Designing for the Body: SCALED wearable Technology

A woman in work-out hear faces away. She stretches her arms over her head, and SCALED tech is visible on wrist and low backSCALED is a flexible, high-performance, protective wearables inspired by nature–and created by Natalie Kerres. In today’s podcast, we discuss the design and also the future of such tech. Listen in on Soundcloud, and read more about the project below, where we have included video and visuals. Contact SCALED through their webpage for more.

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(Transcript below)

ABOUT NATALIE KERRES

SCALED served as Kerres master thesis for the program Global Innovation Design (a joint Masters between the Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art). The Global Innovation Design program takes place in London, Tokyo and New York with a focus on solving global challenges through a cultural exchange, technology and a human-centered design. SCALED combines Kerres main interests in Design, new technologies and healthcare–and also her interest in wearables of another sort: she completed a master’s examination in gold-, silversmith and jewelry (Austria).

So what makes SCALED so different? For one thing, it is beautiful to behold and comfortable to wear, but it is also fully customizable to a users body and mobility needs. The possibilities are wide-reaching.

“We are a material innovation company developing custom-fit wearables for athletes to prevent harmful long-term damage from joint injuries,” says Kerres, but she is also deeply invested in medical applications, and the products use by those suffering hyper-mobility issues. “Our materials can be further used for injury prevention, rehabilitation and sports performance enhancement through regulated motion control to empower our society for healthy aging.”

SCALED at KFox News from Natalie Kerres on Vimeo.

 

TRANSCRIPT BELOW THIS LINE:

BRANDY SCHILLACE: Hello, and welcome back to the Medical Humanities podcast. I’m Brandy Schillace, Editor in Chief. And today I’m here with Natalie Kerres, who’s studying Global Innovation Design at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. And today, we want to talk about Global Innovation and Design and her project, Scaled, which involves wearable technology. Natalie, welcome. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

NATALIE KERRES: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, I’m a recent graduate from the program Global Innovation Design, which was a joint Masters between Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. And this program bring together the design aspects and the technical aspects of problem solving. Before that, I studied industrial design, quite traditional and as well, my background in jewelry design and manufacturing, I guess played, unconsciously, a big role in my final project, Scaled, as well.

SCHILLACE: Right. And though some people who have listened to our podcast might have seen some work on Scaled, I believe it was Reuters, that’s appeared in a couple of other places. I think you said it’s been on CBS. But let’s just update everyone on exactly what this wearable tech is like. What does it look like and how does it work?

KERRES: So, Scaled is actually a technology to produce customized wearables to protect the human body, especially joints. So, our vision is to prevent injuries in the first place, to empower our society for healthy aging. And really crucial in human bodies, our joints really fragile. They’re like the one part in the body where if an injury happens, even early in ages, you might never recover fully from it. That’s why our focus is on human joints. And what Scaled does and allows, it’s an algorithm that allows you to put in your parameters, and that might be the type of activity you want to protect your joint that vary from rehabilitation of a broken wrist or preventing a fracture in the wrist from snowboarding, for example. It’s completely different activities we’re looking at, and therefore, we’re taking into account what kind of forces, what kind of material should we use and as well, the range of motion.

So, what we saw in our research is that anything that happens beyond the healthy range of motion, which is called hypermobility, and extending that might cause an injury.

SCHILLACE: Mmhmm.

KERRES: And Scaled looks like animal scales, while you brought it up, I guess. And the whole concept developed from asking nature how they solve this problem of protection and mobility.

SCHILLACE: And it’s a beautiful design as well. I mean, I’ve seen pictures of it. And in addition to the fact that it replicates, it does look like scales, it looks kind of like chainmail as well. But it’s a beautiful design that is also functional and is wearable. And I wonder if you can tell us a bit more how do we wear it? How is it worn by the people that are using it?

KERRES: So, we’re right now looking into two different areas of application methods. As I mentioned, on different activities, need different methods of application. And for the athletic field and short-term use of Scaled, we are looking into a sort of adhesive, so Scaled is worn as a kind of tape, really easy and reusable. And the second one is if we look into rehabilitation where we talk about long-time usage and as well for elderly where the skin is more fragile, we’re looking into a type of sleeve, which is currently in production and out for testing, which is super exciting.

