Under Armour announced a whole bunch of products earlier this week at CES, from its first pair of connected sneakers to a standard wrist-based activity tracker, but the most interesting announcement had to do with everyone's favorite supercomputer.
IBM and Under Armour are teaming up to show data from IBM Watson in Under Armour's core health and fitness app, UA Record. At first this might sound like your standard "partnership" or collaboration to beef up content within an app, but Watson's entrance into fitness — and its marriage of fitness data with other data — is significant.
The idea is that Watson will analyze your daily activity, sleep, and food data that you share within the UA Record app and show you an insight that compares you with other similar, (anonymous) members in the Under Armour community. One example I saw was around sleep: someone had logged just over five hours of sleep, and the app told him that there are 5.7 million men in the Under Armour community in his age group, and based on that group, the average body mass index is lowest among people who sleep seven to eight hours each night.
Watson will use weather data to tell you the best time and temperature for a run
I've seen insights like this before in consumer health and fitness apps. Microsoft Health, which provides a lot of really granular data, is one good example. But Under Armour and UA want to take it even further in the future. They plan to use data from the Weather Channel mobile app, which IBM recently acquired, to factor weather into workouts. For example, if data shows that people tend to run longer in cold weather, the app might suggest a time to go running based on temperature. It will also use calendar data to predict the best times of day to workout, and pull in local gym class schedules to tell you where to go for it.
The cognitive superpowers of IBM's Watson have been used across a variety of large-scale industries for a few years now, including health care, manufacturing, and education. At CES this year IBM also demonstrated how Watson could provide intelligence in a Whirlpool Jenn-Air connected oven, help medical device companies deliver more insightful data, and even make a customer service robot more empathetic.
While data shared from Watson could be especially interesting in the UA Record app, there's also the slightly unnerving idea of Watson having access to your data, whether it's completely anonymized or not. I'm a regular user of MyFitnessPal, another one of Under Armour's apps, and the thought of my data finding its way to IBM Watson without my explicit permission made me pause. (It's something I've talked about before in regards to wearables; as we share more and more health data with consumer tech devices and applications, there's no way to really know where that data will end up in the case of consolidation and partnerships. When I first started using MyFitnessPal, I obviously didn't know then that the data would end up as a part of a giant apparel company.)
There's no telling where all the consumer health data we're sharing will end up
Chris Glode, vice president of digital at Under Armour connected fitness, assured me that IBM won't be getting access to user data. Watson is only processing and analyzing the data pulled from Under Armour's suite of apps and spitting the insights back into the UA Record app. Still, there's no telling how some of the data could be used in the future — another reason to stop and consider the kinds of apps with which we share our health data.
I haven't had the chance to really experience Watson within the UA Record app yet, so when we do a full review of Under Armour's new products, we'll be sure to include more thoughts on that. Also, see the video below for an interview with Under Armour executive Paul Pugh, who talks more about the company's future in connected devices and connected clothing.