LVL’s ‘Hydration Sensor’ Rises from the Dead, Gets Acquired

A few people have asked this morning my thoughts on the news that BSX’s LVL was acquired by Gideon Health, and further yet gave the backers the option of either getting a refund, or getting a mystery box device at an unknown time (between now and never). For those that haven’t followed this long drawn-out saga, essentially some three years ago BSX decided to pivot away from their well-respected lactate threshold sensor and instead focused on a ‘hydration sensor wearable’. Basically a small band you wear that purports to measure your current hydration level.

In theory, such a device would have wide-ranging uses that make those in sport look hideously small. Be it medical use, government, or any of other use cases – the business would be worth billions. If, and this is a big if – the technology worked. Unfortunately, as it became clear over time – the technology definitely didn’t work. At least not in the wearable size/form factor. And even outside of that form factor, as former BSX/LVL employees slowly spilled the story – much of the data LVL was basing their claims on was skewed towards given results. In other words, they weren’t real tests – and I even called them on it in some of their supposed test videos.

All of which ignores the claims by some employees (then current and former), that BSX/LVL misled investors and backers (two different groups) about the status and timelines of the project – going so far as to imply that the initial dates given at the project launch were already known to be fake. Their PR company even backed away from them.

Oh, wait, you wanted my thoughts on BSX/LVL’s acquisition by Gideon?

I don’t know – my initial gut reaction was pretty clear at this point: Man, they continued the con job again! Well played!

Because that’s my gut reaction. And it could be wrong (but probably isn’t based on the mountain of evidence to the contrary). After all, they suckered Samsung into being a small investor as well. People at even large companies make mistakes. If Samsung had thought there was more to this, they’d have invested more and eventually made hundreds of millions or billions off of this. That’s the market potential for something like this in the right sectors.

Sure – perhaps in the last year since going silent they managed to make a working wearable device. A year ago (Nov 2018) was the last update until last night, and in that update they showed this thingy below, which was apparently their new device for understanding the ‘ground truth’ hydration status (and implication their older device was full of shitake).

image

Or perhaps they managed to make some reliable device for measuring hydration in a larger scale. If we look at CEO Dustin Freckleton’s statement to backers (full copy here), they imply that:

“Having completed these efforts, we found ourselves with a fully redesigned, mass manufacturable hydration tracking technology that had been extensively validated by numerous academic and industry partners. Then came the question of the best way to build and ship – a multifactorial, highly complex question.

By this point we had exhausted most of our development capital. And while there were several options ahead of us, refunding pledges was not an option. As Kickstarter is not a store, but a platform to help creators find the resources and support they need to make their ideas a reality, we had used the funds in pursuit of this mutually shared vision.”

Except here’s the problem with this, as noted earlier on – if indeed they did create such a device (yet, never bothered to even show it to backers) – then why Gideon Health? Why a company that has virtually no online presence? If you poke around the web there are a few Gideon-named health ventures. BSX/LVL doesn’t link to any one specific company – so it’s hard to know exactly which one. But all of them are tiny – under 10 people. One is backed by a known investment firm – but again, it’s a small company.

I don’t doubt that BSX/LVL did sell to a company named Gideon Health, and I don’t doubt that backers will somehow magically get a refund if they fill out the survey forms they were sent last night (myself included) – but there’s approximately not a snowball’s chance in hell there’s a real device that’s scalable and capable of being manufactured today or that you’ll get anytime in the next few years.

And the reason is simple: If so, they’d be swallowed by a major medical company. And that’d have happened years ago.

But they haven’t. Again – this type of technology, if proven, has massive applications outside of sport – primarily in medical and defense, but also industrial. Entities like the US Military would instantly buy this simple hydration-measuring wearable for every soldier in warmer combat zones (where dehydration is a real issue). Hospitals around the world would use it to measure patients. And yet…BSX gets picked up by a no-name company with ghost-like online presence?

