Three Maine brothers have built a mobile app that utilizes “smart garments” to assist caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The new product, called upBed, is being unveiled this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of the biggest and most-hyped trade shows in the country.
The three Semle brothers — Evan, Aron and Eric — developed the mobile app to work in tandem with “smart” socks produced by Redmond, Wash.-based Sensoria. The socks are marketed to runners to help them track how their foot falls, but the applications for networked socks go far beyond running.
Using Bluetooth electronics, upBed inputs data from sensors in the socks to track when an Alzheimer’s patient is asleep and — perhaps most importantly — leaves the bed, and immediately notifies caregivers via text messages. More than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and 60 percent of these individuals are prone to wandering, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“We feel the caregiver market is primed for innovation, and we’re excited to apply Sensoria’s wearable technology to this new market,” said Aron Semle, 30, who is an R&D lead at Kepware Technologies in Portland. “Caregivers are hungry for solutions that make their life a bit easier, and with Sensoria’s technology we can make bedside detection non-invasive and easy for both the patient and caregiver.”
I reached out to Aron to learn more about the project, his brothers and their entrepreneurial background. We conducted a short interview via email.
The path to upBed began with a Internet-of-Things-focused hackathon (based in Italy, actually) held last year and sponsored by a company called Aizoon. Turns out Aron through his work at Kepware had met an Aizoon employee who lives in Lewiston who encouraged Aron to enter the hackathon. With 16,000 Euro on the line, Aron recruited his two brothers to work on a project that would utilize Sensoria’s “smart” socks to help manufacturing and plant workers who are on their feet all day to track their foot health.
So, the brothers — born and raised in Hollis, Maine — reverse engineered Sensoria’s sock technology, wrote an app for it, and posted a video to YouTube last September showing their beta product. They won.
“We were up against doctors and scientists, but we were one of the few teams that had a working prototype (engineers!),” Aron wrote.
Sensoria was impressed with what the brothers had done in such a short time, and so began talking to them about other applications. That’s where the idea of applying their “smart” socks to the healthcare market came in. Over the past three months, the brothers have built a prototype of upBed that Sensoria has unveiled at CES. The brothers, however, did not attend the trade show.
“Luckily Sensoria is supporting us, so we didn’t need to reverse engineer anything this time. They sent us more socks/anklets, and provided tools to develop with,” he said. “I won’t say it’s been easy, but we have a working beta!”
The brothers haven’t quit their day jobs, but are hoping upBed takes off. The venture hasn’t cost them much but time, but the payoff could be big if the product finds traction in the market.
“(Sensoria has) already indicated that the feedback is good, and they want to go live with the application soon,” Aron said. “So we’re all in. What I’m really excited about is the future of Sensoria’s technology, and what this can become.”
While the brothers had never worked so closely together on a project before the hackathon, Aron said they’ve always been into technology and computers. All three attended the University of Maine and studied either electrical engineering, computer engineering or computer science.
“We’ve always been into tech,” Aron said. “It started with our first Nintendo, evolved into building computers, and never stopped.”