Health IT, Patient Engagement

Under Armour’s collaboration with IBM Watson provides big data insights to advance connected fitness approach

The statement from UnderAmour also noted that the two companies would allocate employees, technology and resources to advance development of the Cognitive Coaching System, and will collaborate to define and evolve the consumer experience.

IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty (L) with Under Armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank at keynote for Consumer Electonics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty (L) with Under Armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank at keynote for Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Under Armour’s partnership with IBM Watson is the latest in a series of announcements from the consumer health and fitness business that illustrate how the company is thinking about big data applications not only to provide timely, helpful insights on athletic training to a customer base of 180 million but also how to get them to buy more gear.

The collaboration involves Under Armour providing a Cognitive Coaching System powered by IBM Watson to motivate and support exercise regimens for athletes and transform athlete engagement, according to a company statement. Watson will identify patterns in behavior and performance trends through its mobile apps and fitness tracking devices to customize programs.

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It will also add tools for food consumption tracking and nutrition management, based on Watson Visual Recognition and Watson Discovery technology. Instead of manually logging in food, IBM Watson will use its newly acquired ability to see and recognize food images to make food identification faster and easier.

Weather plays a role in training, too, and so does environment. Under Armour’s platform will harness Watson’s weather domain knowledge, though a recent acquisition, as well as geospatial data to modify fitness program recommendations.

When he shared a stage with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank referenced a term he coined a few years back — connected fitness. He said one of the benefits of teaming up with IBM Watson was giving each individual a sense of how he or she compares with their peers based on age, weight and fitness.

The company statement said a new version of Under Armour’s UA Record app “will share health and fitness insights comparable to others similar to you, including average weight, average resting heart rate and average steps taken per day. Additional insights could show how long an average workout is or how long someone like you is sleeping, down to the minute.”

It’s not a collaboration I saw coming, but there’s a certain symmetry to how it fits into Under Armour’s evolving digital health interests. It started off as an apparel company, added data companies through acquisitions. Now it’s working with IBM to deepen the insights of data from MapMyFitness. It’s even developing a smart running shoe. Although the future applications that will come of its collaboration are exciting, it is all for the good of helping the business sell more gear.

In an interview with IBM Watson Health Vice President Kathy McGroddy-Goetz, she said Under Armour’s datatracking from Map My Fitness lets them collect lots of information from users. As an example of some of the fruits of its work, she said if one were training for a marathon, it would provide a training regimen based on the user’s fitness level, weight and age.

“In some ways not so dissimilar from what we did with Geisinger when we looked at heart failure prediction,” she said. “We need to get smarter about individuals.”

The statement from UnderAmour also noted that the two companies would allocate employees, technology and resources to advance development of the Cognitive Coaching System, and will collaborate to define and evolve the consumer experience.