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Why we built the Tesla of Shoes

Why we built the Tesla of Shoes

Humans are as good as their tools. Steve Jobs famously said that “a human locomotion is highly inefficient when compared to other mammals, but a human on a bicycle is far more efficient than any other animal on the planet”. Perhaps that’s why we love cars. It is efficient. Human interest in efficiency and productivity naturally improved automobile technology progressively over generations. Source of power is but one metric. Continuous data collection while in motion have transformed many aspects of the automobile design and enabled the emergence of autonomous and self-driving cars. Tesla has innovatively demonstrated successes in this space and has eagerly invested in improving the state of the art. Tesla tracks how car moves; continuously.

But what about human locomotion? Do we think about continuous tracking of human mobility? Sometimes we do when there is the incentive to push human limits to drive performance to the extreme. Let’s face it, there is only one Usain Bolt (short distance) and only one Kenenisa Bekele (long distance). We use such efficient measures of gait and mobility to understand a top athlete’s performance and to train newer athletes. But what about the remaining billions? Is there interest in understanding how their mobility is different and how it changes with age?

It turns out that gait is an enormously interesting space with far-reaching consequences to the understanding of human health and aging. Gait disorders are common both with aging and in the setting of specific neurological disorders and are a risk factor for dependence, cognitive decline, falls and death. After age 70 years, 35% of people have abnormal gait; after the age of 85 gait changes are found in the majority of people. Therefore, gait change is as common as cognitive syndromes including mild cognitive impairment and dementia. While gait changes, specifically slowing and decreased stride length is a common occurrence in older people, the presence of gait abnormalities suggests overt or covert pathologies. Continuous data on gait over a period i.e. longitudinal studies for gait and mobility are areas that are just starting to get attention. But the data collection is happening in very controlled environments by having patients and controls walk on mats that are instrumented for data capture. We feel it is inefficient and definitely not scalable. Until we have the right tools for continuous and real-time data capture from gait in the natural environment the longitudinal studies on the pathogenesis of gait will be limited and restricted.

So we decided to build the Tesla of shoes. Try it out.

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