C’mon – it doesn’t pass the sniff test. To me, BSX/LVL just managed to add Gideon as yet another in the line of people tricked. Which is even more incredulous given all the evidence floating around there to the contrary. When LVL first launched on Kickstarter, we had to believe the data they published – we had no meaningful choice. We had to operate on their existing BSX track record – which was mostly good. Plus, it’s a Kickstarter – sometimes things just go sideways. But today, we have mountains of data to the contrary.

image

So to all those asking, here’s my advice to backers: Take your $129 pledge (in my case) as an early Christmas present to yourself. Buy something – anything! Because that’s more than you’ll ever get from Gideon/BSX/LVL.

Wait, what’s that? You want some suggestions? No problem, here’s some better ways you can spend $129:

Amazon Echo Wireless Ear Buds: So you can start listening to Happy by Pharrell Williams…on repeat!

A Frozen Margarita Machine (serious, only $37) and a massive box of margarita mix refills: To continue getting happier.

Two of the World’s Largest Coffee Mugs: This way you’ll always be hydrated – it’s nearly a foot wide and tall!

The ‘Bad People’ and Cover Your A$$ets card games…and still have money left for that margarita machine and a few mix packets.

A portable mini scalp massager hat: So when you’re head starts to hurt thinking about LVL, you can relax

With that, I’ll let you continue to resume your Tuesday morning. Plus, some good sports technology announcements coming later today (plus the one I mentioned yesterday too). It’s gonna be a threesome kinda day!

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36 Comments

  1. David E.

    So. . .I’m guessing this isn’t the industry-changing news that you teased in yesterday’s post? :-p

    • Chan

      Yeah been on Twitter like a hawk waiting for such news.

    • I think we’ll finally have those details in the next 1-2 hours. Or I’m kinda giving up on waiting for their comment. I want to include the companies comment because it’s such a big deal.

      They say they’re putting it together, but it sounds like it’s taken a bit of time because of holidays and weekends and people being all over the place.

      Supposedly it’s not just ‘No comment’, but we’ll see.

    • Benjamin

      Anything related to adaptive training plans on “Garmin Coach”? I just stumbled across that on garmin.com While looking for a watch to recommend to a buddy of mine (naturally, I told him to come browse your site), I hadn’t heard of the forerunner 45.

  2. Honestly Ray, you should get down off that fence and just say it how it is. No-one likes an equivocator

    oh…wait a minute 😉

    Nice article.

  3. Frank

    I bet you could also buy a nice Pizza oven for that $129,-

  4. Craig Robertson

    Ha ha like the coffee mug, but has a choking hazard warning on the Amazon page. Small parts, not suitable for children under 3 years. What..?

    Yes wish there was a hydration sensor available as in past i didn’t drink enough when on the bike and caused some health issues. The notifications on the Edge 530 are handy enough, but usually appear when you don’t want them too such as during intervals when you are trying to keep your power steady.

  5. I think there is one other thing that needs saying. Kickstarter runs one of the more level crowdfunding playing fields, yet even _they_ failed to handle this well. So many backers called the bluff, pointing at discrepancies and failure to comply with Kickstarter guidelines but to no avail. I wonder if Kickstarter finally had a part to play in this move, now more than three years after the pledge?

    Incidentally, for people not feeling thirst properly, this would have been a super cool gizmo, destined to save many a headache. Alas, it was not to be.

  6. Kevin in De Pijp

    Reminds me of Theranos on a tiny scale, except not even the basic core concept of Theranos passed the smell test (which was that constantly monitoring dozens of blood levels of various medical indices would predict and prevent disease and improve health). At least these guys had a solid core idea, as you point out.

    I appreciate your frankness, here and in your other reviews and posts.

  7. D

    I was one of the core engineers behind the original BSX Insight. One of the cooler projects I ever worked on. Probably ~75% of the firmware was written by me before they took over support. It was the first project I ever worked on that was an actual shipping consumer product. And I was pretty proud when the LVL set fund raising records.

    I had almost nothing to do with the second generation project. I tweaked one of their beta firmwares more than a year ago to show them how to be a simultaneous ANT+, BLE master, and BLE slave device all at the same time.

    Oh well, maybe I’ll get another crack at a fitness gadget project some day.

    Now the memory of it will always be tarnished by their mismanagement.

  8. Kevin MacArthur

    Will they put the BSX server online again and make those of us that bought that have a working product?

