From smart soles to … human OS?

Plantiga makes sensor insoles for shoes that help people get better, faster, and healthier. They track how you run, walk, jump, and change direction, and Olympic gold medallist and on of the world’s fastest humans Andre de Grasse is a customer.

But smart soles might just be the first step on the path the Human OS, which takes data from your wrist (smartwatch), finger (smart ring), body (smart clothes), face (smart glasses), and also, likely, smart insoles for data on you feet …

In this TechFirst we chat with Plantiga CEO Quin Sandler about what his company is building.

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TechFirst podcast: smart soles to make us faster, better, healthier


Transcript: Chatting with Plantiga CEO Quin Sandler

(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

John Koetsier: Do you have smart soles? I’m not talking about your eternal soul, I’m talking about the ones underneath your feet, in your shoes. Plantiga makes sensor insoles for shoes. Olympic gold medalist and one of the world’s fastest humans, Andre De Grasse, is a customer. They track how you run, walk, jump, change direction. They might save your feet and they might make you faster. To hear more, we’re chatting with the CEO, Quinn Sandler. Welcome to TechFirst, Quin. 

Quin Sandler: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. 

John Koetsier: Hey, pleasure to have you. What is Plantiga? 

Quin Sandler: So, Plantiga at our core is a health and performance platform that is there to maximize how somebody moves so they can live and move better.

John Koetsier: That doesn’t sound like something you build for athletes, that sounds like something you build for everybody. 

Quin Sandler: One hundred percent. So, we have started in high-performance sport and the military, but ultimately our goal is to take the power of analyzing human movement to drive better outcomes. Whether that is fall prevention in someone my mom’s age, someone that’s dealing with a neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, or an athlete that’s recovering from an ACL or a hip injury. The way that we move tells so much about our health, and our perspective was always this democratization of this amazing data and insights that you would have to get going into UBC or some gait lab there, but making that available for everybody. 

John Koetsier: I gotta say, that’s not the answer I expected from a company that has Andre De Grasse as a spokesperson, as a customer. Talk about the tech. What is in this sole that you’re creating? 

Quin Sandler: So, we basically have a little pod. I don’t know if you know what an IMU is, but it’s a type of motion capture sensor. It’s in our iPhones. It’s in a pod, it goes inside of our shoe and we basically measure 150 different parameters around walking, jumping, changing direction in everyday movement. Things like ground contact time, how long my foot’s on the ground. Flight time, how long my foot’s in the air. Speed, speed of my limbs. Jump height. The forces when my foot hits the ground. The forces when my foot comes off the ground. All of the comparisons of your right limb versus your left limb. And if you’re outside of 10% on most of those things, it’s unhealthy. So we measure this complexity of data. Then on top of that, we throw in some machine learning and AI. And then on top of that, we actually have some human coaches which help make sense of the data and drive the recommendations and the insights for our members. 

John Koetsier: 150 parameters. I mean, that’s pretty intense. I had no idea that there were that many when your sole hits the foot. It’s interesting, because one of the things I wanted to talk about is a lot of the technologies like this get built for athletes, get built for military, and then go into the wider community, right? And so, I’m looking at myself, for instance. I probably walk about 80 kilometers — that’s 50 miles for our American friends — a week. It’s one of the ways I stay healthy. And over the past half year, I’ve incorporated running into that, a bit of hill running. There’s a steep hill where I live, it’s about a klick up and, I don’t know, 400 meters of elevation change. I’ll run up that. And I do some running on the dike, which is flat. But I always struggle with Achilles pain. Would this tell me what’s going on? Why I’m having that? 

Quin Sandler: A hundred percent. So it’s called Achilles tendinopathy, which is just the inflammation of the Achilles. So, let’s take your specific example. What our movement coaches and our analytics would do is, you might not be properly warming up. You might not be properly stretching. You might not properly be doing recovery. So we would look at the imbalances between your right leg and your left leg. Through some of our data we might identify that you have a weak quad complex or a weak foot/ankle complex. So it’s through this analysis of how you move, with some of the context about what you’re doing in your age and how you move, then come the recommendations of what you need to focus on. You know, you might need to change your footwear. Most people should change their shoes every year. Most people do not. So, simple things that we give feedback on with the data, I feel like we could fix your Achilles pain, if I could go out on a limb, for sure.

John Koetsier: [Laughing] Okay. I might have to test that and see how that goes. Why did you build this company and why did you build this technology?

Quin Sandler: So the history for Plantiga is very wrapped up in a family endeavor. So, I founded Plantiga with my dad over a decade ago, and my dad had spent a lot of time in biomechanics labs in the world of biomechanics and gait analysis and product design. And it was my dad’s initial thesis, this idea that, look, this is such valuable data, but who has access to it? You have to go into a human performance lab or university or a pro team… like this is just, there’s so much room for innovation here. So that was the history. My dad, unfortunately, when we were doing our pre-seed round 2017/2018, got very, very sick with prostate cancer and he passed away.

John Koetsier: Oh wow.

Quin Sandler: So, this company is very much a family endeavor still. Our AI and machine learning is, like our AI is named Norman after my dad. So Norman is our digital movement coach that we build. But that’s the history, it wasn’t necessarily even my idea. I had had other startups and I was always around product design and lots of stuff, and this was our kind of side project until we got into this Creative Destruction Lab which was this accelerator. And that’s when my dad got sick. 

