Choosing orthotics as a test case, the i2AFO project will develop a technology platform for the fabrication of 3D smart objects. The intelligent instrumented ankle foot orthosis (i2AFO) created will feature a flexible, stretchable polymer matrix. This matrix will contain sensors and other electronics to monitor and analyze the deformation of the AFO and hence the movement of a patient’s foot and ankle. The resulting analysis can then be utilized to create a more effective patient specific holistic therapy program for walking problems. The consortium will also develop energy-efficient software enabling cloud-based processing of data gathered from the smart AFO, providing feedback and monitoring to the patient and therapy team.
Recent innovations have made stretchable electronic circuits a reality. Electronics can be embedded in plastic sheets that can be shaped by heat into almost any desired shape without harming the electronic elements. These new technologies pose unique opportunities for medtech applications, such as personalized and mass-producible smart wearables. Other sectors poised to benefit from this technology include automotive, gaming, lighting, architecture and those involving user interfaces.
An ankle-foot orthosis is targeted in the i2AFO project, as these have been made using the vacuum thermoforming technique for decades and the process is well understood. AFOs pose unique follow-up and monitoring problems, since doctors are unable to observe their effectiveness in everyday life outside of a complex laboratory. Adding sensors to AFOs composed of thermoformed and stretchable elements makes them intelligent and offers an optimized way for medical professionals to monitor their patients. Until recently, prototypes of AFOs that incorporated sensors were both uncomfortable and impractical.
The i2AFO consortium has identified four main technical goals:
Partnerships with local hospitals will supply the gait and kinetic modeling expertise, along with specialized clinical environments needed for AFO validation. Technology collaborators bring sensors, data processing, deformable electronic circuitry, wireless communication and orthotics design to the project.