We live in a world where interactive technology is becoming increasingly commonplace in our everyday lives. Gaming systems, motion capture animation, smart phones and computers are just a few examples.
Shawn Reese, inventor and founder of Bend Labs, and his team are expanding the interactive category by creating a wearable technology that will provide real-time feedback on motion as it relates to the body’s joints.
Bend Labs, housed in the BioInnovations Gateway (BiG), is creating a wearable, flexible sensor for joint angle analysis. It attaches to clothing seams and does not impede motion. The sensor will measure flexing and extension abilities of joints in real time. The joint angle data is then stored in Bend Labs’ cloud for future joint movement progression analysis.
“Our sensors are designed from the ground up to give us an accurate metric of our body position no matter how we put the sensor on and no matter if it gets wet, jerked around, bent or twisted,” said Reese.
The first targeted market for the Bend Sensor will be a rehabilitation device for people with knee replacements. Reese said other possible applications include athletic performance, physical therapy and video games.
A common complication after knee surgery is Arthrofibrosis, a stiff knee, which is attributed to not exercising enough or doing the exercises wrong. Bend Labs wants to give the patient a comfortable, interactive brace that they can easily wear. The patient can use Bend Lab’s iPad or iPhone app to track their progress using the exercises given to them by their physical therapist.
Once the patient has finished the exercises, they might see a green check mark indicating that the exercise has been completed correctly, or a yellow check mark indicating that the patient didn’t do it correctly. This data will be relayed to the physical therapist that keeps tabs on how well the patient is doing.
“Instead of going to the physical therapist once or twice a week or whatever your insurance will cover, you can now interact with them every day,” said Reese. “It’s a way of delivering a more personalized health care option at a better price point.”
The next step for Reese and the Bend Labs team will be finishing the development of the IOS app, and after that, developing scalable manufacturing methods at BiG. Reese said outsourcing the manufacturing would be nearly impossible, due to the newness of the technology.
“We are working on up scaling our manufacturing method,” said Reese. “We’re going to make the sensors in-house, here in Utah. There really is no other facility on the planet that can make this sensor, because it’s a whole new technology.”
Bend Labs is starting with small-scale proof-of-concept manufacturing at BiG where they are currently located and where they have their own prototype manufacturing set up already in place. Once techniques are perfected, the lab will look for its own home in the valley to enable the scale up of the manufacturing process.
“Right now we could comfortably make a few dozen of these sensors a day, but we hope to quickly get to the point where we are kicking out a few hundred per day,” said Reese. “To do that, we would need to graduate out of BiG and get our own facility.”
Reese attributes much of Bend Labs’ success to BiG, which helped secure funding for research and development, and provided a lab for them to create the sensor.
Located at the Granite Technical Institute, BiG is a life science incubator that helps start-up companies by offering affordable laboratory space and access to equipment and expertise.
“Without a doubt, BiG has been our secret to success, and we couldn’t have done any of this without them,” said Reese. “Without them, it would have been extremely difficult to raise capital and get this off the ground.”
BiG executive director, Scott Marland said, “BiG, with the strong support of USTAR and the Granite School District, fulfills two of the basic tenants of economic development: providing education to develop the workforce of the future and increasing innovation, entrepreneurship and investment.”