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StretchSense excels at innovation awards

Media Release

The University of Auckland

21st  October 2013

StretchSense excels at innovation awards

An Auckland company that has developed wireless soft sensors for applications in healthcare, motion capture, and human-machine interactions has won two major innovation awards.

StretchSense  won both the ‘Innovation in Design and Engineering’ and ‘Emerging New Zealand Innovator’ awards at the New Zealand Innovation Awards in Auckland last night.

StretchSense  emerged from research done at the University of Auckland’s Biomimetics Laboratory  and is run day-to-day by two former students of the University’s Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) and is incubated at the Institute. 

“We use small, light soft sensors for measuring human body motion – linked to a Bluetooth sensor transmission circuit that can be used with an app for android phones”, says StretchSense CEO, Ben O’Brien.

“We can apply it to anything you can measure, because it is so precise and reliable,” he says. “For example, they can be used in rehabilitation applications for physiotherapists to track movement and a changing target over time – such as an improving knee injury.”

These sensors, made of polymers, can be sewn into clothing, (such as a pressure support wrap for a knee), and give real time results and personal information about improvements and exercising.

The company has developed the wireless soft sensors for applications in healthcare, motion capture, and human-machine interactions.

StretchSense has only been operating since late last year, had its first local sales in January this year and in March gained customers in the United States.  In September, Ben joined a New Zealand trade delegation to San Francisco for the week long NZ Health Innovation showcase – his first sales trip overseas for the company.

Ben set the company up with fellow researchers and co-founders; Dr Todd Gisby (CTO), Dr Tom MacKay, and his PhD supervisor and ABI Biomimetics research leader, Associate Professor Iain Anderson from Engineering Science (COO). 

“We’re very grateful to the ABI for incubating us,” says Ben.  This product comes out of the research we did in the Biomimetics Lab and Todd and I left our jobs to develop this and get it out to industry.”

Ben and Todd both have a background in mechatronics with a Bachelor of Mechatronics from the University’s Faculty of Engineering followed by PhD research in the ABI’s Biomimetics Lab.  Ben’s doctoral research was supported by a Bright Future Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship and in 2010 he was awarded a two-year Rutherford Foundation Post-doctoral Fellowship.

Before StretchSense, Ben’s research focussed on artificial muscles called dielectric elastomer actuators (DEA) that when given an electric charge, change their shape.

Inspired by examples from nature, Ben realised that arrays of artificial muscle actuators could be made to interact in useful ways and without the need for cumbersome control software and hardware.

During his work he invented a novel way to combine actuation, sensing, and logic into one unit: the dielectric elastomer switch (DES). This breakthrough has opened the door to truly soft and intelligent machines.


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