Mental Floss

How Two College Students Are Changing the Game By Preventing Sports Injuries

the mag
Liz Nemeth
Liz Nemeth / Liz Nemeth

By Ivonna Dumanyan and Gabrielle Levac, as told to Samuel Anderson

Founded by two college athletes, BioMetrix is creating wearable technology that detects a body’s weak spots, then coaches the user on how to stay in the game. We asked its co-founders, 21-year-old Ukrainian Ivonna Dumanyan (opposite, left) and 24-year-old Wisconsin-born Gabrielle Levac (opposite, right), how they’re harnessing a Band-Aid-sized device to defy the notion of “no pain, no gain.”

We didn’t intend for this to become more than a product for ourselves. We were NCAA athletes at Duke University [Dumanyan was on the crew team; Levac did track and field] and noticed the guesswork of treating common injuries—often it’s just an orthopedist adjusting your orthotics and asking, “How does this feel?” Training staff couldn’t be with us on our rows and runs, so we were limited to filming our workouts to figure out how we needed to change our form. That wasn’t an effective tool.

We suffered injuries. Ivonna had recurring shoulder dislocations; Gabby ended up needing surgery. The recovery was brutal. We decided we needed to do something. To ensure athletes could avoid this kind of pain, we set out to create a sensor that could detect small changes in motion—fatigue, abnormal foot position—and identify where the risks lie.

First, we had to come to terms with the fact that our athletic careers were over. Then we had to overcome the fact that neither of us knew anything about electronics. We taught ourselves coding. We built the prototype, which consisted of custom electronics, laser-cut Gore-Tex [a water-resistant material used in outerwear], and a magnetic charger. Aside from a small grant from an incubator at Duke, we funded ourselves.

At BioMetrix we’re trying to condense a personal trainer, motion-capture technology, and data analysis into a water-resistant device the size of a Band-Aid. Motion-capture sensors measure weight distribution, wavering in your muscles, and joint extension. Then they wirelessly send that information to a computer or smartphone. If the data indicates a weakness, the app might tell you, “Do 10 squats instead of 20.” Normally this kind of analysis requires a trainer, several cameras, and hours of processing. We want to put real-time feedback in the palm of your hand, and prevent injury before it occurs.

When the athletic departments at Duke and UCLA try out the sensor this fall, we want everyone on the team to be able to use it. If you’re not a national champion, it’s hard to get that level of care. An autonomous, wearable sensor cuts costs exponentially, so no one has to ask, “Is this athlete worth it?” Screw that. Everyone’s health is important.