Deepti Aggarwal is a PhD student at the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces of The University of Melbourne, Australia. She has designed SoPhy – ‘Socks for Physiotherapy’, a smart piece of wearable technology that provides physiotherapists real-time information on a patient’s lower body movements.
What is SoPhy and how it works?
SoPhy (‘Socks for Physiotherapy’) is a wearable technology designed to make video consultations of physiotherapy effective for treating lower body movement related issues. SoPhy consists of a pair of socks embedded with sensors for the patients to wear, that captures information related to weight distribution, foot orientation and range of ankle movement. The data captured by the socks is presented on a web-interface in real-time at the physiotherapist end. During a video consultation, when the patient wears the socks and performs lower body movements like squats, tip toes and walking, the movement related data is communicated to the physiotherapist over-a-distance in real-time. The physiotherapist can utilise this information to better understand the patient’s recovery and recommend the treatment accordingly.
How did you come to create SoPhy? How has your experience and research impacted on this project?
The idea to develop SoPhy was motivated by the observational study I conducted at the Royal Children’s Hospital to understand the current practises of video consultations of physiotherapy. I observed how physiotherapists assess and treat patients in video consultations and how this practise was different from the standard face-to-face consultations. This study was the starting point for my PhD and it revealed several challenges that physiotherapists face in understanding patient’s movements during video consultations.
Physiotherapy is all about movements. Physiotherapists closely observe the subtle differences in the patient’s movements to understand their recovery and to appropriate the therapy accordingly. For example, physiotherapists observe how the patient shifts the weight from heel to toes while walking and if the patient is careful or fearful in walking.
However, the two-dimensional view of the patient in standard video consultations limits physiotherapists in assessing and treating patients over-a-distance. Lower body movements are particularly, more challenging to be observed over video, as it requires specific camera view to render the required information to physiotherapists. Hence, I developed SoPhy to better support physiotherapists in assessing and treating lower body movements in video consultations.
Coming from the Computer Science background, I had very little knowledge of how physiotherapy and video consultations work. Also, I had no prior experience of working with hardware. My PhD research offered me a completely new and life changing experience. I was learning things as I was seeing and doing them. I think having no knowledge kept me on toes and I was trying harder on every phase of my research.
How do you consider that designing new objects, new innovations, is working towards a better health and wellbeing?
Maintaining good health and wellbeing is a dream for all of us. Being surrounded by so many options that influence our life in both positive and negative ways, it is increasingly becoming challenging for us to maintain good health. New innovations and objects are helping us to understand the complexities of good health, and how our daily practise is influencing our goals. These devices have brought the healthcare from the dedicated doctor’s clinics to individual’s home, where the associated individual can take more responsibility of managing their condition. Because of these inventions, it is now possible to manage long-term conditions like chronic pain and other fatal diseases like cancer after their diagnosis; to access the healthcare services directly from home; and to make the surroundings of diseased people happy and gay for faster recovery.
In my trial at the hospital, the information provided by SoPhy web-interface helped the patients in understanding ‘what they were doing’ as opposed to ‘what they should be doing’ for better recovery. The web-interface highlighted the specific areas on their foot where patients need to work on to improve their condition. It also brought more confidence to physiotherapists in their assessment. The interface provided an extra pair of eyes to understand the patient’s movements remotely. Better understanding of the patient’s current conditions helped the physiotherapists to appropriate the treatment to make it more suitable for patients.