2014 in Brief.

Posted by on Jan 1, 2015 in Blog | Comments Off on 2014 in Brief.

What a year 2014 was. Around this time last year I had a reasonably good idea of what I wanted to achieve professionally, the only problem was I had no idea how to achieve it. So I did what everyone likes to tell other people to do but probably never does themselves and I networked harder than I’ve ever networked before. I went to conferences, tradeshows, had teleconferences, and went for coffee with dozens of people all under the guise of figuring out how to launch a career in medical devices. And the only thing I found that they all had in common was that I needed to leave the country. So I did. Along the way I freelanced on a couple projects, exited a startup I was involved with (who were just featured on the BBC. Couldn’t be more proud of these guys), backpacked through Europe, and ultimately landed an excellent job with a design consultancy, with my position focused on medical devices. So, within a year (I technically started this quest during the tail end of my Master’s in 2013) I achieved the first big step in my professional career. And then I wasn’t happy. I busted my ass, hustled harder than I ever have before, and it just wasn’t good enough. As I allude to at the end of the article, I figured I needed to ride things out to see where they’d lead me. After a few months of riding, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what needs to happen in 2015 and beyond, at least until my Visa runs out in mid 2016. I was involved with my first regulatory submission in December. What a trip that was. It looks like I’ll be continuing my involvement with projects that will demand that knowledge and learning get turned up to 11 and I’ll reap the benefits of whatever I manage to sew. Right up my alley. 2014 was a banner year and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that 2015, based on the pieces that have fallen into place so far, might just top it. But only if I continue to be relentless. Stay...

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Keep the H in HCD

Posted by on Oct 20, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Keep the H in HCD

There are two ways to bring an idea to market. Push it or pull it. Pushing technology is an engagingly stubborn way to do things but can be highly effective, particularly in a technology transfer environment like a university. In this case, you have a novel piece of technology that isn’t linked with a problem, so you wander around looking for problems to solve. For instance, if you have a hammer you would go looking for nails. The issue with tech push is that a lot of problems start to look like nails, so you might not have addressed the problem most suited to your technology. Pulling technology is equally challenging but arguably more rewarding for more people. The pull in this case comes from an identified market need. An underserved population that can benefit from some creation making something easier, improving access to something etc. The point is, at the heart of a lot of technology pull scenarios there lies a group a people. People with needs and feelings and emotions. Technology Pull thinking lends itself to the ever-popular Human Centred Design (Look at that. I spelled it Centred instead of Centered. How’s that for integration!), where the human/user is kept at the core of each stage of the design. I’ll side-step a debate about the different kind of Human/User centred design processes by summarizing that you need to understand your user/human/target population in order to achieve your design goals. This is really hard to do. Unlike Tech-Push where you run around looking for nails to hammer, human centred designing is like running around with a hamm-wait. It’s not a hammer anymore. Your design has changed. And the nails are now foam cubes because your formative study revealed unanticipated behaviour. Anyways. Whenever I mention I’m a biomedical engineer people automatically assume I’m involved with prosthetics. I’m not sure where this stems from but I think it’s from the same thought process that causes people to think speed climbing is the only way to hold a climbing competition. I’ve always been interested in prosthetics design because it was at the very forefront of restoring human function. These combinations of plastic and metal enabled people who had lost a limb to improve their independence and get one step closer to the life they used to lead. I toured a prosthetician’s lab during my undergraduate years and almost forced a career change on myself because I thought it was so incredible. But there was always something that bothered me about prosthetics and I hadn’t figured it out until recently. The Uncanny Valley  is a phenomenon where the closer something is to looking human, the more alien it appears to an observer – until it’s almost indistinguishable and then the observer feels more comfortable. It was a big problem with videogames for a while until advances in graphics enabled higher resolutions and better details. Prosthetics, unlike video games, can’t be visually upgraded by buying a better memory card every few years to keep pace with technology, so they honestly look WEIRD. Go look at a prosthetic foot and tell me how it makes you feel. That pasty “we tried to match your skin tone but kind of failed” colouring, and opaque reflection? Based on the uncanny valley chart, we shouldn’t have bothered trying to...

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The Problem With Goals.

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on The Problem With Goals.

