Smart Boots and Leg Wearables Make Strides to Market
From electrically-stimulating leg sleeves to smart industrial work boots, new wearables are safely putting more people on the move.
While smartwatches are effective for monitoring heart rate and steps, they are unable to monitor skin conditions or aid in mobility. Leg wearables, devices worn around the legs and feet in a boot-like fashion, are a rising class of IoT medtech that may improve the lives of people with diabetes, amputated limbs, or walking troubles related to age or medical conditions.
Earlier this yyear, the FDA approved wearable designer Cionic's Neural Sleeve for commercial rollout. This leg wearable stimulates a user's muscles with electrodes to help patients experiencing neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy and patients who have suffered a stroke or spinal damage.
Cionic Neural Sleeve has received FDA clearance. Image courtesy of Cionic
Using AI to analyze a person's gait in real-time, the Neural Sleeve communicates to the electrodes in each leg to adapt stimulation to the user's needs. Wearers can use a mobile app to adjust the electrodes when they are sitting or laying.
Neural Sleeve is just one example of the recent advances in the leg wearable industry. Here are a few other "smart boot" devices that may improve the health and mobility of people worldwide.
Sensoria Health Teams With Defender on Smart Boot
Approximately half of all people with diabetes have a degree of nerve damage, which commonly affects the legs and feet. This loss of sensation can cause cuts, blister, or sores to go unnoticed and lead to more serious problems if left untreated.
To help diabetics tend to their leg and foot health, in September Sensoria Health announced the availability of a new smart wearable developed in collaboration with Defender. “Foot Defender” is designed to detect diabetic foot ulcers early and alert the user, reducing the risk of foot amputation.
The Foot Defender Smart Boot. Image courtesy of Sensoria Health
Foot Defender marries Defender’s Foot Defender Smart Boot, which provides mechanical offloading of up to 50%, with Sensoria’s patented microelectronics and diabetic sensors, which monitor the patient’s usage. While details about the patented technology are not available, Sensoria Health did reveal that the instrumented boot can communicate with a dedicated mobile app and clinician dashboard.
These platforms allow patients and their healthcare professionals to continually monitor foot and leg health to provide a proper prognosis. The platforms also encourage patients to adhere to mechanical offloading tools such as the Smart Boot, which will improve health outcomes.
A Microprocessor-controlled Knee—Built By Space Engineers?
Another prosthetic wearable following Sensoria Health's announcement comes from an unexpected source: the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). While ISRO typically focuses on satellite design, the organization in September announced that it had developed a new microprocessor-controlled knee (MPK).
Diagram of the MPK-controlled knee. Image courtesy of the ISRO
According to the researchers, the new MPK consists of “a microprocessor, hydraulic damper, load and knee angle sensors, composite knee-case, Li-ion battery, electrical harness, and interface elements.” The tool uses sensor data to detect the state of the user’s gait and leverages control software to estimate and control the real-time damping needed to achieve the desired gait for the user. The damper, which is driven by a DC motor, impacts the stiffness of the system to control the user’s gait.
In testing, the ISRO found that amputees using the MPK walked up to 100 m with minimal support. ISRO's ultimate goal with this device is to provide amputees a more functional and affordable alternative to conventional prosthetics—one that behaves more like a real body part.
Stanford Designs an "Ankle Exoskeleton"
Stanford University also made strides in the medtech space last month with a new boot-like exoskeleton built to augment human walking abilities.
Using inexpensive sensors, the untethered "exoskeleton" monitors movement. Image courtesy of Kurt Hickman/Stanford University
The tool is secured around each ankle and includes a battery pack worn around the user’s waist The actuator, situated around the user's calves, consists of a brushless motor paired with a custom drum transmission to apply torque to the ankle joint, effectively augmenting some of the functions of the calf muscle. As a user’s foot is about to leave the ground on a step, the exoskeleton helps them push off.
The ankle exoskeleton. Image courtesy of Nature
Unlike other existing solutions, Stanford’s new exoskeleton works in a closed-loop system to optimize and personalize the user’s specific gait in real time. To do this, the system uses electronic sensors to track the user's motion. This data is fed to a machine-learning-based model that can optimize movement for the user.
According to Stanford's research paper on the boot, the exoskeleton provides the user with an energy saving of 17% and a speed boost of 9%, roughly equivalent to “taking off a 30-pound backpack.” The aim of this research is to help mobilize people with disabilities and aid elderly people who may have trouble walking.
Smart Boots Measure Activity and Protect Industrial Workers
Leg wearables are a useful new tool to help patients and their healthcare providers monitor health and improve mobility. But smart boots can also help all users objectively measure physical activity—a use case that is especially relevant considering that physical inactivity is the fourth-largest cause of mortality worldwide.
One monitoring system from the same Stanford researchers who developed the exoskeleton smart boot estimates a user's expenditure of metabolic energy in real-time during walking, running, biking, and stair climbing. The team used inertial measurement units worn on the thigh to better detect lower-limb activity during these time-varying activities with higher accuracy than other wearables like smartwatches.
Leg wearables also extend in the industrial sector with products like SolePower's SmartBoot, a sensor-driven, self-charging work boot that tracks temperature, location, falls, and injuries. These boots can also detect a worker's level of fatigue and whether he or she has been struck by a vehicle.
Some of the key features of SolePower's SmartBoot. Image courtesy of SolePower
With so many possible use cases for smart foot and legwear, it's likely that IoT designs will be making their way into even more of the $78 billion footwear industry in the future.