A.I. Personal Trainers Are Getting Smarter And More Fun

At $250, a Siri-like coach named Vi hopes to help you become a better runner

Apr 17, 2017 at 12:28 PM ET

Fitness headphones have become popular for being able to do it all: play your favorite tunes, measure your heart beat and keep track of calories you’ve burned. Now, they are being embedded with a Siri-like voice assistant that will also be your coach.

LifeBeam’s Vi is a pair of headphones with a voice coach that’s rooted in artificial intelligence and helps train users while they’re running. “We focused on running because it’s the most accessible exercise,” said LifeBeam’s CEO Omri Yoffee at a press event.

Currently, Vi can only track and coach outdoor running workouts, but it does it quite well. Yoffee said Vi is aware of user’s surroundings, physiology and activities inside and outside of their workout sessions. The headphones are packed with sensors that track heart rate, motion, posture, speech, enhancement, elevation, and touch.

Compared to other AI voices like Alexa and Siri, Vi can’t answer your most pressing questions like, “What did Anne Hathaway win an Oscar for?,” but it can tell you what the weather is like outside. However, unlike other AI voices in our phones and speakers, Vi doesn’t just repeat phrases — she actually can have a conversation with users. She even asked if she was pronouncing my name correctly (she pronounced it better than most humans, to be honest).

Other AI personal trainers, like the Moove Now, coach by repeating encouraging phrases. Going a bit further, Vi can recognize if you pace is off and turn on a feature called “Step to the beat,” which plays a repeating beat at a specific tempo until you get your footing right. She can also give you a rundown of your stats when you ask it, “how am I doing?” Trying out the device myself, Vi was pretty responsive and helped me keep a steady pace.

LifeBeam’s background is in developing technology for NASA and the U.S. Air Force. However, one would hope that with so much access to users’ phones, Vi can keep all personal data private and secure.

Vi connects to your phone’s native apps and Google Fit or Apple Health Kit to keep track of all your health information and outside workout activity, which a lot of people consider sensitive data that must remain safe. Yoffee said the company is aware of users’ concerns with privacy and has unspecified security measures in place to keep all data secured.

There’s still a lot of improvement for Vi, like being able to track indoor running workouts and walking, but the company said it’s already working on that. For the price of $250, it’s definitely an expensive piece of equipment, but it might be ideal for fitness junkies who run daily and are training for a race.