upLYFT: Improving Mobility with Smart Clothing
Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
upLYFT is developing smart wearables that increase muscle strength and bone density, prevent injury and facilitate recovery.
What specific problem are you trying to solve?
upLYFT is fighting musculoskeletal diseases. These diseases disproportionately affect the elderly and that is where our focus lies. Our solution promotes healthy aging, ensuring inclusivity for the elderly by allowing them to regain full control of their bodies.
By 2050, the population of individuals over 60 years old will almost double from 12% to 22%. Despite this, few innovations tackle ageist exclusion, resulting in the elderly becoming progressively more precluded. Lack of innovations to treat musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, renders them dependent on external interventions, which are often costly and cumbersome.
Worldwide 1.7 billion people suffer from MSK conditions. They are the single biggest contributor to years lived with disability worldwide. Some reports estimate that women in the UK will spend as much as 27% of their lives living with musculoskeletal disabilities. For men in the UK this figure falls to 22% of their lives. MSK conditions significantly limit mobility and dexterity, leading to early retirement from work, reduced ability to participate in society and decreased well-being.
MSK conditions account for ~30% of GP consultations in the UK. Fractures and falls, which are serious MSK problems in the elderly population account for 4M+ hospital bed days each year in the UK. In older adults, poor muscle strength increases the risk of a fall by 76%, and those who have already had a fall are three times more likely to fall again. On top of that MSK related complications require 38% more time to recover compared to an average illness.
These conditions also have a significant impact on mental health. Surveys have shown that 33.9% of adults over the age of 50 with MSK pain have persistent anxiety issues and 22% have a persistent depression problem. 20% of people with arthritis have depression.
More than 40% of the people living with long term MSK conditions are inactive. This problem was recognized by the government of the United Kingdom, which has allocated £98M to be spent over five years for the UKRI Healthy Ageing challenge which is aimed towards improving the quality of life of aging populations. The NHS spends about £5B+ on treating MSK conditions every year and this figure is projected to grow.
Limited mobility causes a downturn in one's quality of life. Increased dependence on others or external appendages leads to feelings of insecurity, isolation and dissatisfaction amongst people living with MSK conditions. Decreased mobility also means letting go of activities, routines and habits to fit one's limited abilities. For the aging population this often comes as a sudden shift, leaving many of them struggling to adapt. To help with these problems, the current solutions are private and personalized healthcare which is too expensive and inaccessible to the majority. While devices like canes and wheelchairs are present, there are no solutions that holistically take care of the physical health of the user and that is we issue we are here to solve.
What is your solution?
upLYFT is developing smart wearables that fight musculoskeletal diseases. The wearables increase muscle strength and bone density, prevent injury and facilitate recovery. They do this by increasing muscle recruitment, range of motion and flexibility of the user. The wearables stimulate the user’s musculoskeletal system using localized vibration therapy.
Vibrational therapy has been heavily studied and has been shown to yield significant physiological benefits - including the ones enumerated above. However, it has never been developed into an accessible commercial product. There exist whole-body vibration platforms, but those are expensive and inaccessible to many users e. g. an elderly person with severe mobility issues. That is why we have developed our own electronics to miniaturize this therapy and put it into garments - hence reducing their production costs and making the product accessible to everyone.
We fit our electronics into tight-fitting undergarments, which anyone can wear under their usual clothes. The wearables have sensors which monitor muscle activation and they automatically turn the stimulation on and off as required. The whole process is fully automated and makes use of machine learning and AI ensuring that the whole experience is fully personalized to the user. Everyone gets the stimulation tailored specifically to them. With time the stimulation helps the patient rebuild their muscle strength, bone endurance and regain mobility.
Who does your solution serve? In what ways will the solution impact their lives?