This won’t apply to everyone. Nothing I write does. I’m just flattered you’re here. I fondly remember going through the same exercise with every youth team I’ve coached over the years – SMART Goal setting. A SMART goal is one that is (S)pecific, (M)easurable, (A)ttainable, (R)elevant, and (T)ime-appropriate. These letters will mean different things to different people, but that’s the combination that I’ve found to work best with kids aged 11-18. Particularly the Attainable and Relevant categories, or else you end up with children wondering why you’re saying no to their 5-minute long dream of being a dinosaur with their own cooking show. I’d tune in and watch but not when I’m trying to get them involved with their training programming. I realize now that I’ve only been teaching part of the lesson. Setting goals is one thing. Achieving them is another. People far more talented than me have written at length about both of these things but what I find missing is a frank discussion about what happens after you achieve your goals. If you’re like me, it fucking sucks. Unlike failing to achieve a goal, where my mind can come up with a laundry list of protective mechanisms to shield me from the searing pain of real life, upon achieving a long-term goal that I’ve fought and sacrificed for I’m left with an almost unshakable feeling of discontent and unhappiness. You may (probably not) have noticed I haven’t written a blog post lately. It’s because I got a job. Actually, I got my dream job. The one I’ve been after for easily 6 years when I decided that I wanted a career being involved with medtech. This is the job that I went to grad school to get. This is the job I left Canada to get. And I got it. I now work for one of the top design consultancies in Cambridge. I show up and 9am, leave at 6pm, and I can’t talk about what I do because of the NDA I signed. But I can say it’s medtech and I’m happy. Sort of. Now we get to the heart of this post. I can’t recall the last time I worked so hard for so long to achieve something. Part of me died a bit in undergrad but I graduated with distinction and landed one of Canada’s top graduate scholarships. Another part of me died in grad school but I still defended 20% faster than my department average. And lets not get started on the long slog of post-grad. This was all to achieve my career goal of working in medtech, something I’ve defined a large portion of my life by, and I fondly remember sitting in a bar in East Berlin when the offer letter landed in my inbox. I was happy for maybe a week. Then I was filled with this bizarre, unsettling feeling of “Now what?” It’s like that scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden talks about how every once in a while he would call up his dad and say “Alright Dad, now what?” Only there isn’t one singular person I can call who has this answer. That’s the part of the lesson that I failed to teach the kids I coached – What to do when you achieve your goals. I...

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Your Bicycle Redesign Sucks.

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on Your Bicycle Redesign Sucks.

In a vein similar to James May, I adore bicycles. They are my favourite invention and I can’t imagine a time in my life when I won’t be riding one. So, I guess that’s my disclosure for this post – I’m opinionated and most certainly not an average consumer of all things cycling related. But I’m going to try to be objective. It appears to me, right now, that the coolest thing to do if you’re a designer or a design consultancy is to redesign the bicycle for the next generation of commuters. A recent example of this is the Bike Design Project, which partnered high-level design firms in major cycling cities across America with skilled frame designers to design “tomorrow’s bicycle for the everyday rider”. Pretty sure your problem statement has some issues but let’s keep going. The winner of the competition, Teague x Sizemore Bicycles from Seattle, designed a bicycle they call Denny. Watch the video and you’ll be throwing your credit card at the screen before it’s over. Integrated handlebar lock? Awesome. Fenders that don’t suck? Awesome. Integrated lighting system so crackheads don’t steal your lights? Awesome. Oh but it’s $3000. What. The. Hell. I’m no stranger to expensive bikes. There has been no shortage of times in my life when the amount of money in bikes attached to the vehicle is more than the cost of the vehicle transporting them. It just seems that when you’re supposed to be designing a bike for “the everyday rider”, your budget should be about an order of magnitude less so I don’t have to sell a kidney and cry myself to sleep when it gets stolen. Yes, when. It’s a sad state of affairs that I’m counting the days until one of my precious bikes gets stolen. That’s why the nice ones stay in the bedroom and not in the shed. Ok, so a design team won a competition with a wildly inappropriate bike that no one’s going to want to commute on because it’s too expensive to replace when the poorly thought out handlebar lock meets a Li-ion angle grinder and is gone in 10 seconds. Someone has to be doing a better job, right? Enter the Copenhagen Wheel. This product came out of a lab at MIT and uses the city of Copenhagen as it’s design inspiration. Currently, there are more people in Copenhagen that commute to work or school via bicycle than there are in the entire USA, or approximately 36%. They’re targeting 50% of all trips to school or work being performed via bicycle by 2025, and the Copenhagen wheel is positioning itself to help achieve this by integrating features that will convince non-cyclists that they should ride a bike. And this is achieved by just replacing a wheel? I’m in. I caught a talk from a Vancouver-based design firm, Misty West, who did some consulting design work on the project, and it’s great to see all that all the features they mentioned make it into the production version. You’ve got a power-assist to help with starting and hills, you’ve got regenerative braking to charge the battery, and you’ve got a smartphone app to help control and customize your wheel. Again, this thing is sweet and when I saw it come up for preorder...

