I had the pleasure to interview for my law firm’s fashion law magazine Law à la Mode, Davide Viganò, the CEO of Heapsylon, the creators of the wearable technology Sensoria Fitness that might change the Internet of Things sector! Davide is a very interesting person and is Italian (which is even better!) living in Seattle, I hope you will enjoy the interview.
1. Tell us a bit about Heapsylon’s Sensoria product line.
The Sensoria collection comprises a range of garments including socks, sports bras and t-shirts, all of which incorporate 100% textile sensorial technology. Taking the Sensoria Fitness Socks as an example, the integrated pressure and force sensors in the socks detect activity, cadence and impact forces. The Sensoria Fitness Socks come with a small anklet electronic device, which communicates the data collected in real-time to the Sensoria mobile app, enabling the user to track his activity, detect foot landing technique in real-time via audio cues.
2. Where did the inspiration for the products come from?
The co-founders of Heapsylon, including myself, are all Italian and have a technology background, having previously worked at Microsoft. In late 2010 we started to feel there was an opportunity for the sports apparel and fashion industry to reinvent itself through technology, so we set out to create garments that behave like a computer and still feel natural and look cool and elegant. One of the turning points in our product development story came as a result of a visit by Mario Esposito, our Chief Technology Officer, to his local Starbucks. Mario’s wife spilt coffee on his foot and he felt the heat burn through. The experience got Mario thinking that, rather than having technology attached to clothing, the textile itself need to be the sensorial computer. We started researching and testing, and the Sensoria Fitness Socks were born.
We knew there were textile material on the market which tried to address this, but they tended to lose effectiveness once washed – which is obviously not ideal for a garment you exercise in! So we had to create our own textile sensor technology which is washable, but also very thin and comfortable.
3. We note that many wearables businesses are now involving fashion experts in the design process (e.g. the recent tie-up between Google Glass and another Italian company, Luxottica). How important are aesthetics for Heapsylon, or is it all about functionality?
We want to create something that people want to wear. Our vision is to create technology which is transparent to the user and eventually disappears to the human eye. At the moment the electronic anklet is a core element of the Sensoria Fitness Socks, but even there we have reduced its size and weight by 3X in the last six months. The Luxottica/Google Glass collaboration is indicative of how important appearance is regarded by wearables developers.
4. Do you see Heapsylon as a technology business, a fashion company, or something else?
We view ourselves as the Gore-Tex® of wearables; as an enabling company. Our technology can be added as an “ingredient” to a product, in order to make it a smart garment. For example, the apparel that we sell is produced by an Italian fashion company that knows much more about manufacturing than we do. Our core competence is injecting intelligence into products. There will come a time where consumers have to decide whether to wear a “dumb” garment or a “smart” garment.
5. It seems that brand and design are key to the success of a new wearable tech products. How important is protecting these elements to Heapsylon?
Very important. The intellectual property in our products exists both in the e-textile sensors themselves and in the systematic approach that we use to analyse the data collected by the sensors, through our software solutions.
We sell OEM or licence our technology to third parties through our Sensoria Development Kit, enabling businesses to create new products and applications without needing to reinvent what we have already developed. The purchase of a Sensoria Developer Kit requires signature of a non-disclosure agreement and a developer agreement with Heapsylon.
We have also just received confirmation of our first design registration in Europe, for the electronic anklet device which connects magnetically to smart garments.
6.Your products obviously collect a lot of data from their users. What data protection questions have you had to address as a consequence?
The data that our wearable devices collect is processed by us and stored on a privacy-protected cloud system. The user has immediate access to this data, which is an important aspect of using our product; for example a runner who is looking to address his heel-striking wants to know in real time whether he needs to change his running style. Waiting till the end of the run and looking at a pretty dashboard when his knee or back hurts at night doesn’t help him much!
We also use the data collected in order to improve our products, but not in a way which identifies individual users. Otherwise, we do not share or sell the data. If the user decides to share his personal results (e.g. with his fitness coach, doctor or via social media), that is his own choice.
As we start to move into the healthcare sector though, the data protection questions are getting more complex. We have access to cluoud based HIPAA compliant solutions that we are currently evauating.
7.Talking of the healthcare sector, we know that this is an exciting growth area for Heapsylon. What opportunities does the market open for you?
Our initial business focus has been on the fitness apparel industry. However, we see the most meaningful future of Sensoria as being in the healthcare sector; for example by assisting with patient care issues such as fall prevention, center of balance and weight monitoring.
Diabetes is one scenario where the Sensoria Fitness Socks can play a really interesting role. According to the CDC at present there are over 350 million patients that suffer from diabetes in the world, with this number set to rise to around half a billion by 2030, making it a condition of epidemic proportions. Diabetics often have deficiencies of the nerves in their feet, resulting in an inability to feel pain in this region. As a result, damage to their feet which would otherwise be easily treatable degenerates into serious complications, with the result that around 15-20% of diabetic sufferers develop major foot related ulcerations, even to the extent of requiring amputation. The opportunities here for our technology are clear: if we develop a version of the Sensoria Fitness Socks for diabetics, we can replace the pain sensation so as to alert users (e.g. that their shoes are too tight) and thereby pre-empt medical complications.
Thank you Davide for this fascinating insight!