The target population we are helping is the elderly. As mentioned above by 2050, 22% of the world's population will be above 60 years of age. Limited mobility is a key feature of the lifestyles led by the elderly - and it is not by choice. More often than not, the elderly cannot move freely on their own, plagued by disabilities and related musculoskeletal conditions. These conditions make it really hard for them to remain active and keep moving. This disease-induced inactivity makes them prone to bone thinning and muscle loss, which leads to the development of further musculoskeletal issues. The elderly have to either resort to expensive geriatric rehabilitation or invest in equipment like wheelchairs and walking frames, which does not treat the cause of their immobility.
Currently there is no device on the market, which helps in a personalized and targeted way with muscle strengthening and improving bone density. There exist devices that utilize generalized vibrational frequencies providing MSK support however you need to exhibit a considerable amount of fitness to use them. upLYFT wearables are the first truly accessible solution to meet the needs of the ones who struggle with mobility. With our wearables the user does not have to move on their own to carry out exercises, stand for extended periods of time, or resort to expensive private care sessions to improve one's mobility. This is a crucial capability of our wearables given that the majority of people with MSK conditions are forced to lead sedentary lifestyles.
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
We have built a motivated interdisciplinary team at upLYFT. Both my co-founder and I stem from technical backgrounds, biomedical engineering and physics respectively. My co-founder has worked on smart textile technology for stroke rehabilitation. I have worked in the med-tech sector for the past two years. I have been involved in non-invasive cholesterol measurement research (for cardiovascular health), sanitation technology advancement and cupric oxide nano-structures development to be used in non-enzymatic glucose sensors for diabetic care. For my efforts I have been awarded the Laidlaw Scholarship and Polaris and Sigma Squared Fellowships.
We have expanded upLYFT's engineering team to include all necessary expertises to tackle each part of product development efficiently by hiring the most ambitious Masters' students from the Imperial Bioengineering Department. Every member of the engineering team has a track record in delivering inclusive and wearable technologies in the past such as prosthesis, assistive clothing and wearable bio-monitors.
We have combined this expansion with inviting 2 post-grad business students from the Imperial College Business School to work with. Each has previous industry experience in med-tech companies including commercialisation strategies. This capability of theirs is critical in ensuring the success of our venture as it closes any potential knowledge gaps that might arise due to the engineering background of the co-founders.
We also have an advisory team, which will help deliver our product effectively. Our mentor/advisor is the CEO of one of the biggest companies within the smart textile industry specialising in infra-red muscle recovery. This has proved valuable to us as we often leverage his engineering team to help us find solutions to any technical problems we encounter. We also have a clinical advisor, who is essential for integrating our technology with the NHS and helps us validate how our device can improve the public medical sector. Additionally we have a champion Paralympic swimmer, on our advisory team, who brings a fresh angle to the technology's development ensuring that our innovation is truly inclusive.
What steps have you taken to understand the needs of the population you want to serve?
We are continuously focused on collecting and integrating feedback from our end users into product development. To this end we have carried out extensive market research including online surveys with 300+ combined respondents, presented in various summits where we have interacted with consumers and noted their preferences. We have carried out over 50 one-on-one structured user interviews and collectively talked to many hundreds of people about what we are building. We are also regularly in conversation with private care homes and hospitals to better understand what features we can work on to serve the population better.
This feedback loop allows us to ensure that the product we are building is exactly tailored to the customers' needs.
We have received a letter of intent from NHS Worcestershire and have been granted a place onto SIGHT NHS med-tech accelerator. SIGHT is a combined effort of the University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth Hospitals and related bodies to accelerate critical medical innovation's integration into the healthcare system.
Which aspects of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Improving healthcare access and health outcomes; and reducing and ultimately eliminating health disparities (Health)
What is your solution’s stage of development?Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model
In what city, town, or region is your solution team located?London, UK
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
What makes your solution innovative?
upLYFT is offering a solution that is personalised to the user, affordable and non-invasive. This ensures that it can be used in a safe and secure manner by the user without having to worry about side effects or having a negative impact on the health of the patient. There is currently no device in the market that offers all these benefits (improved muscle recovery rates, decreased risk of injury, increased bone density and muscle strength) together in one product. And so we are first ones to offer holistic MSK support in a product accessible to everyone.