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The Importance of Team

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on The Importance of Team

This isn’t the blog post I thought I’d be writing today. I’ve been traveling Europe searching for the next engineering adventure to get involved in, and the fascinating cultural differences between engineering in Canada and the UK are worth writing about but I’m not done pondering that topic yet. Instead, I want to discuss the importance of teams and their culture, and how they can positively impact the future. I spent the better part of the last two weeks freezing my toes off in Switzerland and Austria on a climbing trip. From a climbing perspective, it was probably the worst trip I’ve ever been on. Rain on a daily basis makes climbing nearly impossible (but that didn’t stop us, as described by my close friend and professional climber, Jelisa Dunbar, on her blog). Despite horrible weather, I feel refreshed and further motivated to tackle the next chapter in my life, and I believe it’s largely due to my involvement with a youth competitive climbing team growing up. I had been messaging two of my former teammates after arriving in London, saying that we HAD to go on a climbing trip. It never occurred to me that this wasn’t a normal thought process – we didn’t have to do anything. I just thought that now because there wasn’t a giant ocean between us, we needed to climb together. It was the most sensible thing to do in my mind, largely because of the coaching I received during my youth. I credit the lessons I’ve learned from competitive climbing as the source for most of my successes elsewhere in life. I can wax poetic on this topic for hours but that’s not what I’m getting at today. There’s one particular difference with the coaching culture in Calgary that differentiates those teams from most others in Canada – It’s not good enough to be a great competitor, you also need to be a lifelong climber. This very principle is what made my most recent climbing trip possible, and what made it a success despite the weather. After a flight to Zurich, two trains, and two busses, I was just outside the small Swiss town of Ausserferrera, home of the famous bouldering location called Magic Wood. I was meeting up an old teammate and friend Jelisa Dunbar (mentioned above), who had driven from Vienna with a group of Austrian climbers and her boyfriend. I can’t remember the last time I climbed with Jelisa as she’s been in Europe competing on the World Cup bouldering circuit for the past few years, but after a few minutes of wandering aimlessly around the campground, we were reunited and immediately began planning our assault on Magic Wood. I admire Jelisa because of her refusal to compromise on her goals, two particular ones being her desire to be a World Cup competitor and  her desire to remain in Austria. Listening to her plans to continue to succeed at these goals made me reflect a lot on some of my own. A design firm I rather admire, GFDA, summed up this thought exercise rather nicely: Work Fucking Harder. We all like to think that we put in 100% all the time but is that really the case? Look at your last workweek; How many of those hours spent at...

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The Arbutus Drill Cover Project

Posted by on Jul 8, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on The Arbutus Drill Cover Project

I’ve been spending a lot of time working with a Vancouver, BC based team on what we affectionately refer to as the Drill Cover. The project was born out of UBCs Engineers in Scrubs program, which seeks to foster innovation in medical technology by training graduate engineers in the clinical environment early in their careers. One component of this project is an 8-month long design project where technology is applied to unmet clinical needs. The problem was identified during one of the Medtech CAFEs (Clinical Advances from Engineering), a roundtable discussion between engineers and clinicians whose only purpose is to identify sources of “pain” on a day to day basis. I fondly recall when Dr. Blahut raised the point that his outreach work with USTOP (Uganda Sustainable Trauma and Orthopaedics Program) frequently had the problem of not enough surgical equipment to deal with the demand for fracture fixation. In any given week, the hospital in Kampala was faced with 40+ orthotrauma cases but only one surgical power drill, meaning that the drill would be rationed for the most challenging cases and others would be handled with a hand drill, akin to an eggbeater with a drill bit on the front. These hand drills are thought to be less accurate and take longer to tunnel through bone, meaning that patient outcome would probably be worse than if they were treated with a power drill. If you’ve ever handled a surgical drill, you probably have thought to yourself “This is just like the one I have at home. Why is this worth $30 ooo?” So rather than insisting that the bootstrapped hospital shell out for medical devices designed for first-world budgets, the surgeons attempted to compensate by bringing in traditional hardware store drills wrapped in towels to compensate for the inability to properly sterilize the drills. Upon seeing a photo of a towel wrapped drill being held by the unsterile hand of the assistant, guided by the sterile hands of the surgeon, the team unanimously agreed that we could do better. So we did. Progress has been incredible and we’ve received some great media coverage along the way. I hope that everyone will find the time to check out http://www.drillcover.com/ to learn more about the project and the great people that are working on it. Wish us luck as we move towards gaining regulatory approval in...

