Meet Vi, the AI Personal Trainer That Lives in Your Headphones

If Mr. Miyagi and Siri had a baby, this is what you’d get

January 26, 2018 9:00 am

Now that we’re well into 2018 … How’s that new workout routine going?

If motivation is your problem, we get it.

And so does Vi, a convincingly human AI personal running trainer that lives in your headphones.

We wrote about Vi back in 2016 when the wearable was a Kickstarter project, which successfully funded with over $1.5 million in pledges. Today, the biosensing earphones have reached their final form and are available for purchase, with software updates expanding the workout experience to outdoor running, walking, treadmills, cycling and more to come.

So we got our hands on a set to test out.

Vi Wearable (2 images)

Before we began, we spoke with Omri Yoffe, co-founder and CEO of LifeBEAM, the company behind Vi. Founded in 2011, LifeBEAM has supplied biometric technology to NASA and the U.S. Air Force, but Yoffe says that’s not the aspect that will impress most users.

“I think the ‘human’ part is the most important — how you don’t create a robotic experience but [instead] focus on a magical, human, warm engagement with the user,” he says. To achieve this realistic AI, with particular attention paid to the voice, the company went to extreme lengths.

“We created a tool we call ‘dynamic sentence diction,’” he says. “We took human trainers, 300 world-class experts, filmed them and copied their common practices.”

A sensor located on the earbud measures your motion, heart rate and other bodily functions from your inner ear, which he explains is “far more accurate than the wrist.” While running with the headphones and the companion app (compatible with iOS and Android), Vi relays these measurements, your remaining time or distance, and other personalized data and coaching with the fluidity of a real-life running instructor — minus the heavy breathing.

But as with a personal trainer at your local gym, the effectiveness of Vi can only be seen after a few workouts. So we put her — er, it — through the paces for a few weeks. Here are our takeaways:

You’ll never be more excited to start running.
Setting up Vi is akin to Joaquin Phoenix installing Samantha in Her. The beautiful Harman Kardon sound envelops you completely, and then Vi appears, asking you to say your name so she can learn the pronunciation. Other personalization follows, like running goals and connecting to companion apps like Spotify and Strava.

The technology forces you to run better and more often.
If you’re running in the city and hit stoplights, Vi automatically pauses your workout. This way, you can’t cheat and trim time off your run. And after measuring your stride, Vi may recommend a new step pace to help your endurance. She’ll play a metronomic beat to get you used to the new gait, with the option to trigger it whenever you’re ready.

These won’t replace your everyday headphones … yet.
While the sound is impeccable, the fit comfortable and the overall design sleek, the app connectivity meant this was exclusively a piece of workout gear. After attempting to use them as regular earbuds for listening to music on the subway and making calls, it was clear it was not worth the extra effort. During our test period, though, LifeBEAM continued to make updates moving Vi in the direction of an all-purpose wearable — the software is built to accommodate updates well into the future (including possible meditation, open cardio and HIIT compatibility) — so the functionality may change.

Originally priced at $249, Vi is currently available via their website for a new year price of $199.

Photos courtesy of LifeBEAM

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