OrthoFit: A fitting solution for repetitive motion injuries
Affecting hundreds of thousands of workers and costing more than $20 billion in workers’ compensation annually, repetitive motion injuries like carpel tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress injuries and tennis elbow are among the most common and costly occupational health problems in the United States, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration estimates.
OrthoFit, a student startup and 2016–17 member of Cornell’s eLab business accelerator, believe they have a solution that could “make the workplace safer,” said CEO and co-founder Jason Guss, PhD ’18.
OrthoFit is developing smart custom orthotics that monitor the stresses caused by posture, pressure and even torque on joints and muscles. The startup’s first product is a smart glove that workers most at risk for these types of injuries would wear throughout their shift.
“Data would be collected on their motions, grip and the vibrations that they are exposed to throughout the day,” explained Guss. “Then, with the push of a button they can perform an assessment on how they’re performing their task, and if they are at risk of developing any injuries.”
The concept for a flexible sensor board that could be fashioned in different ways to create a range of ergonomic products originated with fellow doctoral candidate, Fnu Apoorva, PhD ’17 in early 2016.
The pair, along with Will Weinlandt, MEng ’12, PhD ’17, Pankaj Singh, PhD ’17, and Trusha Parekh, MEng ’12, applied and were accepted to the 2016 summer Hardware Accelerator program at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works as Team Flexit.
The team consulted with physical and occupational therapists in the surrounding area to gain a better understanding of the stress that can affect incorrectly positioned hands. By the end of the 11-week program, the team had successfully created a working prototype of a smart glove.
“There’s an acceptable range of motion for your hand where it isn’t stressed, but then beyond that you’re at risk of potentially developing, say, carpel tunnel syndrome,” said Guss. “Our initial idea was that you would wear this glove at work and when you are typing it would alert you every time your hand was in the wrong posture, and by doing this you would eventually train yourself to work in the right posture.”
Further customer discovery feedback convinced the team to veer from their initial idea of creating a device that would train individuals to use correct hand positions to one that could help reduce repetitive motion injuries. With their new product scope in mind, they decided to target companies with thousands of employees for their next round of testing.
The OrthoFit team consulted the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the industries where repetitive motion injuries are most common, such as construction, assembly line manufacturing, nursing and residential care and meat and poultry processing. They assembled a list of 30 companies across the Northeast to approach, in addition to contacting the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.
The team had just started the Entrepreneurship and Business Ownership class where Steve Gal, an entrepreneur and a senior lecturer at the Johnson School, had told them that they would know they had found their customer, value proposition and “customer pain point” when they established contacts deeper in a corporation, Guss said.
“When we received replies from health and safety officers in the poultry industry — where we didn’t have any direct contacts — we realized we had hit that customer pain point,” said Guss.
An aspect of the eLab program that was particularly helpful to the OrthoFit team were the “sprints,” short periods of time when teams have to get a lot of work completed. OrthoFit is in its final sprint as Demo Day, the annual culmination of the eLab accelerator program, approaches. After that, the team will finalize the smart glove and software before starting a pilot program with a poultry processor in Pennsylvania.
“We are finishing up a redesign of the smart glove and a working version of our software,” said Guss. “We are extremely proud of our progress in that short period of time.”