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How it Works: The FitBit

Technology Feature

Written by Samantha Lund

The Fitbit was founded in 2008, and quickly became the 21st-century pedometer, tracking everything from steps to sleep. As the first simple product that transformed the “wearables” industry, Fitbit started a movement by encouraging people to be active using simple technology. But how does it work?

Fitbit counts your steps using an algorithm that detects unique motion patterns. The patterns need to be big enough to meet the specific threshold of the algorithm, so some steps can go uncounted if walking very softly.

When you buy a Fitbit, you’ll be prompted to enter your weight, height, gender, and more, which allows the program to generate calories burned, steps travelled and duration of exercise using a mix of that algorithm and your general information.

New to Fitbit is heart rate tracking. Very similar to the pulse touch-trackers you find on a treadmill or elliptical machine, Fitbit’s heart rate monitor (PurePulse) is built into the underside of each bracelet.

The pulse tracker, using your general information and the step-counting algorithm, records specific data points along each day or during exercise. By monitoring your heart rate, your Fitbit can graph your peaks, time spent exercising and time spent in a fat-burning state.

Fitbit also monitors your day-to-day resting heart rate. Each day, you can monitor your resting heart rate to see if your hard work is paying off and your cardiovascular health is improving over time.

Once Fitbit released PurePulse, it revolutionized several different components of wearable health-tracking technology. Most notably, the sleep tracker.

Using the heart rate monitor and motion detectors, Fitbit tracks time spent in each stage of sleep: light, deep and REM. Using that data, compared to data from every other user, the company can recommend more effective times to fall asleep and wake up.

More than tracking activity and heart rate, newer Fitbits manage data and help you set goals. In the past, each device used to set a daily goal—10,000 steps for example—and that would be your goal every day until you changed it in the settings. However, new Fitbit devices approach goals differently.

Goals are now individualized for each user. By tracking your activity day-to-day, FitBit creates goals based on past movement statistics, encouraging you to beat your past self. If that’s not enough to get you moving, there’s always social networking competitions and tracking to share with your friends.

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