The word “bionic” sounds particularly futuristic, but a Halifax-based is in the process of launching what it calls “the world’s bionic knee brace.”
“By Bionics, for us, we mean truly augmenting or enhancing the natural abilities of the human body,” says Chris Cowper-Smith, the co-founder, president and CEO of Spring Loaded Technologies. “We’re not the first spring-loaded knee brace in the world, but we are the first spring-loaded brace that can meaningfully augment strength and reduce fatigue for even a healthy individual during a variety of everyday tasks.”
Those tasks could be everything from skiing to tying your shoelaces.
“We can help people to reduce fatigue and promote safer lifting and stronger leg muscles during those activities but we can also, importantly, help people that have an injured leg or knee, if they no longer have function of their quadriceps to kind of regain that function,” he says.
Cowper-Smith says the idea for the brace came from personal experience.
“Each of the co-founders had experience with knee injuries of their own and we knew, quite frankly, that existing solutions for treating those knee injuries were good for stabilizing the joint but not for restoring mobility,” he says. “So we wanted to create something that could directly augment the person’s mobility while also providing relief from pain and joint stability.”
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It wasn’t easy, though; Cowper-Smith and the Spring Loaded team spent three years developing the brace.
“The technical challenges were very significant,” he says. “We’ve gone through four of five core technologies and at least 50 prototypes.”
The key challenge was finding a spring that was small enough to use on a brace without making it bulky and cumbersome.
“After failing numerous times at finding a technology that we could make small, we discovered what are called liquid springs,” he says. “As liquid springs get smaller they get more powerful, in contrast with metal springs which as they get smaller they get weaker.”
But even after the team had found a way to make the springs smaller, there was still more development to do.
“We really had to reinvent how to manufacture every part of a brace because we wanted to embed our springs in to this,” he says.
Cowper-Smith says he sees older adults who want to stay active as the core market for the device but there are other applications, Spring Loaded recently signed a contract with the Department of National Defence – though he can’t say much about it.
So far, he says the response from physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons has been positive—even those who are unsure about the benefits of traditional braces.
“It undeniably has an effect where it’s actually lifting body weight,” he says.
Spring Loaded is currently raising money to bring the device to market through a crowdfunding campaign.
It raised US$138,000 (over CAD$190,000) in the first eleven days of the campaign, well above its $75,000 goal.
An individual brace will cost backers US$1449.