It's not a topic that often comes up but for millions of people worldwide who have lost part or all of a limb (or limbs), finding the right prosthetic can be quite the hassle. Besides the costs and trauma associated with limb loss in the first place, many find that finding the right prosthetic, one that fits their body and lifestyle properly can be a frustrating and even painful process.
Though incredible advancements have been made in the field of prosthetics, what many don't know is that the field is still quite underdeveloped. In fact, it's not uncommon for amputees to go months or years without prosthetics or with poorly fitting prosthetics that cause them pain- many end up using wheelchairs or power chairs instead. The Pittsburgh-based startup, Human Motion Technologies or HuMoTech is looking to change all of this. Founded in 2015, the startup is hoping to revolutionize the world of prosthetics.
HuMoTech is stepping into an industry where rejection of patient claims for prosthetics are routine and where very little research or feedback is available about the various prosthetics available. The biggest concern was the fact that many patients didn't have much of choice. Between figuring out which prosthetics and services their insurance will cover and what devices are available to them and cause them limited pain, patients often lose out on maintaining a happy and healthy life after amputation. So what can be done?
HuMoTech produces products, which are then marketed to research companies that can test the quality of the devices and their effectiveness for patient use. HuMoTech's prototypes can, therefore, be tested and cleared (or improved) in a matter of hours, rather than waiting a matter of months. Since the industry itself is scattered, HuMoTech aims not only to provide better fits for patients but also to be a one-stop shop for the numerous limb replacement devices on the market. Their two main products include their ankle exoskeleton and ankle prosthesis.
Their ankle exoskeleton is a simplistic, lightweight (weighing just 0.8 kg or about 1.76 pounds) and durable unit. It's designed to be easy for patients to put on with a shin strap and heel/toe connections, suitable for most kinds of footwear and users. This allows most users to benefit from their services without having to customize the prosthetics for a better fit.
The device is suitable for walking and running. The ankle-foot prosthesis is also simple and lightweight, capable of walking at a brisk pace and for use by users up to 250lbs. According to their site, it can be worn both by "transtibial amputees using a standard pyramidal adapter" and "by non-amputees using our simulator boot and lift shoe combination."
So what else are they up to and what can they do about producing better data for prosthetics? Josh Caputo, Ph.D., president, CEO, and Founder of HuMoTech has been working on a prosthetic foot emulator that would allow medical care teams to measure the foot characteristics of patients so that the best fit for each patient can be determined.
Ideally, the way that this machine would work is that the patient slips on the lightweight robotic ankle-foot prosthesis while walking on a treadmill. Their prosthetic is attached to a machine, which tracks sensor signals from their movement in real time to determine their foot characteristics.
Not only would this help more patients find the perfect fit but it would increase the amount of data out there for future endeavors to determine which prosthetics are best for patients with particular foot characteristics. Prosthetists can alter the characteristics of the device itself to see how the gait of the patient changes mid-stride without having to test this with multiple prosthetic devices.
Their upcoming projects involve more tests with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). While their team is small, they're passionate about making a difference.
Their real challenge now is to replicate the numerous patient factors which come into play. Both are reproducing the experience of patients using prosthetics every day and creating products which fit different kinds of patients (for instance, children or those over 250lbs) will be beneficial to their cause.
However, since this startup remains small, this is no simple task. Their ability to attract governmental organizations in the area make it clear that they've got something going for them and in a research town like Pittsburgh, there's hope for this small startup yet!