In this episode of Disruptors, we talk to Tim McCarthy, CEO of iWalk and Matt Giza, Vice President of Cogmedix about building iWalk’s revolutionary bionic prosthetic system for the ankle and lower foot, the BiOM.
The BiOM is a bit of an engineering marvel using microprocessors and a half-dozen environmental sensors to evaluate and adjust ankle position, stiffness, damping and power thousands of times each second. Additionally, control algorithms generate human-like force while walking across level ground, slopes or stairs, providing amputees with a near-normal gait.
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The Bedford, Mass.-based bionic prosthetic company has dazzled the public’s imagination, garnering heaps of press attention and, more importantly, a great deal of investor’s capital to continue developing systems for the upper leg.
We sat down with iWalk CEO Tim McCarthy and Cogmedix vice president Matt Giza (the company which actually builds the device) recently to talk about what makes the BiOM so revolutionary and the unique manufacturing challenges that go along with such a revolutionary product.
Brian Johnson: So, Tim maybe you can tell me how working with robotics has made you appreciate the complexity of the human body more?
Tim McCarthy: I think what it made me understand is just how difficult it is to replicate human function with electrical mechanical systems.
My background has been in traditional prosthetics for 15 years. And when I saw the BiOM demonstrated in 2009, I said, “Something is really special in that robot, that prototype.” Building robots that replicate human function is an incredibly challenging thing to do. As most challenging things are, right, this is a problem that has gone unsolved forever.
So the existing technologies, although good are grossly inefficient. So that inefficiency leads to a lot of additional morbidity or illness, so when you lose a limb you’re fit with this technology today that only provides about 50% of your ankle function.
Essentially the sensation that you’d feel if you were fit with technology is that your prosthetic side is stepping in sand or your sound side is stepping on the pavement. So every step you take for the rest of your life, one is in sand – one is in pavement, like walking abnormally right? 80% of amputees have lower back problems, sound and sight, hip and knee problems. So you’re in pain, you get obese, you develop type two diabetes and this cyclical effect of immobility really takes hold of the individual.
The effect of BiOM is that when we put the BiOM on that same amputee is we have normalized gait function. So we’re able to provide a powered plant reflection right; which is what conventional technology is missing, and by providing this powered element in the plant reflects normally. We’re normalizing gait.
The effect of it is that we put the device on someone and they immediately say, “I no longer have my back problems, my back pain’s gone away, my hip pain has gone away. I’ve gotten back to work sooner than I could have with conventional technology. I’m taking less pain meds.” So that ripple effect is actually saving the healthcare payer millions of dollars from a lifetime of the individual because we have reduced that co-morbid state associated with limp loss.
Brian: So Matt tell us about the relationship that your company, Cogmedix has with I-Walk and how you, do the two companies work together?
Matt Giza, Vice President, Cogmedix: What we really consider ourselves at Cogmedix is an extension of iWalk. After you walk by R&D and engineering and marketing, there is a Cogmedix store which really in effect is the extension of iWalk. So communication is paramount in that model because we’re not physically the next door; we’re remote.
So the relationship is very collaborative, there is daily discussions and phone calls with a group of people, a lot of activity around forecasting and demand management and managing ECO traffic. All while making sure we are providing the real value that iWalk is looking from us which is compliance.
When I saw the BiOM for the first time, it looks impressive, okay but you don’t really understand what’s inside of it by looking from the outside, or even seeing somebody walk on it. After about 50 slides from Rick ending in some Matt lad analysis, I knew this was just an amazing technology incorporating just some super advanced materials, sensing devices and other components and assemblies that will respond to those sensory devices.
So it was a bit surreal on the first visit and we’ve navigated our path from there and created a very successful relationship.