What happens when you bring together a group of academics dead set on taking their studies out of school to drive change in the real world? Something MAGNI-ficent. Meet Magniware, a new startup in Toronto, which has developed a connected patch called Magni that sticks to your body like a second skin and contains sensors to measure your wellbeing to optimize your life.
The founding team behind Magniware banded together out of the University of Toronto with a common goal: action. “We were disheartened by the amount of basic science research and basic engineering research that has already been completed and is accessible but isn’t being brought forward to make people’s lives better,” CEO Alexander Mosa told BetaKit in an interview. “We wanted to bring a team together that would be able to take these technologies and knowledge that is at the threshold of being instantiated and then instatiate it.”
Magni is a compact patch the size of a bandage (5x3cm) that is entirely flexible.
To do this, Mosa, a virologist at Massey College, and his co-founder at the time, Miles Montgomery, a biochemical engineer, understood that they would need a diverse team. The pair relied on friends and friends of friends at the University of Toronto to build the current team of eight, which now includes expertise in mechatronics, machine learning, and marketing.
With the team in place, Mosa told us that the next step was to find the right idea that would best make use of all of the team’s talents. “Ultimately what we came to was the one technology that was going to ask all of us to contribute immensely and was going to push forward in all of these different fields,” he said. “What we have, which I think is pretty unique among companies of our stage, is a platform that requires advanced chemistry and chemical engineering, an understanding of mechatronics and circuit design, advanced elements of computer engineering and machine learning algorithm development – and then of course user interface and design and the biology that is underwriting this entire initiative. That is how we came to Magniware.”
Magniware (named after Norse God Thor’s brother, Magni, whose power was a high resistance of injury and superhuman strength) goes beyond the current wearable tech gadgets we are seeing hit the market. Magni is a compact patch the size of a bandage (5x3cm) that is entirely flexible. This “second skin” can be slapped onto any part of your body and taken on and off whenever you want. Within the patch is Magniware’s technology, including sensors that collect and display health data in a companion app on a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. At this time, the Magni contains an ECG (electrocardiogram) sensor, which measures heart rate to help users understand things like stress and focus levels, but Magni could be outfitted with any sensor. The team is already researching the use of EMG (electromyography), which measures muscle effort.
“What we really are creating isn’t as much a device as much as it is an engine for life optimization,” Mosa explained. Magni wants to be less your activity tracker and more a guide to help you better understand what you are doing and how this correlates to your overall wellbeing. It uses the accurate data from its ECG sensors and processes this data with advanced algorithms to monitor psychosomatic elements like stress, anxiety, fatigue, and behavioral patterns such as sleep and exercise. The goal is for Magni to get to know the wearer and then provide them with notifications to help them actively control their wellbeing: letting them know if they should focus on exercise or sleep, for example, to help reduce stress.
“We want to help people to identify which of these behaviors is most important because it is not a tenable proposition to the world to say hit the treadmill for thirty minutes and go get your 8 hours of sleep and reduce your coffee to these levels to be healthy,” Mosa told us. “We didn’t want a one-size fits all approach. The whole idea of our algorithms and our machine learning is to find out what is the perfect approach to optimize your life and not the person next to you.”
But at a time when wrist-worn wearables like smartwatches are finally gaining some traction, why did Magniware focus on a dermal application? Mosa told us that the motivation behind the sticker was three-fold: aesthetic, retention and reliability of data.
“I didn’t see the general population necessarily adopting what could be a stigmatizing fashionable element,” Mosa said about wrist-worn wearables. “Generally people would rather something that wasn’t going to in any way work against their fashionable appearance they’ve created for themselves. So we wanted something discrete something that no one knew you had on, or took notice of, and that you could wear it and it wouldn’t be a hindrance.”
“We didn’t want a one-size fits all approach. The whole idea is to find out what is the perfect approach to optimize your life and not the person next to you.”
Mosa and his team believe that removing the fashion challenge could also help keep people using the device. “We also wanted something that would really fix the problem of long-term adherence because one major issue in this field is that people don’t continue to wear or use the devices that they have purchased,” he explained. “Part of that is because they don’t always look good with what they are wearing and in other cases it’s just not comfortable. So we needed to make sure that ours was very comfortable and discrete.”
But perhaps the most important reason for the sticker form factor is its ability to gather accurate and reliable data. As a team of academics, Mosa explained it was important that Magni’s analytics and data could impress their peers back at the lab. “To do this, we realize we needed to get data at the point of source,” he explained. “So this is really where we drive the distinction between Magniware and any kind of wrist-based device which is essentially that we capture the ECG signal rather than some surrogate of heart rate. We capture the heart rate that you see when you go to the hospital, the full wave, and the reason why we have to capture that rather than just the heart rate, which is what a wrist-based device can do with some level of accuracy, is because of the second order metrics we look at like stress, anxiety, cognitive function, sleep patterns, behavioral patterns and total cardiac health. These things require very precise data and this is the level of engineering we have been operating at now.”
For Mosa, Magni raises the bar on what can be achieved with a wearable sensor. “Any device that goes on the wrist is using something is a surrogate marker,” he explained. “It is not looking at the heart directly but perhaps the blood vessels and changes in the blood vessels. And these things, though they are to an extent reliable for heart rate, are completely unreliable for any second order analytics, and really set the bar quite low for what efficacy a device like this could have. So we didn’t want to be in that trend in setting the bar low, we wanted to do something functional.”
But creating a flexible patch akin to a “second skin” is not without its challenges. The team not only had to create a circuit board capable of flexing and contouring with the body, but also an adhesive that would work with various skin types and wouldn’t harm anybody. For the adhesive they turned to biomaterials that were initially used for medical purposes such as transplants. This glue also needed to be robust enough to maintain reliable contact with the body but never degrade over time, while being taken off and washed with soap and water. The team looked to nature to solve this problem, finding inspiration in the feet of geckos, which are known to scale walls due to the adhesive strength of their toes.
But Mosa and his team are also focusing a lot of their efforts on the user experience in the Magni app to make it meaningful and actionable. “We are not really impressed with user interfaces that show tons of data,” he said. “People don’t need a whole other set of metrics to be stressed about.” Magni’s app will focus on qualitative output rooted in the data collected by the sensors. “The idea is that the data is there. You can dig in the app and find the raw data, especially if you are a physician or researcher it is there. But generally we show qualitative information, so instead of giving you a number we give you something like a color.” The app will also use notifications to alert users when they are stressed or have started to lose focus, and then provide them with actions to help them get back into the right zone.
Right now the team is working with researchers and athletes at the University of Toronto to test Magni. They plan to spend the next couple of months getting feedback on things like user interface and the efficacy of the information provided to refine their algorithms for consumer release. Mosa told us that Magni will be available as both a professional and consumer product, where the professional product is geared more towards athletes who require things like longer battery life and more onboard memory. Magniware is targeting its launch for this Fall.