We have piles of fitness and health trackers in our lives. Fitbits. Nike+ Fuelbands. Jawbone Ups. They're all pretty good at measuring the calories we’ve burned and the hours we’ve slept, but they miss a huge chunk of the health equation: what we’ve consumed.
Vessyl—$199, but $99 on introductory pre-order today—is the first step in filling that gap. It’s an electronic cup that can identify the precise amount of virtually any liquid poured inside, which allows it to monitor hydration, calories consumed, and even protein intake with incredible specificity.
Designed by Yves Behar’s Fuseproject, Vessyl shares hints of the same minimalist but slightly faceted aesthetic you might equate with their Jawbone headsets or Jambox. But it's also recognizably influenced from the Nike+ Fuelband—when you tilt the cup, a built-in LED display brings the stark cup to life, highlighting a single line that estimates your current level of hydration while including numbers (say, calories consumed) and what you’re drinking ("soda" or "wine") to supplement the visualization.
"We wanted the feedback to be really really quick," CEO Justin Lee tells Co.Design, "because we want to make sure we empower consumers to make healthier choices in real time." So Vessyl understands that you drank 20 ounces of Red Bull or half a can of Miller Light, and displays that information right on the outside of the cup. (In a perfect world, you adjust your exercise intake accordingly.)
"While there’s the mobile app, and that provides information with respect to how I am doing today, phones are typically in our pockets. We wanted to make sure there was something right in front of you," Lee says.
That display is also customizable. In addition to calories, you can track, say, caffeine—and make sure you’re not ODing in the morning, but instead are optimizing your intake throughout the day for maximum sharpness.
"We designed the Vessyl to be about what’s important to you, and that changes," Lee said. "For some people, that’s losing weight, so they might want to be mindful of calories. For me, I’m lifting weights, so I’m mindful of the protein in my beverages."
That said, none of this real-time monitoring would matter if Vessyl’s beverage detection doesn’t work as seamlessly as it does. At its core lives a molecular sensor, the specifics of which Lee refused to provide for competitive reasons, but we’re told its scans are of high enough fidelity to distinguish, not just milk from beer, but Coke from Pepsi.
Over a Skype demo, Lee let me choose from maybe 60 different beverages he had on the table. Colas, fruit sodas, energy drinks, protein shakes, beers, wines, orange juices with pulp, orange juices with no pulp, and everything in-between. We pointed him to the old Pepsi Challenge, and asked him to pour Coke and then Pepsi into the Vessyl. The first analysis, Coke, took roughly 20 to 30 seconds, but the Vessyl got it right. The analysis of Pepsi took more like three to five seconds—which we were told was more the target, typical range—and again, Vessyl was right.
Presumably, this analysis time is of little concern to the user. It’s certainly neat to watch as a machine reverse-engineers the liquid poured into it, but any long-time user of the Vessyl should, theoretically, forget that the Vessyl is doing anything special at all. You pour mindlessly. It tracks meticulously. That’s the real value of a device like Vessyl: It fits into your life. Vessyl remains special if when it no longer feels special to use it.
And in that regard, Vessyl as it is now—a $199 glowing electronic device that you wash by hand and charge on a bundled coaster (for five to seven days of run time)—will probably only make sense to a small pool of early adopters. They'll want to have a literal first taste of the future of personal tracking devices. But think about what Vessyl could be down the line, as it and other technologies are integrated into our dishes and glassware to help us keep tabs on our diets. Maybe it will continue to demand nothing from us and we'll eat and drink as we normally do (guilty feelings included). But maybe, instead, it's poised to fill the biggest gap in health and weight-loss technologies today.
Just don’t let my insurance company see my proclivities for booze and deep dish pizza. I’ll need solid coverage for my impending heart attack.
Order it here. Shipping looks to begin near the end of 2014.