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14th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Computer Assisted Orthopaedic Surgery

Posted by on Jun 23, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on 14th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Computer Assisted Orthopaedic Surgery

CAOS International was in Milan, Italy for 2014. A huge step up from Orlando where it was last year, in my humble opinion. That might be heavily influenced by my love of food, and my goodness it was delicious, but that’s not why you’re here. Onto the conference. Organized by the wonderful orthopaedic surgeon Norberto Confalonieri, CAOS 2014 attracted a very strong European following this year, providing me with an opportunity to learn more about computer-assisted surgery adoption in Europe, and the general attitude towards it. Industry sponsors had the usual suspects of Blue Belt Technologies, DePuy Synthes, Zimmer, B.Braun Aesculap, Atracsys, Brainlab, and Exactech (With a very strong research presence from MAKO – er. Stryker MAKO as they’re now called). New additions because of the European location were AB Medica, and Medacta International (amongst others). Rather than breaking things down by day as I did last year, I figured I would do a more holistic article looking at the bigger picture. I tried to do the trendy live-tweet of some of the sessions but inconsistent Wi-Fi killed my aspirations quite frequently. You can see my efforts on twitter under #CAOS2014. The conference was held in the Marriott hotel, in one of the better looking presentation halls I’ve ever seen. Milan is definitely a beautiful place. The first day started off with a session on unicompartmental knee arthroplasty, specifically examining the influence of robotic assistance on patient outcomes. The two main players in this area, Stryker MAKO and Blue Belt Technologies, were mentioned in all talks. The second session was a bit of a mixed bag, with talks ranging from high tibial osteotomy to femoroacetabular impingement. I sneaked out early to grab some coffee before I was due to present my special poster. The remainder of my thesis work was captured in my poster, discussing the potential for bracing techniques in orthopaedic surgery. If I look exhausted in the above photo, it’s because sharing an AirBNB apartment with two people on a different time zone from you (I’d been in London for 5 days prior to the conference) means 5am is a perfectly sensible wakeup time after going to bed at midnight (World Cup!). There were a few notable posters, two of which discussed the use of smartphones as diagnostic tools for orthopaedic applications. This trend towards using smartphones as measuring tools isn’t new but it’s great to see them making their way into the healthcare space in low-risk settings. Following the poster session and coffee break,  there was a series of talks on Technical Innovation. Some compelling evidence was presented to suggest that the hip is NOT a spherical joint (implications for hip prosthesis design could be interesting), an expensive KUKA robot was used to manipulate a cadaveric leg section during patella tracking, and a research group decided to reinvent laser scanning for automated registration during computer-assisted surgery (still not Leap Motion…). The afternoon was filled with TKR, THA, and PSI with a lot of clinical information coming to light. One particularly interesting finding was that different PSI software programs produced different results when it came to implant size in 30% of the cases they examined. This trends towards one of the problems with CAS, where surgeons don’t always agree with what the computer is saying. That’s not...

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I flew the coup.

Posted by on Jun 16, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on I flew the coup.

Just a quick update – I packed a bag and jetted off to Europe. Remember the time you were 25 and had nothing keeping you in one spot? I found myself in this position and realized that I needed to go get lost in another part of the world for an indefinite period of time or else I’d turn 30 and really regret not taking more risks. So I got a Tier 5 youth mobility scheme visa for the UK (it’s nice to be from the Colonies) and now I’m in London. I’ll be in Milan this week to cover CAOS 2014. Some of you might recall my coverage of CAOS 2013 when it was hosted in Orlando, and I hope to bring you similar coverage this year. I love this conference because of the open exchange of information between engineers and clinicians. Rather than discussions being prescriptive (build me this), they tend to be on an even level (We built this because of these observations and feedback from these groups), and as a young engineer, learning how best to interact and communicate with clinicians is invaluable. Further, I upgraded my phone so the photo quality should be streets ahead of my old iPhone 4. I polished off a bunch of work prior to leaving Canada and I’m looking forward to sharing those developments in the near future. One project is just going through some video editing right now, and the other has been featured on the local news quite a bit. You can check that project out at www.drillcover.com As always, I am available for your mechanical or biomedical design engineering needs. I’m just slightly less available to the North American market, and slightly more available to the European ones. For...

