Crowdfunded smart shoe aims to prevent falls by stepping for you

By Jonah Comstock
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An Israeli company is crowdfunding a "smart shoe", which they say will actually prevent falls. The B-shoe (for balancing shoe) is an interesting twist on the concept: Many times, when inventors talk about fall prevention, they're really talking about gait analysis algorithms that will help keep elderly people and their caretakers informed when they become more likely to fall. The B-shoe, on the other hand, actually has a motor in it that will roll an elderly person's foot backward to catch them if they start to fall.

"When losing balance, people usually regain it by moving a leg backward, thus increasing the base of support," the company writes on its Indiegogo page. "However, due to deterioration of their balance functions, the elderly detect imbalance too late and their reflexes cause the backward step to be taken too slowly."

The company currently has three prototype shoes and estimates that it's about two years away from mass production. As such, the crowdfunding campaign is not offering the product itself, but rather coupons that will give backers discounts up to 100 percent off the shoes, though only at the $1,000 level.

The shoe contains a pressure sensor, a motor, a rechargeable battery and a microprocessor that runs an algorithm to detect falls so the shoe can quickly respond. B-shoe says it has tested the shoe at its gait laboratory in a leading Israeli hospital and secured a patent for the technology.

MobiHealthNews rounded up seven fall prevention technologies a year ago, noting at the time that according to the CDC, falls are the number one cause of injury death among older adults and the number one reason for hospital admissions for trauma and that the total medical cost of falls in 2010 was $30 billion.

The technology in the round-up included two smart shoe approaches -- AT&T's smart slipper and Erik Lieberman's iShoe, neither of which has yet been commercially deployed. Unlike the B-Shoe, these devices were both more early warning systems than actual built-in prevention devices.

Another company, IsoWalk, partnered with UCLA to develop a smart cane after a failed Indiegogo campaign. The self-propulsive IsoWalk is similar in some ways to the B-shoe concept.

B-shoe did not respond to a request for comment, but it's likely that the product would require FDA 510(k) clearance, which could account for the two-year timeline and hesitance to do pre-orders on its site.

UPDATE: Co-founder Arale Shapira tells MobiHealthNews in an email that the B-shoe is classified as a Class 1 medical device, the same class as a mechanical walker, and will probably require 510(k) clearance. He said the company has already made initial contact with the FDA.