What are your impact goals for the next year, and how will you achieve them?
- We aim to finish a high fidelity prototype by the end of Q1 2023, and begin Phase I of testing.
- We are currently in the process of applying for our trademark.
- We have been accepted into the SIGHT NHS accelerator which will give us access to clinical trial networks and academic testing facilities.
- Prototype II and subsequent Phase II of testing will wrap up by Q3 2023.
- We aim to file for IP protection after Phase II of testing.
- Developing more partnerships with hospitals, care homes and institutions with testing facilities is also on our priority list.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
The upLYFT sleeve is a smart wearable with integrated machine learning algorithms that automatically adjust the stimulation to elicit the best physiological response. The stimulation is provided via the means of custom-designed electronics in the form of localised vibrational therapy and its operation is informed by surface mounted sensors. The upLYFT sleeve supports the musculoskeletal system holistically achieving improved outcomes due to the combination of hardware and software innovations.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
How many people does your solution currently serve, and how many do you plan to serve in the next year? If you haven’t yet launched your solution, tell us how many people you plan to serve in the next year.
We have not launched our solution yet however we plan to enter the elderly market in 2025, after having obtained the necessary medical accreditations. We plan a subsequent overseas expansion alongside governmental collaborations to reach the people most in need of our innovation. We plan to be helping 2% of Brits suffering from musculoskeletal pains by the end of 2025, which translates to 670,000 people helped and we are hoping that, using the governmental and non-governmental partnerships we are developing would greatly facilitate achieving this goal. Alongside the hockey stick approximation (which is the industry standard within deep-tech innovations) we aim to help 1% of the total population suffering from MSK condition i.e. 17 million people within the next 5 years. upLYFT's success is measured by how many people our innovation has helped.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year?
There are a number of risks which we are currently mitigating by short iterative developmental cycles and continuously talking to our end user. The risk however still exists and the main ones are:
- Legal risk of obtaining the legal accreditation in a timely manner
- Adoption risk: the elderly being distrusting of our technology
- Financial risk: high initial investment needed to set up the supply chain
- Technical issues: delay in one developmental side project negatively affecting other parts of the R&D
How many people work on your solution team?
Co-founders: 2; Part-time: 5
How long have you been working on your solution?
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We have entered into agreements to partner with a variety of organizations who can help us with different perspectives of the business.
Namely, for medical consultations, access to medical testing resources and expertise and connections to a wide network of experienced healthcare professionals and clinics, we have been given a place on the SIGHT NHS accelerator which is in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth and NHS Portsmouth Hospitals. We also have a letter of intent from NHS Worcestshire that will enable us to gain feedback from end-users while the technology is being developed.
To take into consideration the needs of the wider population, we are in talks with sports clubs like Bedfordshire Cycling Club, Peleton Cycling Club, UCL Cycling Club, among others to routinely conduct surveys to take into account their behavioural patterns and requirements so that we can integrate it into our prototypes.
We are also supported by a numer of London-based incubators including Olam Ventures, The Hatchery and Imperial Enterprise Lab's VCC.
What is your business model?
upLYFT provides value to the elderly population by providing them with a tool that will decrease their dependence on external factors and help them take charge of their health. We will increase partnerships with hospitals and care homes. This will ensure that we will be able to get across to the consumers with less adoption friction and in a more trustworthy manner, since we will be approaching them from a channel that is trusted and has credibility. Thus, we will then be able to provide the product at a subsidized cost to the ageing population.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
For now, we are solely dependent on grants, partnerships and non-dilutive funding to build our prototypes and carry out testing. These also cover other expenses such as wages and fieldwork.
To make the product accessible to the elderly, we will subsidize it and then offer it to them through trusted channels like care homes and the local NHS. To sustain this, we will continue growing our government partnerships and teaming up with care homes to offer our products to their consumers. After having achieved break-even and when we start turning a profit, we will implement a low income client revenue model for directly selling to the elderly, where we offer the product at a subsidized cost.