    • Jason

      I wish there was an option to keep using my BSX Insight too. Even if they didn’t want to deal with the overhead of keeping a server running, they could open source the server code so someone else could host it (or users could have a local server). I really like the protocol they used for establishing your zones.

      Jason

  9. J w

    On the subject of hydration measuring. Any opinion on the Gatorade patch?

    • rob

      Gatorade patch isn’t a hydration monitor it looks to measure water loss and sodium loss per a specifc unit area of skin, presumably using microtube technology. Like all these supposed hydration technologies they are all surogates they can an always will only tell part of the story. Knowing your likely salt and water loss “may” have a benefit in planning likely fluid requirements. But the patch isn’t real time and won’t tell you how your body adapts or is adapting to temparature changes, the stress response to exercise, or actual salt and water intake. It may well help with planning a fluid stratergy for an endurnance event if you have to take everything with you. But if you have easy access to fluids etc then you could probably just rely on thirst.

    • Carlos Vazquez

      In the video they say they’re one time use.
      Technically you could retest as needed?
      But agree on the rest.

    • GLT

      I’m glad there are companies developing products in the area, but a disposable solution isn’t what I would prefer. They are targeting use for special events rather than routine training, but a durable sensor stills seems like a better end point if we can get there.

      To an extent, in-ride hydration & UV protection fall into a class of issues/opportunities that seem easier to handle w/ basic workflows than with technology solutions. Having a timer remind you to take a drink or apply sunblock is low-cost. Not at all optimized scientifically & results in no hard data from measurements, but can be made to work reliably to avoid negative side-effects during routine training.

      The combination of predictive ride-planning software and a sensor that quantifies rider hydration quality prior to the ride starting would be awesome. Starting a race low on fluids and having a sensor nag you constantly to drink could get distracting.

  10. Stuart

    Moot point for me. I got my chargeback a long time ago; Kickstarter booted me off the supporter list a month or two after it was confirmed by my bank. A pity that the project failed – I DNF’d at IMNZ, not even halfway through the run, thanks to dehydration. The LVL would have been invaluable to me, had it been developed and shipped as promised. (I may well go back for another crack in a couple of years, but it’s not a priority for me right now.)

    Still, at least the long-suffering backers will get something back. If it were me, I’d take the refund and run – a mystery box with no indication of what might be inside, or when it will appear? No thanks, not after the debacle that was the Kickstarter project.

    • Rob

      Stuart, sorry to hear about IMNZ, I’m interested as to what makes you think it was dehydration that meant you had to stop. Did you have a low blood pressure? did it fall when you stood up? Was your plasma sodium high? High plasma urea or creatinine? I ask this as people like LVL rely on the “if only I’d had” to try and sell stuff like this with little evidence that its actually going to measure what they say it is and that it will make any difference. Fluid balance is one of the most complicated things in the human body with millions of years of evolution to sense, measure, control and adapt to. As an critical care doctor it is nieve to think that even if they or anyone else can take a measure of local tissue fluid that they can extrapolate that into a global hydration assessment.

    • Stuart

      Oh, that’s simple: weight. Ironman weighed me before the race, and again in medical after I bailed. I’d lost four kilos in about twenty-four hours; there aren’t many ways one can do that. My symptoms on the course weren’t too bad, but there was enough warning that I decided to pull the pin rather than risk continuing for the rest of the run. I still had over halfway (for that leg) to go; I might have chanced it if I’d had “only” five km or so. In other words, my comment’s with the benefit of hindsight, not something I used as a reason to bail.

      Implicit in my comment is the assumption that, had LVL been developed and shipped, it would have worked – ie, what I’m saying is that a valid measurement of hydration to warn me I needed to drink (rather than LVL itself) would have been invaluable.

      I’m still happy with how I went. I was never in it for a Kona shot or a “fast” time; it was all about giving it a shot and seeing how I’d do.

