The quantified self is of ever-increasing to many people. Wearable fitness trackers have helped a lot with that movement but they can’t tell you anything about the actual progress that you’re making with all of your jogging and other working out that you’re tracking with your smartwatch. That’s where the Skulpt Chisel comes in.
The Skulpt is a small device, about the size of a pack of cigarettes. When you turn it over, it has 12 electrical sensors that use a technology called electrical impedance myography to measure body mass. It measures muscle and fat on nearly every part of the users body and then tells the user how to reach their goals based on that information.
I spent some time with the device over the last couple of weeks and I’m not going to lie, it’s a tough thing for me to get into. I’m a creature of habit and I have a routine that I have a hard time breaking. That having been said, I got some interesting results from the device.
Ease of Use
After taking a few measurements it was ready to give me some advice; my fitness goal was to lose weight, so it told me based on my BMI that I should keep a diet of 1658 calories per day, which isn’t much. Not to say that it can’t be done, but it’s not a lot of food and I am a pretty big fan of food.
It couldn’t have been easier to use and for someone who is more interested in changing their habits or have different fitness goals than myself, this can be a really good tool.
The app that pairs the Chisel with your Android (or iPhone) tells you where to align the Chisel with helpful graphics and then takes about 3 seconds to record a measurement. During the initial setup it only had me measure my triceps, abs, and quadriceps and then started to generate results. As you continue to take measurements it will give you information about how your body improves (or changes) over time based on body fat and muscle quality (MQ).
For each measurement you have to wet the device for the conductivity of electrical signals between your body and the device. This doesn’t seem like it would matter but that means that you’re going to be bringing cold water into contact with your body for each measurement, which is a bit of a shock each time.
It’s not as though you’ll be carrying around the Skulpt with you wherever you go because you just take a couple of measurements per week and you can do that when you’re home. So unless you are some sort of nomadic body sculptor battery life is probably not going to be that big of a deal to you. However, I actually only had to charge it once while I was using it, so the battery is actually pretty impressive – and it has a very easy to use dock that connects with metal contacts on the bottom of the device to charge it when you’re not using it.
What I found to be more of a hassle than charging the actual device was keeping the spray bottle full. This is a seemingly unavoidable issue involved with this technology and, again, it can be mitigated with a larger spray bottle but it’s a thing you’ll need to think about.
Getting better aquainted
Even after spending some time with the Skulpt Chisel, I had a lot of questions that couldn’t be answered by playing with it. To get a better idea of the inspiration of the product, who it’s for, and how someone could benefit from it, I spoke with electrical engineering PhD from MIT and CEO of Skulpt, Dr. Jose Bohorquez.
Nick: Jose, you are one of the co-founders of the company but you didn’t come up with the idea initially…how is it that you came to join the company?
Jose: Yeah, I mean, the quick history on the company is…maybe 7 or 8 years ago I was a grad student at MIT, I was finishing my doctorate there; my focus had been on taking large medical grade devices and miniaturizing them, making them cost-effective and small. And at the time I met my co-founder who was a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and his specialty was treating patients with nerve and muscle problems. And he, from a scientific research standpoint, had invented this really fascinating technology that could look inside of your muscles and quantify the quality of the muscle; the general health and fitness of the muscle, as well as the fat content and I was intrigued by that because knowing the biomedical space it’s very rare to find a technology that brings a new type of metric when it comes to measuring a person’s body. It’s not common. Even if you look at heart rate monitors, they’re all based on EKG signals that have been around for 100 years. If you look at ultra-sound, that’s been around for a very long time, but this was something that was truly unique and new, meaning that we could really look at somebody’s muscles and their fat content. If you think about your body, your body is about 70% muscle and fat, so most of us is made up of muscle and fat, yet the tools to measure those things were quite lacking. So I thought it was fascinating, we teamed up – you know, I brought the engineering strength, he brought in the clinical-medical strength, plus having developed the technology, we licensed the IP from Harvard and MIT and then we launched the company. And we have both a medical-grade version of the product, that’s used in a lot of clinical research by physicians and pharmaceutical companies and then about three years ago we decided that we should develop a product for consumers so that they could get the type of experience that elite athletes have. So, if you think about someone who’s at the elite level of basketball or football or swimming, they have access to great coaches who can have them do tests, have them do physiological types of exams, analyze that data and then give them very tailored guidance; very curated advice and we wanted to bring that to the consumer so essentially taking that technology that we had already developed and using that to allow consumers to measure their body in a more detailed way than anything out there. You know, really understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and then build exercise and nutrition programs around that. And so that’s been the vision and that’s what we’ve built into Chisel, now.
Nick: Okay, so you’ve already touched on this but who/what kind of person are you targeting with this product? I’m sure people are out there and I know that it’s becoming more and more popular for people to be able to measure everything but do you know who your target audience is?
Jose: Yeah, so what we’ve found is that the people who like this product the most are people…so let me just give you a couple of examples…Like if you’re a runner; you enjoy running, you’re not a professional, you’re doing it in a leisurely way but you want to be faster, you want to make sure you don’t get knee injuries over the long haul and so what Skulpt provides for them is a means to say, you know, we’ve observed that your quads are a lot stronger than your hamstrings and that’s fairly normal but if you don’t address that over the long haul it puts a lot of strain on your knees and you could have knee problems – so here are some exercises you can do to strengthen your hamstrings and it will overall improve your running and it will protect you from injury in the long haul. Right, so there are two phases to it: the first one is the person measuring their body and giving them that data, the raw data. And then the second part is performing some of that analysis within the app and providing them with some insight and guidance. And you can expand that to a cyclist who is trying to become a better cyclist or swimmer or basketball player or somebody who is just trying to lose weight, get a little bit more toned, and they want to do it efficiently. There’s a lot of options; things you can do for exercise out there, what’s going to be the most effective for me? And our vision is to provide people with the most effective means to get results because the advice you’re getting is based on your physiology. It’s not just “cookie-cutter” everybody gets the same advice, it’s, “hey, based on your strengths and weaknesses, here’s what would be most effective for you.”
