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Air Force Academy cadets notch one win, aim for more with new physical therapy device

February 26, 2014 Updated: February 27, 2014 at 7:20 am
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photo - An image from the NeuMimic physical therapy device, designed to help patients perfect their exercises so they can do them correctly at home. Photo courtesy of FalconWorks Inc.
An image from the NeuMimic physical therapy device, designed to help patients perfect their exercises so they can do them correctly at home. Photo courtesy of FalconWorks Inc. 

A team of Air Force Academy cadets had the right stuff in a business plan competition at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, winning the $500 prize for a physical therapy device they developed that uses a popular gaming system.

The five-person cadet team, working through the local nonprofit FalconWorks, will go up against 15 other collegiate teams in May for an even larger prize - $20,000 - at an unrelated competition in Fort Collins. If FalconWorks wins there, the team will move to the next level of the Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge with the opportunity to win a $250,000 prize. It's the state's richest business pitching contest and one of the largest such prizes in the nation.

To win the $500 prize Monday night, FalconWorks bested five other local teams at the Lion's Den Pitch Night hosted by the El Pomar Institute for Innovation & Commercialization and Peak Venture Group. Each team made a five-minute presentation about its business plan, and answered questions from a panel of six judges that included two startup owners, a venture capital fund executive and three officials from UCCS, Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College.

FalconWorks spent two years developing NeuMimic, a device for upper-body limb rehabilitation that uses a Microsoft Kinect gaming system to provide an interactive physical therapy program. The device, which is being tested at Penrose Hospital and another local physical therapy clinic, would be sold to physical therapy clinics for about $400. It is initially targeted at patients recovering from strokes, traumatic brain injuries or upper-body limb surgery or injury.

NeuMimic uses specially designed software and a multi-directional arm brace linked to the Kinect system to show patients' movements. Patients are connected to the device with motion sensors; as therapists lead them through their exercises, NeuMimic allows them to follow along with their own previously recorded movements by superimposing one image on top. In doing so, they learn to align their movements so they can do the exercises correctly at home. The system also sends a report to the therapist on the patient's exercises.

"Physical therapy at home is both complicated and boring," said Cadet Will Burnette, a senior from Hazlehurst, Ga., who is recovering from shoulder surgery and gave the presentation at the Pitch Night event with Aaron Sporrer, another senior cadet from Ames, Iowa. "NeuMimic gives a game-like experience for the patient, real-time feedback to the therapist and helps to improve recovery time because it keeps the patient doing their at-home exercise and doing it accurately."

The Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge was started by the Colorado State University Institute for Entrepreneurship and College of Business, and by Blue Ocean Enterprises, which was formed by OtterBox founder Curt Richardson and his wife, Nancy Richardson.

"We are excited about being able to compete at that level. It is a great opportunity to highlight the incredible partnership between FalconWorks and the academy," said Maj. Dan White, an academy faculty for the NeuMimic project. "FalconWorks is committed to doing good and looking local first. It is a conduit for innovation."

FalconWorks Chairman Dan Neeland said the nonprofit hopes to eventually license the technology to a manufacturer so the device can be produced, marketed and sold to physical therapy clinics.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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