Startup of the Week / The Smart Shoes That Will Prevent Grandpa From Falling

Sensors tell the shoe when the wearer is teetering; future versions will be able to call for help, too.

Not long after Dr. Yonatan Manor’s father celebrated his 80th birthday, he began falling.

Manor’s wife presented him with a challenge: Invent something that could prevent his father from falling. Manor’s initial reaction was that it couldn't be done, but he began to observe how his father moved around, how he stabilized himself when he lost his balance and how he sat.

Manor, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, also began to observe the residents of a senior citizens’ home. He realized he could see a pattern in the way elderly people get about - and in the way they fall. This was the start of B-Shoe Technologies.

B-Shoe is short for balancing shoe, which prevents elderly people from falling by moving one of their feet backwards when they lose balance. The product is in the testing stage.

A leading cause of death

Falls are a leading cause of mortal injury among seniors. In 2010, the direct cost of medical services for injuries caused by falls among persons aged 65 and over in the U.S. totaled $30 billion. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia suspects this figure will nearly double, to $55 billion, in 2020, due to greater longevity and aging baby boomers.

When we lose balance, our natural reaction is to take one step backwards to prevent our fall. The elderly don't notice their loss of balance in time, and thus do not take that critical backward step.

The shoe knows

How does the B-Shoe work? Its sole has a system of sensors and an electro-mechanical mechanism that can move the shoe backward.

An algorithm identifies the situation of the shoe wearer – walking, sitting, standing. The sensors measure how the person's weight is distributed, and how the pressure between the front and back parts of the foot is distributed. The information is then processed by a microprocessor built into the shoe.

When the system detects that the center of the wearer’s balance is suddenly being transferred behind his or her heels in the course of standing or walking very slowly, it goes into action. The mechanism, which is embedded in each shoe, helps the wearer to take the necessary backward step to prevent a fall.

“A person wearing a B-Shoe is actually standing on a kind of caterpillar track embedded in the shoe’s heel and which protrudes a few millimeters underneath the shoe. When the wearer’s center of balance moves backward, the caterpillar track on which the foot is standing moves it backward and prevents imbalance,” explains Abraham Stamper, the company's CEO.

The rear of the shoe is like an airport conveyor belt. The shoe’s mechanism is operated by a battery.

No special training or adjustment period is required. The company is planning to add another important feature: a communication device built into the shoe that could summon emergency assistance in the event of a fall.

In addition, the shoe could be designed to provide the attending physician with information that has been collected by the shoe, information on the wearer’s previous falls and near-falls.

Tapping the crowd

Right now the company’s prototype looks pretty clumsy; however, the company plans to miniaturize the technological apparatus so that it will not be noticed.

The company has developed a number of prototypes and is testing them at the Sheba Medical Center's Rehabilitation Hospital. It's working on raising the $1.7 million it needs to continue testing and start commercialization. It's also working on raising $30,000 from the public through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

B-Shoe hopes to complete the development and testing within a year and a half, then get marketing approval from American and European authorities. It won't be making the shoes itself but will collaborate with manufacturers. Stamper hopes insurers will agree to reimburse wearers.

The company was founded in 2011 by Abraham Stamper, CEO; Aharon "Araleh" Shapira, business development manager; Yonatan Manor, inventor; Professor Michael Soudry, orthopedic surgeon; Prof. Nahum Rosenberg, orthopedic surgeon; Prof. Carlos Gordon, neurologist; and David Arlinsky, CEO of Sysmop Technologies and a strategic partner.

The startup operates within the Haifa Hi-Tech Acceleration Center, one of the technological incubators that are partially funded and administered by the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Economy Ministry (formerly the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry).

B-Shoe
B-shoe