Nick: So I guess my experience with the app and with the Chisel itself has been relatively scant. So basically, I just measure what it tells me to measure and then it spits out advice, which is really helpful for the average person but I was curious: do you have; like you were just talking about swimmers and bikers and runners, does the app recognize that somebody does those types of activities or do they put it into the app and say, “okay, I’m going to do these types of exercises,” and it responds to that?
Jose: Yeah, so right now we’re restricting it to fairly broad groups of people to start. So just to start we’re focusing on people that are just trying to get leaner, lose some fat, or trying to get stronger, maybe gaining some muscle mass, just generally interested in maintaining certain levels of health. But over time we will be building more detailed guidance and recommendations that’s based on those more specific needs, so that’s what’s part of the road map for us and we’re rolling that out as quickly as we can. But taking more input from users: asking them, “what are your specific goals?” and then turning that around and giving them recommendations based on their specific interests and goals [is what we’re focused on now.] It’s a little bit of an evolution where today what people are getting is really the first of its kind, a device that lets them measure their physiology and then getting that basic guidance centered around overall fitness and then over time expanding the value that they’re going to get from the app.
Nick: One of the pitches that I’ve seen recently was for some sort of scale that you stand on and it has all of these types of sensors that scans the user’s body and kind of gives them the same sort of advice. Would your product be a lot more accurate or precise than that? How do you convince someone who might be looking at both products to use the Chisel as opposed to that?
Jose: Simply, when you look at the backgrounds of the two companies and you look at Skulpt; This is based on more than fifteen years of clinical research coming out of the top universities in the country and it’s validated by more than 40 peer-reviewed publications. And, you know, we’re looking inside of your body; we’re looking inside your muscles, we’re not trying to infer what your fitness level is based on an image of you, which is a very blunt tool, but rather looking at what’s going on inside of your body and really understanding that. So this is the same type of technology that pharmaceutical companies have used in partnership with Skulpt in their clinical trials for people with muscular disorders, for example, and they see that type of value in it because it’s so thoroughly validated and now we’re bringing that to consumers. So I think if you look at the landscape of the companies in this general space, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that has that clinical and scientific foundation that Skulpt has.
Nick: You already touched on this a little bit but going forward, how do you anticipate Skulpt to improve its product?
Jose: Well, we are 100% focused on continually improving the product and the main way that we’ll do that is by honing in that guidance and advice. I think one of the great things is that people are getting the product today and the product itself is getting better over time. We do software releases every couple of weeks, bringing on the features that our customers are asking us for, and then improving the guidance and expanding the categories of guidance that people will be able to get. So, that’s really where people can see that in the long haul this product’s going to get better for them.
Nick: Awesome, so do you use the Chisel, yourself?
Jose: Yeah, absolutely! And [laughs] I’m actually pretty proud of my numbers…from let’s say about six to ten months ago to now, when you’re a startup founder, sometimes you kind of let yourself get out of shape in those critical moments when you’re really focused on just building the business, but over the last six months I can tell you I decided to really start hitting the gym hard again and it’s just so satisfying when you can see that change. You know, my biceps muscle quality, for example, late last year was down in the low 50s and now I’ve got it into the mid 80s, doing proper training. And the fitness consultants that we’ve been working on to bring that advice into the product… I’m taking that advice, myself. Essentially…not to sound corny, but I’m not only the president, I’m also a client, right? [laughs] It helps a lot to be taking the advice that we’re going to be giving our customers and it’s having an impact –
Nick: Well, I have to imagine that being able to use the product yourself keeps you more invested in its improvement, so that’s a good thing – So, I’m all out of pre-loaded questions, but do you have anything else that you’d like to share with our readers that we haven’t already touched on?
Jose: You know, I was just saying that this is generally a very exciting space, right, I mean we’ve already seen the first wave of products; activity trackers and the like that started to just touch the tip of the iceberg of what could be done in connected health and fitness. And what makes me proud about Skulpt is that it’s a company that’s really rooted in science. The technology that we’re bringing to people, frankly, wasn’t even available in hospitals just a couple of years ago and now it’s coming directly to consumers and it’s the first time that consumers can get an insight into what’s going on inside their body. We’re mostly made out of muscle and fat and this is the first product that just helps you understand what you’re made out of and then takes it a step further by giving you that guidance based on your physiology so you can get results faster. So that’s our mission, we want to improve our products so that our customers can improve their health and fitness. I think that people will see that, when they get the product; I think it’s a great product out of the box but over time it just gets better and better.
So there you have it. I told Jose at the end of our conversation the same thing that I came to the conclusion with at the end of my own experience with it. It’s not really a product for me, but I can definitely see why someone could want it and how they can use it to make their lives better and I hope that people do. Like he said in our interview, this is a completely new way to measure the human body and that’s really cool. As the product evolves and is able to give more specific and tailored advice, I can see people using this instead of having a personal trainer. At $99 it’s really hard to beat for that kind of value.