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openFDA Set to Revolutionize Adverse Event Reporting.

Posted by on Jun 2, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on openFDA Set to Revolutionize Adverse Event Reporting.

I blink and a month passes without another blog update. Sorry about that. I’ve been trying to tie up several projects prior to heading to Europe for CAOS 2014, and potentially some additional medtech work over there. I’ve secured a working holiday visa for the UK, and gaining some experience in a larger regulatory market than Canada would be hugely important for someone young in their career like myself. But I digress, there’s something more important to talk about that I think might get lost in the shuffle of WWDC 2014. This morning on Twitter the FDA announced an incredible new initiative called openFDA,  which provides access to FDA public data through APIs and raw downloads. Right now the program is in a Beta phase, and they’re only providing access to drug adverse event reporting. Shortly thereafter Apple’s keynote began and everyone zeroed in on Healthkit instead of what could be a new era for identifying clinical needs. I sent a tweet to @openFDA asking if they have plans to include medical devices but haven’t received a response. Their website claims to be focused on including Recalls and Product Label information/documentation, so my hopes for setting up trend analysis for medical device adverse event reporting might be a distant dream. Regardless, this ushers in a new era of accessibility to clinical data and will generate some important developments in the next decade, building on the Big Data trends we’ve seen throughout the technology world. It’s great to see an organization as big as the FDA support an initiative which as much agility as this, considering they’re often criticized for being slow to respond. The data is unverified, has the same drawbacks as typical adverse event reports, and can be messy depending on the query, but the FDA is committed to making the process as easy as possible. I can’t wait to see where this leads. In the mean time, I’ll stick to checking out MAUDE every so often and dream of the day where I can have greater analytic access to the...

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In Defense of Cadaver-Based Anatomy Education

Posted by on May 6, 2014 in Blog | Comments Off on In Defense of Cadaver-Based Anatomy Education

The Globe and Mail recently published a piece discussing the reduction of gross anatomy education for undergraduate medical students. During my Masters at UBC, I was fortunate enough to take part in the first year medicine gross anatomy course. It’s been about 1.5 years since I completed the course and I think it was the single most important piece of formal education I’ve had to date. It’s difficult to put to words exactly how it changed me but I’m going to try: I sought education in biomedical engineering partly because of my interest in musculoskeletal anatomy and biomechanics, nurtured by years of competitive climbing injuries and subsequent discussions with physiotherapists and surgeons. I wanted to know more about how we’re put together and how our bodies fail in extreme conditions. I wanted to understand the mechanics of the upper back and shoulders, and why climbers have so many problems in these areas. And during our first dissection my team of 5 similarly minded graduate students, equally fortunate to tag along with the massive first year medicine class, started with a dissection of the upper back. The trapezius, the levator scapulae, the rhomboids. I saw it, I felt it, I squeezed it, I (accidentally) cut it, all in it’s “oh god I need to change my gloves” glory. From that day forwards I looked at people differently. When I was out climbing, the origins and insertions of the primary upper body muscles were quite easy to see and it was incredible to watch some of the more lean climbers in action. It changed how I approached coaching competitive climbing, allowing me to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the athletes I worked with, and lead to better injury prevention through intimate knowledge of joint structures and function. As a biomedical engineer, this first-hand knowledge of the fundamentals of body design changed how I approach design problems, highlighting the importance of understanding your operating environment prior to starting to solve a problem. I used it to great effect during my thesis work where I had to create a hip arthroscopy simulator. I first performed the surgical approach on my group’s cadaver with the special permission of the course instructor, and used the information about the tool handling properties, combined with measurements I would take from a porcine model, to create a small box with several layers of foam and fabric to approximate the tissues encountered during a minimally invasive approach. The surgeons I tested the simulator with were quite impressed by the fidelity of my creation. Perhaps the most humbling experience of the entire course was when we did a dissection of the heart. We had prior knowledge that our donor had passed away from heart failure but the words don’t compare to the moment when we pinpointed the structure that failed, leading to his death. Our donor had gone through a double bypass and had a valve replaced but it was ultimately a failure of the tricuspid valve that we determined to be the cause of death. This was confirmed by the hard, necrotic tissue surrounding the valve. I don’t think I’ll ever again experience the sensations associated with holding in my hands the tissue structure that lead to the death of someone. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it...

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