In countries like India and Australia, where decent medical facilities are few and far between especially in far-flung rural areas, 30-year-old Deepti Aggarwal’s ‘smart socks’ will be a boon.
An Indian origin researcher from the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering, Aggarwal’s invention provides physiotherapists real-time information on a patient’s lower body movements, simply by having the patient wear a pair of socks.
These are no ordinary socks, though. The smart socks, called SoPhy, are actually ‘wearable technology’ that relay to the physiotherapist information about subtle differences in patient’s movements, such as shifts in weight distribution and range of foot movements.
The PhD student claims she got the idea when her dad, who lives in a small northern town in India, could not travel to the city for treatment.
“My hometown Deoband in Uttar Pradesh lacks good medical facilities,” Deepti told Indian Link. “When my dad suffered a broken ankle, he was unable to travel for face-to-face consultations.”
She added, “Physiotherapy requires a patient with chronic pain to have a series of consultations. For those who live in remote areas, making frequent visits to the city is not easy. They rely heavily on video consultation, but it’s not delivering results or effective treatment.”
Deepti’s background in technology (she has a BTech and a Master’s degree in in Computer Science) and her early work at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne helped lay the foundation for the project.
“I observed physiotherapists giving face-to-face and video consultations. That’s when I realised that rural patients are dealing with the same issues in India.”
It took Aggarwal some eight months to invent the pair of battery-run socks, which have four pressure sensors hidden in them. The socks are attached to the web interface which is accessed by the physiotherapist from his end. They cost $300 to produce.
She explained, “During the video consultation, the patient has to put on the socks and perform the exercises asked by the physiotherapist. The physiotherapist observes two screens simultaneously, one showing the patient and the other displaying the data captured by the socks.”
“For instance if the patient is performing squats by bearing more weight on one foot than the other, the colour of sensors will change from yellow to orange. If the patient puts even a small amount of extra weight on a single foot, it can be easily tracked.”
Testing was done on three of the hospital’s paediatric patients experiencing chronic pain. “It was a successful trial. The doctors have started to feel more confident with video consultation mainly because of the precise information they are getting,” Aggarwal said.
The hospital has also expressed interest in extending the project.
“There are chances that the trials are going to be performed on a large scale at the hospital. However, the plan is at a nascent stage and might take around six months to implement,” she added.
If all goes to plan, Aggarwal also hopes to extend the utility of SoPhy to other areas of medical care that face the same issues, such as for pregnant women who can’t travel regularly for face-to-face appointments.