SCHILLACE: It’s very exciting. I’m incredibly impressed with this work, partly because I think it’s fascinating to look at nature to solve problems that nature, of course, has been solving for a long time. You had mentioned about hypermobility. And of course, this is the Medical Humanities podcast. I know that at the moment, you’re looking more into sports. That’s just the sort of first stage. But I wonder if you can tell us a bit about how this might be useful for various disabilities, for types of conditions where hypermobility leads to things like dislocation or fractured joints?

KERRES: Yeah, it’s a really interesting point because our main focus is on the medical world. And chronical conditions as repetitive strain injuries and hypermobility injuries are causing long-term effects and downsides and cause into long-term immobility as well by not gaining back 100 percent of mobility after fracture, which is really on the risk. So, the medical world is a main focus for us, and we happily got a lot of traction from people emailing us and waiting for trials and joining us on that journey. Specifically, as you mentioned, for hypermobility diseases and disorders, it’s the main focus for us in general for disabilities that a lot of medical devices out there are not designed for dignity, we like to say.

SCHILLACE: Mm, right.

KERRES: So, instead of pointing out on a stigma and pointing out on a person’s weakness, we want to actually empower someone to use Scaled to not only help them for rehabilitation or protect them, but they actually want to wear it in terms of aesthetically pleasing. Which was a main point of focus, and that brings as well up my background in global innovation design, where the question is a product can be lifesaving, but if people don’t want to wear it because they feel uncomfortable, it will never save a life.

SCHILLACE: Right. OK, interesting. I really enjoy the way you talked about that, this concept of dignity. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Disability Visibility Project, but that is another group of people that’s been very interested in, rather than making disability somehow invisible, but creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. And I like this concept that it’s to wear. It’s something that you can be proud of wearing. It’s not meant to be stigma. It’s not meant to make you feel weak, but rather, stronger and more empowered. Can you say a bit more about how this impacts the design, but also your vision for where this might go?

KERRES: Yeah. So, the background, as well, I think I mentioned in the beginning my jewelry background, and designing for the human body brought in a lot of inspiration in that. And I hope that we can generate a lot of momentum to take this far, not only from customized premium solutions for right now looking into sportswear and athletes, but that everyone has access to such a technology. As the technology allows us to design for the human body as well, so personalization aspects of choosing your color, but also enabling any size of body parts and covering that up with scales allows us the freedom to design this through the technology of Scaled.

SCHILLACE: It’s really mobile as well. It’s not like a cast or something that has rigidity. I mean, it has a rigidity to it. But I notice in the videos and other things I’ve seen, its point is to allow you to flex and move while protecting you.

KERRES: Yeah, exactly. And you compared it right to chainmail. A lot of people say it’s like modern chainmail. And it’s the principles of chainmail. So, the scales are, if you feel it in your hand, it’s on one side like a fabric. It has no restrictions at all. And then you bend it in the other direction, and you can feel how the scales are interlocking. And the beauty of it is this: the algorithm is designing the scale structure and changes every single scale’s geometry that allows us to control when this curve of limitation is happening and to what degree. And that’s exactly copied from nature, because nature is doing the same principles in designing a fish with its scales. There has been really a lot of research in that compared fish in two different waters with different predators. And over the evolutionary process, the scales’ shape would change according to their predators, the same kind of fish. And that kind of gave me the insight that by changing each individual scale’s geometry, it allows us to design the whole pattern to hold properties of that structure.

SCHILLACE: So, it’s a really fascinating look into the way that design, once it’s considering disability, ability, limits, that you can design it from the very beginning. And I think sometimes design and wearables sort of come at it from the back, right? This is the injury, and we work backward from there. But your project is literally beginning at the base level even before it’s fabricated, thinking about mobility, thinking about what the needs of the patient or athlete might be. And I know I understand that part of the reason that you’re working forward towards this is rehabilitation, speeding up rehabilitation, and also about healthy aging. But I’m also interested in the ways this might prevent injuries, particularly for people who have repetitive injury issues, that this could actually stop that from happening. And I think that it has both a protective and a rehabilitative quality to it, which makes it a perfect addition to mobility medicine.

