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Vic Gundotra, Former Google+ Boss, Is Building a Heart Monitor for the Apple Watch

The exec hand-picked two Googlers to lead his new company.


AliveCor, a startup that builds heart-monitoring sensors for smartphones, is building sensors for another mobile device: The Apple Watch. AliveCor is also putting out a new app replete with speech-recognition features that, paired with the watch sensor, the startup hopes will replace the cumbersome, expensive devices for patients with pressing heart conditions.

And the company claims it’s releasing each with the seal of approval from the Food and Drug Administration at a time when other medical devices and bio-tech firms have hit regulatory blockades with the agency (or simply run afoul of it).

“AliveCor sits on the other side of the FDA line,” CEO Vic Gundotra told Re/code. “We are not a fitness product. This is not a toy. We’re talking about people’s lives.”

Gundotra, a former top Google executive, joined AliveCor in November. One of his first moves? Hire away two Googlers to run software and hardware at his new company. Simon Prakash, a senior director on Google’s secretive hardware unit, is now AliveCor’s VP of products and design. And Frank Petterson, an engineering lead at YouTube, is now VP of engineering for Gundotra.

Frank Petterson, VP of engineering, AliveCor
Frank Petterson, VP of engineering, AliveCor

Their company, about 50 employees large now (“but growing”), is among a handful of wearable devices focusing on the heart. AliveCor’s distinction is offering a full electrocardiogram, which patients with particular heart conditions need regularly.

Its initial product, a pair of sensors that attach to the back of a smartphone, sells for $99. Its new product, the Kardia Band, is a nickel-sized version that snaps into the wristband for Apple’s wearable device. Patients can touch it and speak their symptoms into the phone or Watch, and the accompanying app generates instantaneous heart-rate analysis that can be emailed directly to a physician.

That is, once it’s out. The band doesn’t have a release date or price yet, because the company is still waiting on the FDA. It received the okay for its algorithm for instant ECG analysis inside its new app out today. But it is in the process of getting the green light on the Apple Watch accessory, Gundotra claimed. “We think it will become the first FDA-cleared accessory for any smartwatch device,” he said.

With a customer base of an average age of 61, AliveCor also thinks its new product will bring a very different set of customers to Apple Watch, an insular techie device to date.

Simon Prakash, VP of products and design, AliveCor
Simon Prakash, VP of products and design, AliveCor

Broadly, the startup is gunning for the ripening market of remote patient monitoring, which Goldman Sachs estimates will hit $15 billion by 2018. AliveCor has raised $13.5 million from a few investors, including Qualcomm Ventures and Khosla Ventures.

To compete, Gundotra, the former head of Google Plus, turned to familiar quarters. Petterson worked for Gundotra on Plus before moving to Google Hangouts, then YouTube. Prakash spent nine years working on devices for Apple before jumping to Google X to work on Google Glass. After Glass’ meltdown, Prakash moved to its predecessor, Project Aura, the stealthy wearables division working on the next version of Glass, among other stealthy stuff.

Both Googlers cited the mission of AliveCor and the opportunity to work at a leaner company as reasons for joining.

“We’ve got world-class software and hardware design focused on measuring the heart,” Gundotra beamed. “This is just the beginning.”

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