    • Axel M

      Well, maybe a “hydration sensor” for running could be a kind of “power meter” in the shoe, measuring the impact forces while running. These have to be a direct function of the forces applied to the ground by pushing off (“jump height”) and the weight of the runner. Could easily be calibrated by static ground forces aka weight while standing still. Just a thought…

    • Rob

      Stuart, thats the thing i am not convinced that anything like LVL would actually help you. By your weight you clearly lost a significant amount of fluidover that period. But LVL wouldn’t have told you what was in it and what you need to replace it with. Replace it all with water and you risk hyponatraemia, too much isotonic or high salt containing fluid and sure your weight will go back up but you’ll still have a water deficit.

    • Rob

      Stuart, thats the thing i am not convinced that anything like LVL would actually help you. By your weight you clearly lost a significant amount of fluidover that period. But LVL wouldn’t have told you what was in it and what you need to replace it with. Replace it all with water and you risk hyponatraemia, too much isotonic or high salt containing fluid and sure your weight will go back up but you’ll still have a water deficit.

    • Stuart

      Fair point, Rob. So what you’re saying is that the whole hydration thing is far more complex than I – as somebody who is NOT in the medical field – would have thought. I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you. (Well, not that shocked. 🙂 )

      Thank you – I learnt something today.

      And Axel – weight is a very imprecise way of measuring hydration. Pick up some goodies at the special needs station? Your weight has gone up. Run through a puddle of water? Your weight has gone up. There are too many ways your weight (as measured at your shoe) can vary that have absolutely nothing to do with hydration; I honestly don’t see that approach getting off the ground. In my case, it was a clear indication of dehydration (because I lost SO MUCH weight in such a short time) – but it’s not good enough for the precise, small scale measurements you need to forestall dehydration in a timely manner.

  11. JR

    I’m a backer, and I never received the survey.

  12. I was super excited when the latest update came through.Not because I thought it would actually deliver anything, but because I anticipated thousands of witty and entertaining responses. Some of them were pretty good. But now, my curiosity is fired up – I want to know what happens! I’m pretty worried that the whole project is just going to completely disappear and we will never hear another word about it, and be left forever wondering if we just made the wrong choice and if the OTHER people got their money back/a fully functional wearable hydration monitor with bonus personal submarines/a robotic garden gnome (nice idea Crispin).

    To fix that problem, I decided to set up a thread that all the backers can subscribe to, and I’m now going to plug it here – hope you don’t mind Ray… My plan is that as soon as anyone gets any progress they can share it to the thread and then we can all see what happens. I have called it the LVL Owners Sharing Thread. If I’d had more time I would have tried to come up with something that had an appropriate acronym. I’ve set it up on my existing blog. Hope you’ll join me there, and update us all if you see any progress. The link to it is link to tourletour.com and depending on how the comments for this are set you may need to cut and paste that into your browser address bar…

  13. Burned by LVL

    Signing up for the refund, but to be honest I don’t actually expect to receive any money. Everything they’ve done in relation to this device has been designed to mislead the backers and with that in the back of my mind, I’m guessing that this “stealth-mode” company is just some shell company set up by Dustin to get around the kickstarter disclosure requirements of a failed project which requires disclosure of how the money was spent. I’m sure it wouldn’t look good if they were to disclose that a signifcant portion of the funding was used to pay for a marketing firm to hype the original project. (they used a kickstarter marketing company that takes a percentage of whatever money is raised).

    People have been asking questions about how the refund will be processed and not a single additional comment from them. Plus the one week turnaround for making a decision without any info, when they’ve neglected to post a single update (or comment) for almost an entire year. This smells of rush rush to try to bury the project.

    If I look through my crytsal ball, this is how I see it playing out. If you go for the final product (if it is in fact real), you will get a basic tracker that does not do real time hydration monitoring and probably does the track your arm movement to detect when you’ve taken a drink. Whatever it is, the retail cost of it will be less than the amount that you funded. If you go for the refund, they will attempt to charge it back to your credit card, which won’t go through since almost all the cards have expired by now. Since they’ve indicated that they will no longer post to the kickstarter page (why would they specifically say this?), they won’t be able to communicate about other refund options (like a check). They will then wash their hands and say they tried and keep whatever money is leftover.

    I’d be happy to admit I’m wrong on this, but I think you have to look at this from their point of view trying to protect themselves any continue the sham. They have no interest in looking out for the backers.

