and athletes.

“One of the things we’ve had to work through is which of those markets do we want to look at,” Rymut said.

He ultimately settled on high-level athletes, including college and professional teams. Part of the reason was the ability to sit down with a training staff and see how the device is performing in real-time. The athletes will be able to monitor their own fluid intake, but the staff will also be able to track it through mobile devices.

The B60 is going to initially be targeted toward high-level athletes, but developers see a number of possible uses.

The B60 is going to initially be targeted toward high-level athletes, but developers see a number of possible uses.

Rymut said the idea is for the device to have a simple display that tells the user if he or she is over- or under-hydrated. He wants to get into the other markets where he thinks there is potential, but right now it is a matter of prioritizing.

“We certainly want to create a solution just for recreational athletes,” he said.

One area in which Rymut is confident the device will be able to perform is accuracy. He said that because the monitoring is continuous, he’s been able to watch as users approach the threshold of 2 percent body weight lost.

“That’s kind of when the bad things start to happen,” he said, noting he’s able to see the correlation between the device’s reading and what the user is experiencing.

Rymut said he returned from CES energized by the experience and is now looking to secure funding and make hires both in technology and on the customer side.

He said one of the hardest parts of launching the company was taking the leap to go for it. He credited his family for its support in the endeavor.

“It’s just not going to happen unless you have the support,” he said.

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