This interview was originally featured on HIStalk.
What does Heapsylon do?
Heapsylon is a company focused on wearable devices and quantified sales self technology for fitness sales and healthcare. The first product that we’re building is dedicated to the human foot. A couple years ago when we first looked at the wearable device landscape out there, we would have seen Google working on Glass and Apple and Samsung working on smart watches, but there was clearly a part of the human body that is both constantly under pressure and is also underserved by technology and innovation and that’s the human foot.
Our feet are a complex system. The contain lots of muscles and ligaments, and 25 percent of the bones of our whole body are in our feet. So we thought maybe somebody should be focusing on smart socks.
What computing goes in your socks?
We’ve created our own textile sensing technology that can detect pressure and force. By weaving sensors into a sock, you can get pressure and step activity monitoring data. We also connect those sensors to an anklet that snaps directly magnetically onto the sock. By doing that, we add to our own textile sensors an accelerometer, an altimeter, a temperature monitor, and storage, plus Bluetooth 4 technology that allows us to get all this data out of the smart sock and into your favorite mobile platform.
What kinds of insights can your sensors provide that Jawbone, Fitbit, or Nike+ Fuelband can’t?
The big difference is that we can detect both how far, how fast, and how well people walk or run. We can create a real-time gait analysis. Lots of patients use a walker. All of the devices you listed can’t detect accurate data since they are limited to their accelerometer’s capabilities and they need to be worn on wrists or on the chest. You may have seen the recent Mayo Clinic study that was recently just published and covered by Forbes.
It’s really crucial, as an example, for every cardiac patient to be able to track activity monitoring so that the doctors are able to understand how they’re doing in terms of remission recovery after surgery, as an example. The Mayo Clinic study refers to an elderly patients coming out of cardiac surgery that use a walker. They decided to position a FitBit device at the ankle level, because if you position a monitor in any other place on the body for that kind of patient, it’s not going to provide you with a lot of meaningful data. Their strides are slow and short. The smart sock provides an extremely accurate data feed since we have the accelerometer positioned at the ankle and our textile sensors under the patient’s foot.
Are there any types of data that you capture that those other devices don’t?
Sure, let me give you an example. Let’s assume that now we want to go running and you just transitioned to a cool, minimalist new shoe. Between 60 percent and 80 percent of the runners out there get hurt within every one year primarily because of impact forces that we generate when we run and strike the ground with our heel. There is Harvard study that talks about this. Quantifying those impact forces today is impossible. Sensoria can provide the real-time gait analysis to the runner to inform him or her of where and how well he’s landing on his foot, in real time. Is it he landing on the heel, or on the ball of the foot, or to far on the forefoot? That would be bad too if the runner has Achilles problems as an example.
How about the battery?
There’s a battery in the anklet that is rechargeable and powers the textile sensors in the garments. The anklet can be changed swapped between garments and connected to a fresh pair of socks, and depending how often you use it, can last between two weeks and up to 18 days. The garments socks themselves are of course washable.
How does the anklet bend to one’s ankle?
It has flexible PCP electronics inside. My ankle size is probably different from my daughter’s. She can bend it and adjust it to her ankle size. You can just connect it and snap it through to the sock. It’s now linked to the sock, not touching it again. It’s magnetically connected to the sock. As soon as you connect it, it turns on. And as soon as you disconnect it, turns off.
How far along is the business?
We bootstrapped the company the company for the first year and then raised some funding through angel investors. Textronics just invested in Heapsylon. Textronics It is a large $24 billion electronics and engineering and manufacturing service company. We’ve also just completed a successful crowdfunding campaign to bring our product to market. We sold about over 750 pairs of Sensoria Fitness Smart Socks and 15 developer toolkits to people that want to build their own app on Sensoria. We raised pre-sold about over $1,1550,000 of smart socks and SDKs. That is what we needed to complete the first batch of production. The first fitness Sensoria socks product will come out in Q1 of 2014.
How much does each pair of socks cost?
We sell one anklet with sensors and electronics, one pair of Smart Socks, and the app for $199. People pre-ordering can get $50 off. Customers can order an additional three pairs of smart socks for $59 and use the anklet they previously bought. The full product with the ankle, is $199. Right now we offer $50 off for those that pre-order.
That’s a bit expensive. That means you have a very focused, targeted market.
The first version is for runners. Developers can now purchase the SDK for about $1,000, which includes APIs and a fully functional prototype to build apps. We are shipping the SDK to our first 15 developers today. We’re offering an SDK as well to help people get data out.
Are you planning to license your technology to clothing manufacturers?
Absolutely. We’d love to have implement a Gore-Tex type of approach where we license our sensor, electronics, and software technology in some areas. Everyone in the world should have the choice to buy dumb socks or smart socks. We can’t get there alone.
How big is the company?
We’re based in Redmond, Washington. We have six full-time employees. We have about 20 people working on Sensoria, very close vendors that work very close to us. It’s a complex system integration project. We have textile engineering, we have electronic engineering, and then we have software engineering. There’s a lot to do.
What’s your background? How did you get into all of this?
I’ve been in software engineering product management, marketing, sales, and engineering for a long time. I worked for Microsoft for a long time. I was in charge of the product management and marketing for HealthVault and Amalga at Microsoft. I spent many years there. I started working on MacWorks and PCWorks 1.0 in 1987 before the joint venture with GE – Caradigm — came along. I left the company about three years ago and started my own thing.
How about your co-founders?
We have a materials engineer that comes from the sports industry. Mario and Maurizio, my two co-founders and partners of the company, are both from the X-Box Kinect team. We have a pretty wide spectrum of skills sets that are over here. Although it’s a small company, we are very well represented in each one of the necessary skill sets.
Any FDA or other regulations to worry about?
Sensoria Fitness is not a medical device. In the future, we will evaluate options.No FDA. It’s really hard to hurt a patient with a 3 volt battery connected to a sock, so it shouldn’t be too hard from the FDA perspective. Reimbursement is a different story, of course. We are looking for the right partners in this space.
Are you looking to be prescribed through a platform like Happtique or HealthTap?
There is a lot going on in this space and we are following it very closely. For now, we’re just focusing in on delivering our fitness product. Through the right partnerships, we may be able to enter the medical device and healthcare market. But we won’t do that unless we have the right partnership in place.
We’re very, very keen on protecting the privacy of the patient. We will not sell patient data. We will sell socks, but we won’t sell data. That is something that is at the core of what we believe. Privacy is important to many of us. That’s something that is woven into our DNA.