Compassion in Action: The Sensors Humanitarian Award 2005

The classic stance for a very pregnant woman is with one hand—or both—pressed against the small of her back. She's wearing either slippers or her husband's shoes. And why? Her back hurts and her feet look like zeppelins. These afflictions have been thoroughly described in the medical literature. End of story.

 Doctors Lawrence Brown (left) and Bernard Gonik holding a sample of the Tactilus flexible substrate material, part of their research project designed to alleviate back and foot pain in pregnant women. Their proposed solution is to locate and quantify pressure exerted on the soles of the women's feet.
Doctors Lawrence Brown (left) and Bernard Gonik holding a sample of the Tactilus flexible substrate material, part of their research project designed to alleviate back and foot pain in pregnant women. Their proposed solution is to locate and quantify pressure exerted on the soles of the women's feet.

Except that two physicians, Dr. Bernard Gonik, affiliated with Wayne State University and an OB/GYN clinician, and Dr. Lawrence Brown, a doctor of podiatric medicine in private practice, got the idea that perhaps a remedy could be devised.

Via the Internet they found Carlos Ruiz, an engineer at Sensor Products in East Hanover, NJ. The product that led them to Ruiz was Tactilus, a thin and rugged substrate material with appropriate software that can generate statistical data and dynamic 2D and 3D profile images for medical and ergonomic body mapping. Why not use Tactilus to locate and quantify pressure exerted on the soles of pregnant women's feet?

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When Ruiz learned the reason for Gonik's and Brown's inquiries, he elected to lend them the Tactilus system (price: $22,000 including consultation fees).

Sensor Products engineer Carlos Ruiz believed that the research project could benefit countless women, leading him to donate product and expertise to the effort.
Sensor Products engineer Carlos Ruiz believed that the research project could benefit countless women, leading him to donate product and expertise to the effort.

The physicians then began a study that entailed a questionnaire about lower back and foot-related pain during the third trimester of pregnancy and after delivery; documentation of pregnancy-induced physiologic foot alterations; and a review of commercially available shoe inserts (orthotics) for improved foot pressure distribution.

Ruiz's role in the project included training the physicians in the use of Tactilus technology, assistance with the testing procedures, analysis of experimental data, and extensive engineering consultations. He donated his expertise because he believed in the benefits of the research project for every expectant mother.

The Story Behind the Story
The Story Behind the Story

Quoting Dr. Gonik: "We are hoping, through these initial studies, to define (for the first time ever) pregnancy-related changes in foot and ambulation dynamics. As we progress, the development of orthotics specifically for the pregnant woman should be an easily accomplishable goal."

The editors of Sensors are pleased to present to Dr. Bernarad Gonik, Dr. Lawrence Brown, and engineer Carlos Ruiz the 2005 Sensors Humanitarian Award. It is being presented in absentia because the recipients are too busy doing research to be with us tonight.

This joining of medical science and engineering well illustrates a comment made by Dean Kamen, inventor of a home dialysis unit, a stair-climbing wheelchair, and, of course, the Segway: "Science asks 'Why?' Engineering asks 'Why not?'"

Editor's note: Tactilus technology is also featured in the AppSnaps department .

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