These Wearable Airbags Can Prevent Injury in a Fall
July 11, 2017
Kelsey Davis, Manager, Digital Media, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)
Airbags in cars are standard for preventing injuries in car crashes, so why not use them for our bodies? ActiveProtective has done just that. Many older adults suffer serious hip injuries from falls, and ActiveProtective’s SmartBelt technology aims to remedy that.
We had a chance to speak with Wamis Singhatat, VP of Product Development at ActiveProtective, about this technology and where the company is going next.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you end up in your industry?
I've wanted to work with the human body since I was young and studied mechanical and biomedical engineering in college. While there, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to develop products to repair the human body. So over the past 18 years since graduating, I've been developing orthopedic implants and instruments for large and small companies, working mostly in engineering and marketing roles in emerging technology groups.
Prior to joining ActiveProtective (APT), I worked in Johnson & Johnson's orthopedic group, and managed their worldwide portfolio of implants for knee and periprosthetic fractures. I came across APT in the fall of 2014 while scouting for complementary technologies in the post-operative rehab space (e.g., after a hip fracture repair). They'd just established proof-of-concept and the CEO, Drew Lakatos, was just about to give a TEDMED talk. I’ve always been mission-driven, and the more I learned about APT, the more I wanted to be a part of their mission to make hip fractures a preventable condition. So I took the leap and came on board in June of 2015 as APT’s first hire and their head of Product Development.
How was ActiveProtective first created?
It started with Dr. Robert Buckman, a world-renowned trauma surgeon, who moved from a major hospital in downtown Philadelphia to one in the suburbs later in his career. He saw very different kinds of trauma cases in the burbs, where a daily occurrence was seeing an older adult who had fallen down, broken his or her hip and was struggling to recover. After extensive research, he concluded that the best solution would be one that could be worn discreetly by older adults at risk of falling and deploy on-demand protection when a fall occurred.
He patented the concept of a wearable airbag belt with sophisticated 3D motion sensors and an algorithm to detect falls in progress in 2004, but it took almost 10 years for enabling technologies (sensors and cold gas inflators) to mature in the market before ActiveProtective could have a viable business model and raise the needed funding. Drew joined Dr. Buckman in late 2012 as CEO, and he closed their first round of seed funding in January of 2014, officially kicking things off.
Tell us about the Smart Belt and how it works.
The belt has a multitude of sensors, including a nine-axis inertial measurement unit for measuring 3D motion of a user’s torso. That motion data is fed into an algorithm which can very accurately detect serious hip-impacting falls and deploy a slim airbag over the hips before impact. The belt is also Wi-Fi connected and will send fall alerts via SMS and emails to multiple caregivers. Our “secret sauce” is the algorithm, which we’ve painstakingly developed by collecting more than 6,000 hours of normal motion data from users in our target demographic (average age of 83), along with a library of 1,200 falls which we’ve generated in the lab after studying closed-circuit footage of older adults falling and breaking their hips in nursing homes.
We then used machine learning to optimize the algorithm to have zero false positives in our normal motion database while detecting as many falls as possible. And once we launch, we will continue to collect motion data from actual users and refine the algorithm through machine learning. Lastly, we’re really proud of the belt’s form factor, which was the result of intensive usability research with more than 200 older adults to arrive at a belt that people will actually wear.
What is next for ActiveProtective?
This will be an amazing year for us. We are wrapping up final testing of our Gen 1.0 belt and have begun production. We are slated to begin our first pilots this summer with a couple large senior care providers who have championed and supported us from the start. We are also in the midst of raising our Series A round of financing to give us enough runway to commercialize with our early adopters.
Lastly, we’ve finally started expanding our team this year and will continue to bring other key hires on board once we close our A round. We’ll stay relatively quiet through the remainder of this year to focus on executing successful pilots, but you should be hearing more from us toward year’s end.
The CTA Foundation strategically supports programs to link seniors and people with disabilities to enhance their lives. Learn more.