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Connected Fitness: Whoop Brings AI-Driven Virtual Coaching Into Wearables Category

This year, the connected wearables market will account for more than 504 million units, ranging from smartwatches to fitness trackers to earwear, according to market intelligence firm IDC. Looking to bring artificial intelligence (AI) into a more active role in the category is Whoop, a fitness tracking firm that uses a training watch powered by an AI-driven operating system, which informs a virtual coach. 

After launching in 2012, the Boston-based company has raised more than $400 million in venture capital. According to the company, the latest round of financing made it the world’s most valuable standalone wearables company. 

Following the pandemic and efforts to widen consumer access to workouts, the company has grown steadily. The company is now focused on using AI to drive a unique customer experience and build community among its users.

As a competitor of Apple Watch, Fitbit and other wearables, Whoop has a similar business model. The wearable feeds an app where individual data on strength, activity, stress and sleep are measured and tracked. 

Where Whoop departs from its competitors is with its most recently introduced feature, “Coach.”

According to Whoop Chief Technology Officer Jaime Waydo, Whoop Coach, which launched in September, uses proprietary algorithms, a custom-built machine learning model and unique biometric data to identify patterns and connections in Whoop data. Coach can then generate individualized, conversational responses to your health, fitness and wellness questions within seconds.

For example, rather than going to a wedding, having a cocktail and ending up with a poor recovery score the next day, users can tell Coach of upcoming plans and ask for suggestions on how to maximize recovery. Whether users ask how to improve their heart rate variability, how to manage their sleep as a new parent, or how to optimize their morning routine, it is the ability to curate data in an actionable manner that separates Coach and has delivered what Waydo said has been positive user reactions. 

“As AI advances, there are more and more benefits to be had, and consumers are showing an increased desire to adopt AI-enabled technologies in all parts of their lives,” Waydo told PYMNTS. “We worked to build the best possible AI-enabled coach as it relates to our product, at a time when highly personalized, data-backed insights are increasingly desired by consumers. 

“Our data shows that our members are using it, with nearly 50% having engaged with Coach since it was launched. We feel like Coach is a step forward for the HealthTech industry,” Waydo added. 

That step forward is built on data. The AI-generated data sets have added coherence to the Whoop user community. In fact, the company recently published insights gleaned from its users about lifestyle preferences and exercise behavior. For example, Whoop members consumed alcohol less frequently in 2023, but when they did, they consumed more, with an average of three drinks per sitting. Ice baths for recovery have shown a strong increase in popularity, as has red light therapy, which has been shown to improve melatonin levels and encourage sleep.

Waydo is aware that with data comes responsibility and that the consumer privacy bar is higher for AI. He said personal data is not accessible to any third parties. 

In developing Coach, Whoop mandated that its LLM partner had a “zero retention/zero training policy,” meaning that the data is not stored or used for any non-Whoop LLM models. He said this policy will be more important as AI continues to develop for consumer applications.

“We did some research during the pandemic and after, and found that consumers have increased the value and prioritization of accessibility in managing health and fitness,” he said. “We learned that making health and fitness available to everyone 24/7 is what consumers want and deserve. That is exactly what we are building. We want to help consumers monitor every heartbeat of every day.”

As the year unfolds, Waydo said Whoop plans to build on its strength training app and stress monitoring capability, and continue innovating Coach. He said he expected AI to continue to make Whoop more personalized and give the company data on consumer needs and preferences.