IoT (And Big Data) Underfoot

Author

Robert Vamosi, Contributor

December 30, 2014

There’s enormous interest within the IoT community about how precisely your foot lands each time you take a step. Footfall, more accurately your gait, says a lot about your current state of health, whether it is the onset of multiple sclerosis or some other neurological disease. Even whether or not you took your daily cocktail of meds, or whether they are still as effective today as when they were first prescribed. Some doctors refer to gait as the sixth vital sign, but in order to measure gait a patient must to be in the office and walk a certain distance within a certain amount of time. One company, Sensoria, thinks the data can be collected in everyday life, where ever you are.

“Every time there is an opportunity to inject computing and sensing into the consumer behavior without changing that behavior, we think is a fantastic opportunity,” said Sensoria CEO Davide Vigano. “We think the garment is the next ultra-personal computer.” And, for the moment, that garment is the athletic sock. “With our socks, in the future, we can automate a monitoring and alerting system that is fully remote.”

With the sock, Vigano said, “there is no computing component, no printed electronics, no traditional MEMs [Microelectromechanical systems] or FSR [Force Sensitive Resistors] sensor; it’s 100% textile.” Sensoria created its own technology that is reliable, its washable, soft, a fraction of a millimeter thick, and can detect pressure and force. The wires are sandwiched between cotton layers to reduce the risk of short; the textile is conductive material, and driving battery power to the sensors.

The brain for the sock is the “anklet,” a flexible circuit board with magnetic snaps near the ankle above the shoe line that collects the data and broadcasts it via Bluetooth Smart to your mobile device. The magnetic connectors act as an on and off switch. The sock only collects data when you attach the anklet.

There are six sensors involved, three per sock arranged in a triangle, one under the big toe and one under the pinky, and one in the heel. The anklet includes an accelerometer. “Sampling at 40 hertz,” Vigano said, “just from the three pressure sensors alone, that’s 240 data points per second.” A lot of data from a seemingly trivial part of the anatomy.

Runners are the current sweet spot for Sensoria, Vigano said, “because between 65-80 percent of all the people who go running get injured, and people still don’t know why.” The company ran a successful Indegogo campaign targeting running, but also heard from cyclists and others that wanted to be represented as well. That maybe possible in the future, he said.

The current running app reports “how well I land on the ground, my cadence, my forefoot striking vs my rearfoot striking,” Vigano said. In the future, he hopes to add data around over-pronation, when the foot rotates to one side. This could indicate the changes of more serious injury in the future.

Shoe manufacturers are also interested in Sensoria’s data. “The sock is a very independent form factor,” Vigano said. “Unlike insoles or other devices were you have to physical remove the insole and put it into another one, it’s easier to just wear different shoes—you still have the same pair of socks on. And you can compare different pairs of shoes simply by changing your shoes.” Currently runners can select from a library of 7,000 specific shoes so you can measure individual performance per shoe. “We also have a virtual odometer feature,” he said, “so when I get to 250 miles, I know it’s time to retire my running shoes.”

Sensoria makes other bio-sensing garments, such as t-shirts and bras. Since they all use Bluetooth, Sensoria can collect all the data within one app, allowing you to measure your heart rate, temperature as well as gait. This opens up a new breed of applications. Viagno said this data will be combined into fun and unique user experiences but also meaningful clinical research for healthcare related applications.

For example, a senior living alone. An accelerometer would be able to tell if the person fell, but the pressure sensors on the sock would also be able to rule out a false positive. At that point a monitoring service might dispatch an ambulance with confidence.

Also measuring sedentary behavior is just as important as measuring activity, Vigano said. Lots of people sit on the coach all day but if you are in physical rehab, that’s especially not good— the socks will help monitor whether patient is doing their exercises or not.

As with other wearable IoT companies, Sensoria is currently not pursuing FDA approval for its products.

At the moment the sock is only available for pre-order. “We’re still working on washability,” Vigano said. Currently the sock can withstand 65 washes, but Sensoria’s other products can handle more than 100 wash cycles. “So we know we can do it,” he concluded.

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