I freely admit that I perhaps have an excessive amount of fitness gadgets. There’s the Withings smart scale that connects to the HappyScale app that connects to Apple Health that connects to MyFitnessPal that connects to Fitbit that connects to Strava that connects to my TomTom running watch.
So, in many ways I am the perfect buyer for the ShapeScale, a 3D body scanner that can provide enough information for even the thirstiest data fanatic. The ShapeScale, which launches today for $499 pre-order, uses body scanning to create a 360-degree, 3D digital avatar of you, complete with measurements and body composition stats. Co-founders Alexandre Wayenberg and Martin Kessler visited TheVerge offices in NYC to give a demo and also fulfill my lifelong dream of getting weighed in front of my entire office.
The round scale looks like any other, but there’s an arm extending from it that has a camera. This arm circles around you about four times, taking extremely detailed photos of your body. Using the combination of these images and your actual weight, ShapeScale creates the avatar. The entire process is supposed to take about 30 seconds. (It’s worth noting that ShapeScale isn’t the only 3D body scanner out there. There’s also one called Naked. With Naked, though, the scale itself spins you around instead of having an arm that rotates around you.)
Then, on an app, you see the data. It shows your weight, of course, alongside measurements — hips, waist, thighs, arms, and so on. It also gives you body composition and even provides body fat percentage by body part, so you can know if your torso is 20 percent fat. You’re supposed to do it wearing form-fitting clothing, which I was not, so I didn’t receive my measurements. But I did see my avatar, and it looked extremely accurate. The co-founders say that ShapeScale’s technology could work well with e-commerce; they’re among those collaborating with some clothing companies to explore the idea of letting people virtually try on products.
Of course, you can use a tape measure to get measurements, too, and that only costs a few bucks. But nobody wants to do that every day. Wayenberg and Kessler hope that having all of this detailed information will motivate people to continue to improve their fitness goals. A lot of people get discouraged when they try to exercise because they’re not seeing results, the duo said. Either the numbers aren’t budging even though you’re losing fat and gaining muscle, or you can’t see the progress. The scale gives you the measurements; the app helps you set weight and body comp goals, and even measurement goals for specific parts.
Several studies suggest that 3D optical scanning can actually be quite accurate. The technology has been around for over two decades, says John Shepherd, a professor of biomedical imaging at the University of California-San Francisco. (He is conducting NIH-funded research on what we can learn from body scans, and is still recruiting for the studies.) The initial scanners were made using laser-scanning technology, like what’s used to scan bar codes in grocery stores. The newer technologies usually project some type of pattern, and the algorithms compare how the pattern looks projected onto your body versus how it would be on a flat surface. From there, it predicts the shape of your body.
The original scanners cost over $100,000, and the ones Shepherd uses in his lab are about $20,000. In recent years, though, the costs have been going down rapidly. The Xbox Kinect, for example, has been the base technology for several scanning devices that are relatively inexpensive, according to Shepherd. He can’t evaluate the ShapeScale itself, but says it’s feasible that it would give decent results, though there are always quality controls necessary to make sure the scan is taken correctly.
For me, though, the real question was how helpful all this data really is. On the one hand, I love the idea of having these objective measurements and an easy way to track progress. But I also had an eating disorder in high school and know that too much information can be overwhelming, or even backfire and cause obsession. (When I brought the eating disorder concern up to Wayenberg and Kessler, they mentioned that they were interested in building reminders. For example, food-tracking apps remind you of your minimum daily calories if you’re logging too little. Maybe they could build a reminder not to weigh yourself too many times in one day.)
All this data can be useful for a lot of people, especially athletes who are training, says Michael Sachs, an exercise psychologist at Temple University. “It can definitely be motivating,” he says, “and some of it can be self-reinforcing.” For example, he adds, there was a study done with Nike+ that showed that people who uploaded more data tended to stick to running more, presumably because they liked being able to track their progress.
But don’t look to this to be a magic bullet if you’re not already inclined to exercise. John Raglin, a kinesiology professor at Indiana University-Bloomington, says that there’s not a lot of data to suggest that more information alone would help you stick to a routine. Study after study shows that exercise is simply not the best way to lose weight. Body changes happens slowly, and most people lack the discipline to keep going if they’re not seeing big, immediate results — so knowing you have 0.002 percent body fat less than yesterday might not be enough. It sounds cliche, but people who continue, do so because of the immediate benefits, like stress relief and having more energy.
Plus, too much information can be discouraging for some. “I can see a situation where you’re faced with the reality of gradual change that exercise results in, and you’re like, ‘you gotta be kidding me, I did all this and that’s what happens?’” Raglin says. “You should feel good about any change, but that sort of information can be not terribly motivating when you expect the pounds to melt off like we’re told exercise supposedly does.”
There’s no one “right” level of information, and different things motivate different people. Ultimately, say Raglin and Sachs, something like the ShapeScale would be best for those who already know a lot about fitness and can contextualize the numbers. “This data could be very meaningful, but you need someone who can say, ‘you’ve gained this much, this is good, it puts you at the top 5 percent or 10 percent and this is important for these reasons,’” says Raglin. “If you don’t have someone who can do that for you, or have that sort of knowledge, then it’s just sort of raw information that won’t be that helpful.”
Published at Wed, 10 May 2017 13:00:04 +0000