—This story originally appeared in Challenge Cup news on the 1776 site–
In a war, when a soldier loses a limb, a medical worker often has to fly in to take three different rounds of measurements to fit the wounded man or woman for a prosthetic. The process is inefficient and costly.
Amman-based Project X has developed something simpler and quicker: a mobile application that uses 3-D imaging to fit an amputee for a prosthesis.
The company also uses the technology powering that product, which they call “Anaken,” to fit individuals for shoes using just a smartphone. In the future, cofounder Sami Yabroudi envisions a wide array of measuring applications that could benefit from this 3D imaging procedure
Project X won the health category of the Amman Challenge Cup early last week. Yabroudi and cofounder Ahmad Sadeddin sat down after their victory to explain their startup’s origins and how the shoe and prosthetics businesses play off of each other.
What exactly is the problem that you’re trying to solve?
Yabroudi: The overall problem that we’re solving with our first product is taking the question of fit out of the equation. Fit is always a huge problem, whether you’re buying clothes or shoes online or even at a store. With prosthetics, fitting is a huge issue. The first time you’ve got to get sized for the prosthetic about three times and each time can be very expensive.
War zones and impoverished areas, in particular, are two of the marketplaces where you want to take your product. What are the needs there?
Yabroudi: In war zones, the number of amputees goes up by a very large number in very short amounts of time and no one can get in there from the outside. So in Syria,…16 percent of refugees have some sort of debilitating injury that they acquired in the civil war in the last few years. The medical system, which used to be pretty good in Syria, has fallen apart. Purchasing power has fallen apart, and nobody can get in there to help.
If you can send someone to help these people out, the costs of it are astronomical, with the logistics base and all of the security. In the impoverished countries where you’re just sending someone to a remote area—it’s not necessarily dangerous; it’s just remote—it’s $1,000. When you add in all the security costs, it just multiplies.
Sadeddin: The biggest challenge is really a logistical one. At the end of the day, the end user and the manufacturer are so far apart that you can’t take the user to the manufacturer or the NGO or the manufacturer to the user without sacrificing a lot—whether that’s money, lives or time.
So what we’re trying to solve is to find that unknown, which is the measurement, especially in the first year when [the amputee has to be] measured three times. The first time is a temporary prosthetic. Second time is when muscular dystrophy hits. So the third time, is when it stabilizes. And that’s not the end of it, because prosthetics run three to five years, and you have to get measured each time you get a new prosthetic to record the changes and the comfort level. So, throughout their lifetime, people are getting measured on a continuous basis. Whether that’s in an impoverished country or in the developing world, it’s a major problem either way.
As simply as you can, how does the technology actually work?
Sadeddin: The way the technology works is through images and an array of images taken from different angles.
Yabroudi: All on a regular smartphone. You take your iPhone or your Android and you take regular, two-dimensional pictures just like you usually take selfies or whatever. You take them of this object you’re scanning.
Sadeddin: There’s no specialized hardware. We don’t have to deploy any hardware globally. It’s all an app downloaded. It’s really simple. You can [assign] any person to do it. That’s our whole mentality, and this came from our shoes product, wanting to simplify it enough that the consumer could use it on a daily basis. We’re taking a really complex thing and making it something that anyone can use with very little training.
It essentially takes multiple photos, looks at those photos and looks for key features. It starts overlaying what the 3-D parts are. It starts to do estimates. Maybe I found that circle there and I found that, that, that, that. So it determines through something called triangulation. Think of it like a panorama—but it’s creating a 3-D model from that panorama.
Where our core tech excels is we do it fast. It only takes a few minutes to do. Also, we do extract the human body part from it. So you have things like floors, you have your jeans, you have maybe a random object in the images, like a table or a chair. So how do you tell the computer what’s a human residual limb and what’s not? That’s where our core tech goes in and says, “This is the human body part.”
It’s also not measurements that you take once. The cool thing about what we do is, after the technician leaves, they still have a 3-D model to work with. They don’t have to call up the end user. They can use the 3-D model that they have and start doing more measurements with it.
What stage are you at as a company in terms of deploying the technology?
Yabroudi: We’re pretty early. I just switched to this full time two weeks ago. We’re finalizing our angel investment round. We had a full committed angel round of $116,000 a couple weeks ago. With the shoe product, we’ve got focus groups that include big shoe retailers, as well as end users and shoe purchasers. [Our third cofounder] is in Afghanistan right now putting together potential partner lists with NGOs to work with for the prosthetics project. On the tech side, the core tech is pretty much here. We’re packaging it now for the various customers. We’re starting with the shoe product and the prosthetics one will be soon enough.
Sadeddin: We found a technology that we can use and develop in multiple industries without having to redevelop everything from scratch. At the end of the day, measuring human body parts, what you’re doing is all the same. So we have a proof of concept, we have a prototype. Our accuracy is to a couple of millimeters at the moment. We’ll improve that even more in the future. We want to get the really fine details right to make something that customers can use.
I’m curious about the genesis of the idea in the first place. Did it begin with the shoe or the prosthetics?
Yabroudi: It started with the shoe…Actually it all started back in the day when I tried to go get a shirt and could not find a shirt that would fit me properly. I looked at a bunch of different ways people were trying to leverage technology to mass produce custom shirts. Through market analysis, we decided to start with the shoes first. Then, as we developed the technology it became clear there were other verticals we could get into..for personal and strategic reasons.
The shoe is definitely for-profit. With the prosthetics, there’s a lot of social value in it. At the same time, there are a lot of synergies with the technology and the business model..We are using what we developed for the shoe product to jumpstart the prosthetics product. There are also resources that we can get for the prosthetics product to improve our core technology for these two products and anything afterwards.
Sadeddin: The shoe thing plays with our mind a lot. The prosthetics thing, as we say in Arabic, plays on the strings of our heart. So we look at them as very connected to us. We feel like this is a part of us. They play off of each other a lot.
What has your Challenge Cup experience been like?
Yabroudi: The timing of the Challenge Cup was a little difficult for us, but thankfully we pushed through. It came to us through people who told us we should enter. I personally didn’t know too much about it until we entered it, and since then it’s been very impressive. There was a lot of coaching, and we got some good advice. The format definitely pushed us. We’ve done a bunch of pitches but never a one-minute and a five-minute pitch.
I had two personal favorite things. One is that I got to learn in-depth, relatively, about the ideas of people I’d seen working before [at Oasis500] but didn’t know what they were working on. Now, when I go visit each of their companies, if not partake directly in their services, then I plan to just absorb the aura of them. And then also I just met a whole bunch of really great people.
Sadeddin: My biggest thing with the Challenge Cup is we hit the ground running and, boy, did we hit it. We literally stopped everything and got everyone involved. We got the whole company voicing what we wanted to do in that presentation. Our graphic designer was going, “You know what? We need to put these things in.” We kept pouring ideas in, and it was a company effort. It was a great team building exercise and every person going really hardcore. I feel like we put our hearts into it, especially the prosthetics part. I feel like it brought us closer to our end product and our goal.