Sole searching: Startup's shoe helps spot balance woes

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Boston Business Journal – by Jesse Noyes Boston Business Journal

Erez Lieberman set out to develop a technology that improves astronauts’ balance. Along the way, he may have stumbled on a breakthrough for the elderly.

Lieberman, a graduate student at the Massachusetts of Institute of Technology, has launched iShoe Inc. “” a maker of iShoe insoles that can track and analyze a wearer’s balance and flag potential problems.

“The insole looks like a normal insole, but it has all kinds of electronic gadgets inside of it,” Lieberman said. “Basically what the insole does is track how you’re balancing.”

The concept, which Lieberman first developed last year as an intern for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, could be a positive step toward protecting the elderly from falls, Lieberman said, as geriatric doctors could potentially use the iShoe to gauge patients’ stability while walking or standing. That could lead to corrective therapy to address falls before they happen.

Lieberman is now seeking outside investors to further the iShoe’s development and testing. He has already pocketed $50,000 in grant money from the Lunar Ventures Competition in Golden, Colo., and has an application pending for patent protection. His three-person team, which includes a former NASA post-doctorate student, has developed prototypes that are being tested by 60 people at the University of Houston.

The company has not generated any revenue to date.

The insoles currently are made of polycarbonate and collect data through an implanted wireless radio transmitter. That device measures a user’s gait and sends that data to a Web server that crunches the numbers to determine whether a wearer’s balance is stable.

Laurence Young, a professor with both the astronautics and the health sciences and technology programs at MIT, helped Lieberman develop the technology and said it could have a wide-ranging impact. “I can see it being of interest to the medical community, from the shoe store to the podiatrist to the neurologist,” he said.

It’s not just statistics that motivate Lieberman. His own grandmother died shortly after a fall. So Lieberman, who studies in a joint health-sciences and technology program offered by MIT and Harvard University, said his interest is personal.

“It’s a really interesting concept,” said Gregory Catalano, a podiatrist in Concord. “The question that arises is, how do they apply it in a clinical setting?”

While the iShoe concept is principally targeted toward the geriatric market, Lieberman said it could also be used to correct balance issues among athletes.

But there are already technologies, such as platforms that measure patients’ footing, in the market, said Michael Robinson, a Brookline-based doctor of podiatry that specializes in athletes. All of those technologies can lead to overkill, he said.

“The reason I do not continue to use (a system such as a platform),” Robinson said, “is that it often really didn’t show me anything that my experience in watching someone walk and examining that person’s feet didn’t already tell me.”

But Lieberman said sometimes it’s the simple balance problems that his technology might spot. “Sometimes the source of the problem is a silly thing or a correctable thing.”

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