Despite not being able to meet Dr. Karl Zelik, Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, Co-Founder & Chief Scientific Officer at HeroWear, at the WearRAcon conference, I had the pleasure of connecting with him online. His work in wearables and exoskeleton technologies is tremendous, especially for women in the workplace. A summary of the interview is below.
Q1. What sparked your interest in wearable technology and exoskeletons?
A1. Between sports and my own recklessness as a kid, I always tested the limits of the human body and ended up with broken bones and quite a few stitches. As an adult, I discovered biomechanics—a much safer (academic) way to test the limits of the human body. Then, I fell in love with how wearable and exo technologies could help one overcome these limits. They can restore health and offer independence to folks with disabilities, augment strength, and help to prevent injuries. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Q2. Of all the contributions in the wearable technology and exoskeleton field, what do you feel is the most significant?
A2. By far, it’s the impact our technology has on individuals, their families, friends, and society as a whole. When people start using them everyday, because it positively impacts their lives (on and off the job), then we will have made the contribution we desire. The wearable tech field, and particularly the exo field, is still young and just beginning to show signs of being able to make large-scale occupational and societal contributions.
Q3. What contribution has yet to receive the accolades it deserves?
A3. Women make up over half the workforce, yet female-specific exo technologies have not received the attention it deserves. They continue to be overlooked and underserved in the development of wearables and exo technologies. We’re working hard to change this–both by bringing attention to it and through product development, one of which was just launched at the end of March (HeroWear Apex).
Q4. What excites you most about the potential of wearables and exoskeletons in the workplace?
A4. The boundless opportunities to improve the lives of hardworking men and women.
Read my past interviews: Dr. Thomas Sugar got interested in the field when he started developing systems for stroke rehabilitation. Dr. Daniel Ferris was inspired by reading comic books as a kid, specifically when Iron Man and Dr. Doom matched their robotic exoskeletons against each other.