By Shashi Jain, IoT Innovation Manager, and Andrew Lamkin, Systems Engineer, Intel
Forging a new reference platform for healthcare wearables using the Intel® Curie™ Module, several Intel teams recently came together to assist UNYQ, a pioneering startup based in San Francisco, and Seville, Spain. UNYQ (pronounced ‘unique’) focuses on making prosthetics fashionable and functional, and recently started a pilot program for a new scoliosis brace called UNYQ Align™. Led by bionics pioneer Eythor Bender, UNYQ worked with Intel to incorporate the Intel® Curie™ module, and a series of sensors to provide real-time insight into brace fit, effectiveness, and wear time.
The result was a brace that not only gathers data that measures time spent by the wearer in the device, and monitors pressure points, but is also stylish enough to have been invited to feature in an upcoming White House fashion event highlighting advances in prosthetics and orthotics.
Scoliosis is defined as a side-to-side curve of the spine greater than 10 degrees. Curves are often S-shaped or C-shaped, and, in the majority of cases, there is no known cause for this curve. According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, about 2-3% of the population is affected–around 7 million people in the US alone. The condition can result in limited activity, pain, reduced respiratory function, and other problems. Treatment usually involves bracing, especially for children and teenagers, with the goal of spending at least 16-18 hours per day in that brace. Complying with that strict regimen has always been an issue, so the monitors in UNYQ Align* will measure daily use. Improved wearability will be a game-changer, as when bracing is not successful, treatment in adults often involves surgeries such as fusing the spine around metal implants and rods.
Current braces tend to be constricting, bulky, and hot, and users take them off frequently. UNYQ approached this challenge on two fronts–style and comfort. They used 3D-printing technology for unrivaled personalization, and incorporated the latest in materials research to increase breathability in a low profile, at just 5mm thick. That makes the new brace barely visible beneath a shirt, and helps patients feel less self-conscious than when wearing other braces.
UNYQ’s work with scoliosis bracing inspired Intel and brought together an internal collaboration spanning SSG, DCG-HLS, and the New Devices Team driven to turn bracing into a patient driven connected experience powered by an Intel Curie module, ideal for “always-on” applications.
UNYQ already produces a stunning selection of prosthetic covers, giving artificial limbs feathered, pixelated, or even space-suit appeal. They have developed a novel 3D-printing process that merges digital design with new manufacturing technologies, resulting in a vast selection of transformative colors and styles (the Galaxy Gold Red transfemoral cover, for example, evokes Marvel* superhero Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit). It’s no wonder the UNYQ solution was invited to the White House event “Celebrating Inclusive Design, Assistive Technology & Prosthetics,” to be held on September 15, 2016. Jointly organized by the Office of Public Engagement and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and coordinated with New York Fashion Week, it will feature a runway show highlighting inclusive fashion, in which UNYQ will showcase their prosthetic covers and scoliosis brace.
UNYQ first caught the attention of Intel in early 2016 at the Autodesk* REAL conference, showcasing 3D-printed prosthetics. UNYQ needed a small, powerful processor to coordinate a series of lightweight sensors, and they needed long battery life. It seemed like a great fit, and several Intel teams joined together for the assist, including the Data Center Group’s Health & Life Sciences Innovation & Pathfinding team.
Intel assisted UNYQ with in-depth customer research probing the difficult problem of correct brace fitting, with the solution to add sensors. Now they have a solution that is attracting attention from other healthcare industry developers. It was a great example of using Intel technology to improve lives, and not just as a one-off, but with a sustainable program that will allow other vendors to jump-start their adoption of Intel technology.
The key to making such an effort repeatable across additional applications in the healthcare space is completing a reference platform that will provide hardware, firmware, software, an SDK, and services for a variety of applications. This should provide an end-to-end solution to take advantage of the Intel® Curie™ module.
Presently, there are multiple efforts underway in the prosthetics and orthotics industry to make better devices with more personalization, digitization, and data integration. The current UNYQ device works like an exercise monitor, downloading data daily via Bluetooth* to a mobile device, but experts can already envision devices that do more, such as incorporating pattern matching from sensor data.
By creating a complete reference platform and harnessing the talents of a broad spectrum of Intel teams, with all of their varied talents and expertise, Intel hopes to inspire more developers who envision devices that can improve lives. Showing off the device at a White House-sponsored event will only increase awareness of what’s currently possible, and spur makers everywhere to think even bigger. If you’re envisioning an assistive application where pattern matching, low power and long battery life are important, consider using the Intel® Curie™ module in your design.
For more information on the Intel Curie module, please visit: www.makers.intel.com