KERRES: Yeah, that’s completely right. So, our vision started with how can life quality keep up with the global rise in longevity? And there, the immobility aspect cames in. And the storyline then was where does this immobility come from? It comes from our lifetime. And we take risks. We do sports. We go out, we have that accident, and we enjoy ourselves. Everyone might have experienced it. And then it’s more the question, how can we prevent these really crucial injuries from happening in the first place by preventing these injuries? But then as well, what opens up was, we’re going to not only prevents these injuries, but also we can help to recover and speed up rehabilitation with it. And then moreover, can try to support chronical injuries with it. And then long-term, our storyline was how can we cut out the root of the problem to these accidents? So, going from rehabilitation to protection and prevention, we’re actually aiming for predicting those kind of injuries. So, we how can we cut out the problem from the beginning to be safer along the whole story line?

SCHILLACE: That’s really interesting. Now, I’m sure a lot of my listeners are going to be wondering when can they have access to something like this? Are there trials ongoing? What kinds of timelines might we expect before this can come to the public? Because I’m sure lots and lots of people are already incredibly interested in this product.

KERRES: Yeah, thank you. We have right now a lot of years of trials lined up in different sports fields from high diving, who are specifically vulnerable to chronic wrist injuries, as you can imagine, from jumping 10 meters and hitting the water surface at 40 miles an hour with your wrist and hands straightened up. There’s a lot of repetitive strain happening and torque in the wrist. Really interesting trials coming up soon. And as well for weightlifting and athletes in the field. I’m actually looking into football, soccer here. So, there are a lot of trials right now. We confirm collaborations. Still looking for partners, if anyone is interested. And right now, we’re just facing a little bit the restrictions from the current pandemic, which is kind of postponing our ability to get actually hands on to a user and then have that contact with them on seeing how it fits, how well does the algorithm fit the needs, and as well, how confident they feel with the scale structure.

SCHILLACE: Right.

KERRES: So, it’s in the planning, and we are hopefully getting the first wrist guards actually, so that the first product on the market will be focusing on wrists. And we hope to get that out still in 2021. It was planned for July, and now let’s see how fast we can overcome the pandemic.

SCHILLACE: Right. Absolutely. I know that you and I spoke a little bit before about one of the reasons why sports is a good place to begin, is that it’s actually quite difficult to get approvals for medical trials. But it’s not that you’re necessarily against medical trials, is that right?

KERRES: No, not at all. The medical field is an interesting one because it’s really tough to get a foot in the door in the medical field, as medical trials and clinical trials are, on the one hand, really expensive and then take up to one or two years. And therefore, the sports tech market is a little bit more flexible and innovative in that sense, that people are willing to try something that might not have been certified as Class 1 regulatory medical device. Which gives us this ability to test and get user feedback. And I think that’s really important from the beginning on, was about how do our customers feel about wearing this? What do they want to change about it? And especially in these early phases where we can change really quickly and adapt to it, the sports field just gives us the ability to work around that. And definitely the medical market is actually our main focus, and hopefully, we get through regulatories in the next 12 to 18 months. So, hopefully by 2022, everyone has a hand on the medical product as well.

SCHILLACE: That’s fantastic news. And I’m sure a lot of people are going to be excited. I’m sure some people are also probably going to want to contact you about this, though we also don’t want to overwhelm you. But if people are interested in being part of trials, are those closed now, or do you have places that people can apply?

KERRES: Oh, we have still, we’re still available for trials. I’m happy to get in contact with everyone who is interested in our trials. Right now, we’re located in London and collaborating with universities and higher institutions, which gives us as well a lot of credibility in that field that what we’re doing is actually science and comes out of a real, functioning technology. And the challenge we have now is just certifying it and bring it on the market, rather than trying to prove something. So, that’s a really good start for us, as I believe. And we’re really happy to hear from anyone who might want to join a trial or who might raise an issue they’re facing and how we could help. I’m really open always for conversations with anyone.

SCHILLACE: And conversations is what we’re all about here Medical Humanities! Just to all of our listeners, we will be providing contact links and web links, and we always have transcripts of all of our podcasts. So, you can go to our blog to find the rest of this information.

Natalie, it has been an absolute joy to have you on the program. I hope that we might have you on again as Scaled continues to scale up.

KERRES: Thank you so much. I hope so as well.

SCHILLACE: Thank you.

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