  14. PeterF

    I too went for the refund; actually before reading the above but for similar reasons which is basically “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”

  15. Ron

    For someone like me this had the potential to be a lifesaver. I have Crohn’s Disease and have had my colon removed. I’m borderline chronic dehydration at all times even though I have to go to the hospital twice a week for 2 bags of IV fluids. I’m sticking with the project in hopes they come up with something that works. I wrote the money off years ago along with other projects that were never successful. It’s important enough to me that I’ll stick with it.

  16. Julie

    Greetings.

    I’m the former Principal engineer from LVL between 2016 and 2018. I’m not at liberty, because still outstanding NDA, to discuss what happened at LVL during my time there. What I can say are two things –

    1). I didn’t leave because LVL hadn’t developed excellent technology. I left because I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to return to a very large (Fortune 100) workplace and do amazing work in an exciting geographical region). I kept waiting to see all manner of conspiracy theories related to the departure of various people, but that didn’t happen. LVL had, and continues to have, an amazing portfolio of products.

    2). Many of the comments made by DC Rainmaker are unfounded. I obviously can’t say how, but I found many of them highly offensive. I thought for sure the baseless attacks were over and done with, but apparently I was mistaken. They are so inaccurate and misguided that I have no trust in much of anything Ray has to say.

    My final comments are this – Ray, you’ve done yourself a disservice by engaging in the sort of Internet rumor-mongering which should be beneath you. Your attacks, in particular, against Dustin, were baseless. I can wholeheartedly recommend Dustin as a boss, or businessman, without reservation. If the management team was guilty of anything it was trying to do too much, too soon.

    • Hi Julie-

      Thanks for the note.

      However, what you’re saying doesn’t mesh with numerous former (and also at the time of other posts, current), employees that contacted me. All of whose stories were fairly consistent.

      But it doesn’t seem like you’ve read the previous posts. All of it is very factual – for the simple reason it’s based on dissecting what LVL published in numerous backer updates. They were often outright lies, and at best in other cases deception. I highlighted numerous cases of those.

      If LVL had an incredible portfolio of viable products – it would have been bought by now by some company other than a mysterious entity with no actual website or presence whatsoever. But that didn’t happen. Samsung would have doubled-down on it (either for its own purposes or investment purposes). That also didn’t seem to happen, or if it did, no record existed of it (somewhat rare in this day and age).

      LVL deciding to give a refund to people doesn’t change history. It doesn’t change multiple years of deceiving people about the state of the product.

    • Stuart

      I’m a former backer of the LVL Kickstarter. (My bank gave me a chargeback shortly after Ray’s original post excoriating BSX; as such, I cannot check the contents of the “backers only” updates, and have to go by memory.)

      The single biggest problem, and the number one reason I bailed, was simple: communication. When Ray posted about the bad situation at BSX, the company needed to get out in front of the article. A short update to say, “We’re aware of the post and are pulling together a formal response and update; sit tight, we’ll have it out inside a week” was all it needed initially, followed by a detailed and SPECIFIC rebuttal of the assertions.

      Instead, the company chose to ignore it, or provide vague, meaningless comments that didn’t touch on specific details. There wasn’t even a comment beyond “don’t believe everything you see on the internet” for over a week.

      This lack of response – to a long standing tech writer, mind, who has a solid track record and reputation – didn’t inspire confidence.

      Then there were the broken promises. There was a specific promise of regular, frequent updates after the first rumbling of discontent (19th August, 2017.) That promise went out the window practically immediately, with updates going from monthly, to quarterly, to once in four months, and then nothing for a year.

      Maybe you’re right, and LVL truly had “an amazing portfolio of products”. If so, management was grossly inept at a core job: communicating that to the backers of one of the products. That, alone, was enough to have me running at the first opportunity: it strongly implied that the lack of discipline and organisation went deeper within the company.

  17. Egee

    Does anyone have a link to the survey? I pre-purchased and haven’t received any notification.

    • I think the survey closed on Friday. There was a link on the kickstarter page, which I could see and access fine, but this guy commenting here also had trouble with it: link to tourletour.com

      I would guess though if you didn’t fill it out you are now in for the mystery box. Hopefully it’ll be great!