Combining IoT and 3D printing to create human-centric innovation.

I’m always trying to track current digital innovation trends, and with that in mind I had coffee this week with Shashi Jain, Innovation Manager at Intel.

When he told me that he’s particularly interested in the intersection of IoT and 3D printing I paused for a moment, trying to figure out what the hell that meant. Then he opened up his laptop to show me an example.
A startup named UNYQ (pronounced “unique”) is working with Intel to create connected wearables for prosthetic and orthopedic purposes, including a new way to correct scoliosis.

(Background: Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that affects over 3 million people a year. If left uncorrected, can become a lifelong deformity. It typically appears during teenage years, and girls are more severely affected than boys).

UNYQ has developed a revolutionary new brace which is not only highly-effective at correcting the spinal curvature, it does so in a way that helps a teenage girl to retain her sense of self and fashion.
By scanning the patient’s torso and then using those scans to 3-D print the orthopedic brace, the patient gets a perfect customized fit. By implanting sensors hardwired to an Intel Curie module, connected via Bluetooth LE to a mobile application, the patient can use her smartphone to adjust the pressure on the brace for optimized therapeutic tension. And because that application is tracking the tension and positioning over time, each follow-up visit with the physician can include a smartphone review of all the data captured.
You can read Shashi’s article about it on the Intel website. It is indeed a great example of IoT and 3D printing brought together to create a product that is changing lives.

But you know the best thing? It’s also a great example of Design Thinking being used. During the first phase of the Design Thinking process (Empathy), the engineers at UNYQ talked with girls with scoliosis and discovered a key insight: girls hate wearing the traditional scoliosis brace, leading to conflict between girls and their parents (and often the girls being less than truthful with their physicians about how many hours per day they were wearing their brace).

Based on that key insight, the engineers at UNYQ went into the second phase of Design Thinking, Ideation (brainstorming) about how that problem could be addressed. The result? A more comfortable, fashionable brace that girls are happier wearing, and sensor-collected data on exactly how many hours a day they are wearing it, leading to better compliance and better outcomes.

Bingo. It’s a great example of human-centered innovation being engineered today, combining IoT, embedded sensors, Bluetooth LE, and 3D printing. Great stuff.