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Medical firm debuts internet-connected prosthetic limbs

Orthotic and prosthetic services business Hanger is trialling five connected prosthetic limbs with support from AT&T’s Foundry innovation lab

Hanger, a Texas-based provider of orthotic aids and prosthetic limbs, is testing the world’s first standalone, network-connected prosthetic, with support from telco AT&T’s Foundry innovation laboratory.

The prototype was designed to collect data on usage and mobility in near-real time, and connects directly to AT&T’s 4G Long Term Evolution for Machines (LTE-M) network, enabling it to sync data to the cloud without relying on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a connected mobile device. It attaches to below-the-knee prostheses and can be managed through a smartphone app.

Five patients at Hanger’s patient care subsidiary, Hanger Clinic, are currently using the devices to gather data on how they use their prosthetics beyond the clinical setting. This should enable clinicians to proactively monitor and contact patients to address potential issues, such as fit and comfort, even before they become a problem.

People living with limb loss often face an uncertain future – one of the trial patients, professional acrobat Andrew Montgomery, underwent a below-the-knee amputation following a motorbike accident and faced having to re-learn once instinctive movements, and deal with the possibility of not being able to continue his career.

“After my amputation, I wasn’t sure how to tackle my life – where I’d left off, where I’d be going,” he said.

Many like Montgomery face a lack of support and understanding, and don’t know how to communicate the challenges they are facing in using their prostheses to well-intentioned, but still able-bodied, clinical staff.

Hanger said that by enabling the prosthesis to talk directly to clinicians with relevant, automated and detailed data, caregivers can then provide better targeted, more relevant assistance.

“Becoming an amputee can be an emotional, traumatic experience,” said Aaron Flores, Hanger Clinic vice-president.

“Transitioning from living with a fully functioning leg to a prosthesis requires re-learning how to walk entirely. Unfortunately, not everyone knows when or how to talk to us about potential challenges. This device will give us a window into patients’ daily experiences and equip us with a level of connectivity we’ve never had before, and in turn, provide even better patient care.”

The devices incorporate an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and a LTE-M modem to capture data on speed, impact force, direction and rotation.

The partners also prototyped an iOS app enabling both patients and clinicians to view their progress and data, incorporating a video calling feature. Using AT&T Foundry’s facilities, the project went from concept to prototype in a matter of months.

“Because this device is intended to become a physical part of Hanger’s patients, the technology driving it needed to be intuitive and seamless while providing benefits to both the patient and the caregiver,” said Vishy Gopalakrishnan, vice president of AT&T Ecosystem & Innovation.

“The AT&T Foundry is uniquely suited to help customers like Hanger quickly solve these types of challenges. Through close customer collaboration, a proven ability to rapidly prototype the test solutions, and our advanced knowledge of connectivity, we’re able to move these revolutionary concepts to market faster than once possible.”

Both Hanger and AT&T plan to take the best components from the proof-of-concept trial to build a fully functional, marketable product.

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