Could you please tell us a bit about the products that you are showcasing today?
This is a flexible, thin, stretchable sensor called an electroactive polymer (EAP). It's conducive to measuring all different types of human body movement.
What does that mean? Well, the idea is that it's going to be fixed to a garment of some kind. Maybe to a glove, shorts, a shirt, socks or even American football helmets for concussion detection.
The idea is that as the sensor is stretched, the conductive links excite the particles and that's what's causing the electrical impulses to be generated. That’s where the magic all starts.
It’s very fine and rapid measurement. It's very conducive for applications where the wearer wants immediate feedback. The analytics package can then do the magic; correcting behavior and coaching.
Wrist-worn devices were great in their time, and we all got used to looking at how many steps we took today, how many stairs, how many calories and how much we slept. But we're left asking, well, now what?
That gives rise to the next generation of demands in wearables - let's take that data and turn it into actionable information. That’s where our sensor is going to be very helpful with its speed and high resolution. It is also Bluetooth enabled.
For example, it could be used in footwear. The idea here is that several sensors will be placed in each of the left and right-hand shoes, and it measures things like landing force, the direction of force and balance. So, its applications would be in the medical side of podiatry, where perhaps the wearer's got a foot problem, and as they're walking, the analytics package is coaching them with corrective behavior.
Can you tell us a bit about the company?
Parker Hannifin has been in the sensors business now for about four or five years. The EAP technology was developed in the 1990s and patented during a joint venture with the German Chemical Company.
Several years ago, Parker bought the electroactive polymer sensing technologies outright and we've been perfecting it for the last several years to scale it up into a productions capable environment. Now we're embarking on the commercialization of the technology; focusing on athletic applications, medical textiles and industrial safety.
The group exhibiting here, is part of the quick coupling division based in Minneapolis area. Within this division, we have a group that focus in on the IoT applications and other marketplaces outside of Parker's traditional strength areas.
What makes these products unique?
It’s the flexible sensing ability. It’s the fact that it can be washed many times without causing damage. It's capable of extremely high-resolution measurement at a rapid speed. It’s a very high performing technology, which is very flexible.
What we do with our commercial partners is customize our technology for their particular application and depending on what they want to accomplish. When people are putting in that much blood, sweat, tears, money and resources into developing something unique, it's very comforting for them to know that they are backed up with a very strong IP portfolio.
What are the potential application areas and functions of of your products?
Our first commercial projects are now launching or are about to launch with our partners. We've got some very promising ideas for our products in the pipeline and we're becoming more and more known.
I'm pleased with the interest and the commercial uptake, but the number of different application areas of value that we can provide is still quite broad. There's a lot of untapped areas.
Medical textiles, for example - we are very confident that this technology can be beneficial in remote condition monitoring. Particularly in two specific diseases. Congestive heart failure is one. We could measure for foot swelling (a symptom of congestive heart failure) remotely via embedding of the sensors into compression socks. This information could be sent to the health providers so that they know their patient’s critical measurements of swelling, which is a manifestation of fluid retention and fluid build-up - for a congestive heart failure patient that's not good! That's what sends them to the hospital for repeated visits. If the care providers can detect those trends sooner, they can prescribe medicine that prevents the hospitalization.
It improves the quality of life for the patient. For the care providers, in the American health system, re-emissions are not reimbursable by insurance. We can prevent the costly re-emissions and treat them as an outpatient, which is reimbursable. There are outstanding financial and quality of life outcomes that this technology can provide.
Secondly, the technology could assist with diabetic ulcers. These are the sores and the open wounds that you often find on the bottom of a patient's foot. Those diabetic ulcers, before they became an ulcer, were a callus. Before they were a callus, they were a little spot of red inflammation. Going back to our compression sock with a sensor in the bottom of it, we can detect that heat change. We can detect when that little tiny callus has emerged on the skin because that's human body movement. Then we can alert the patient.
A diabetic patient with neuropathy often has lack of feeling in their feet. They don't know that they are having an infection. They don't know that they've got a callus, and they don't know that there is a potentially very serious problem developing. Well, this technology will alert them to it and enable them to get it treated more quickly.
How soon is the technology going to be readily available?
We can work with anybody right now – developing and creating that application. The technology exists. The technical capability of development to work with partners exist. The capability to produce the sensors in volume exists. So we just need that partner to get the ball rolling.