Startup Developing Airbags Belt to Prevent Hip Fractures Among Elderly

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Hip Hope wearable protector, to prevent hip fractures from falling. Picture shows the company's exhibition at a tech expo,
Hip Hope wearable protector, to prevent hip fractures from falling.Credit: Amatsia Raanan

Hip fractures are the bane of the elderly. Though mortality from breaking the femur has been declining, the incidence of breaking it has not and 95% of such injuries are caused by falling, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Hip Hope hopes to fix this problem of the aged by affixing airbags to your waist.

Airbags in cars may break your nose on occasion but they also stop you from flying through the window screen and breaking your neck.

Hip Hope's device is rather gentler. It can't stop you from slipping on a banana peel, but as the first active protector of its kind, its inventors say it can reduce up to 90% of the impact in a fall. (You can still hit your head on the pavement though.)

Use is simple: Buckle up the belt around the waist and sync it to a smart-phone app.

The belt could be confused for a fanny pack, but with two small pouches that store airbags. It weighs around 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds).

The device comes in multiple fabric colors, and more hues and styles will be added when the startup enters mass production, projected for end 2017. “There’s no active hip protector in the market yet. We are going to be first,” Amatsia Raanan, CEO and inventor of Hip Hope, predicts.

Hip Hope personal airbags to prevent hip fractureCredit: Amatsia Raanan

Beyond the deployment of airbags in the event, the ‘techie’ aspect of the product is in the sensors installed in the belt.

A combination of motion or inertial sensors and custom-made laser distance sensors identify whether you have fallen, or if you have just indulged in a fall-like event (like reeling from loss of balance, or sitting down quickly).

If a fall is identified, within less than 50 milliseconds, explosive-free airbags inflate, protecting the pelvis from direct impact with the ground.

When the belt deploys, the smartphone application sends alert notifications to preselected destinations.

The inventors claim the device is smart enough not to get activated and send false fall alerts in case of misleading “fall-like” events.

The inertial sensors are designed to identify acceleration and spatial orientation. If acceleration suddenly increases, it probably means a fall, but it could also just be the movement of a car or an elevator. The custom-made distance sensors measure the distance between the pelvis and the ground, and surrounding objects. Working together, the sensors are supposed to be accurate enough to avoid being misled, for instance by stumbling.

Almost-fall events

The belt includes a user-operated emergency call-button that also works with the app and will alert pre-selected destinations. Call-button alerts are initiated by the wearer, while fall alert notifications are sent automatically.

The app also works as a remote activity monitor. By keeping records on the user's movement data, it learns to recognize personal motion patterns through a dynamic learning algorithm.  

The device can recognize a series of “almost-fall” events that can point towards a higher risk of falling in a patient; or a decrease in activity that can indicate the user is becoming sedentary.

These aspects are more beneficial in theory than in practice since the belt can’t do much at this stage besides inflate in a fall. But in the next phase, these monitoring capabilities ought to help boost prevention, the entrepreneurs say.

The company's business model is to lease its devices, not sell them. The product will be leased through local distributors for around $50 a month, though the final price will depend on the country. An option for buying the product will also be offered.

Ministry of Silly Walks - Monty Python: : Hip Hope belt would realize he isn't falling.Credit: YouTube

Hip Hope has pending patents in the U.S., the E.U., Canada and Japan and has submitted other patent applications. It has obtained CE Mark approval in Europe (Class 1 medical device), FDA listing as class1 medical device and a Health Canada certification. As of right now, the company is starting to make the first 150 units for beta testing in Israel, Canada and Europe.

Amatsia Raanan, Hip Hope founder and CEO.Credit: Amatsia Raanan