So it was… you know, going through it and raising some money right as my dad was very ill, it was… not even just bittersweet, it was just like a weird juxtaposition of amazing stuff that we had worked on with like the reality of life and death. But today, I talk about that not in a sad way. What we build and what we do is a legacy to him and he’s on all of our patents and is very much a part of what we do. So, that was the genesis. 

John Koetsier: Wow. Amazing. Always great to hear the personal story there and condolences of course. And it is neat that your dad lives on, not just in your memory and other things that he did, but in your AI. It’s kind of like “Alexa” or “Hey, Siri”…

Quin Sandler: Totally.

John Koetsier: Or “Hi, Norman.”

Quin Sandler: “Hey, Norman.” Exactly.

John Koetsier: [Laughing] And there you go. So, talk about what happens when you use this. What are your users seeing? What are they experiencing? So we know Andre De Grasse is using it, others are using it. What’s happening? What’s the progression here? Are they getting faster? Are they recovering quicker? Are they… what’s happening?

Quin Sandler: So it falls into three buckets. So, we kind of say that using our technology and the best of kind of evidence-based sports medicine, we can recover faster. We can reduce the risk of injury or injury prevention. And we can optimize performance. Because you have to be healthy to perform. They go hand in hand. It’s two sides of the same coin, it’s not one or the other. 

So, the actual physical experience is someone gets our insoles and they open them up, and they set them up and they connect our little dock which kind of talks to the internet. But then what happens is we hook up everybody with a movement coach. So kind of like how Noom or BetterUp or some of these other startups, we actually have a human coach which you can chat to. They onboard you and then depending on your goal — and goals could be maintenance, I want to stay the same, or I want to, I’ve been dealing with knee pain, or for you, you have Achilles tendinopathy and you want to get past that so you can continue to be active and live a enriched life — so, depending on the goals, we actually build your baseline for the first month. And that is the activities that you’re doing. We collect every single week. 

For you, it would be like, bring us out on two or three runs and if we can, let’s get some jump testing in. After the first month, we actually build a report that assesses who you are but compares that to norms that we’ve developed over the 4,000 people that we’ve collected on. So, how you stack up to other 40- something-year-old men, how you stack up to a professional athlete like Andre De Grasse, and then where we want to take you. And then we put in place what we call the essentials. So it’s the programming, the stretching or the exercises, and the things to focus on to help you reach. So it’s kind of a multi-step process, but that’s basically the kind of intentionality of how we operate. 

John Koetsier: Super interesting. So, I looked at your website. I saw that there, I think you sell the technology, the sole, and then the coaching and the assistance and the platform is $30 a month. That seems expensive at first and I’m thinking, okay, what is that… $300, $400 a year or something like that? Not inexpensive. Of course, if you get something really good out of it, you feel better, that’s a great thing as well. Do you need to continue that all the time? Can you use the coaching to get to a certain level and then, hey, I know my body, I know myself, I like to get these feedback reminders but I don’t need ongoing coaching all the time?

Quin Sandler:  Yeah. So, I think we will get there. I think everybody… because we have an actual human being involved in the interaction, think of what you would spend to go to physical therapy — it might be $150 a session — or what you would go see a personal trainer or a strength coach. So, if you compare us to that, we’re actually quite cheap. 

John Koetsier: Mm-hmm.

Quin Sandler: So, it is for a specific person that is goal-driven and that could be like, I want to run a marathon or my first 5k. As we move into next year though, we fully expect to go down to a $5 to $10 a month subscription. I feel like a subscription will always be a part of it because of how much we want to build around community and the ability to ask questions and things like that. But we fully expect to have a much more inexpensive option next year. Quite frankly, on top of probably having even more of an expensive option for a lot of the athletes and the people that come in that want even more one-on-one because they’re training for Kona, which is like a big triathlon event. So, we’ll probably go down and go up from where we are. 

John Koetsier: That is super interesting. So if somebody gets this… I’m just thinking for myself again, you know, total personal perspective here. I walk in a certain pair of shoes. I work out in a different pair of shoes. Do I swap the insole? What do I do? 

Quin Sandler: So right now you do. I think that there’s kind of inherent challenges with having a sensor in an insole, because I wear… I probably have 20 pairs of shoes when you think about it, between nice shoes and workout shoes and basketball shoes and golf shoes…

John Koetsier: Get in the garden shoes [laughing]. 

Quin Sandler: Yeah. Like there’s just a lot. So, we definitely, the way that we work is the insoles, you take them and you put them in your training shoes and then you want to go when you want to… so we do cycling as well, you want to put them in your cycle shoes. So you do interchange them. I think where we’re going and where the world is going is it’s going to be embedded in footwear in the next three or four years. I don’t think… and I know ’cause I’ve spoken to lots of footwear manufacturers, it’s not a discussion of if but when. And I think that we very much see that and fully expect at some point… imagine you just have your footwear, our sensors are embedded in it, and you put your shoes almost on like a smart mat that’s plugged in and it wirelessly charges them. It’s just embedded in there. It uploads to your device when you’re at home, probably half uploads to your device when you’re on the run. But that’s the future. Whether we do it or not, that’s the future, 2025. It will be pervasive. So, no, I think where we are today is building towards that future. 

John Koetsier: I find that fascinating, because I one hundred percent agree that the future — my thesis is, I call it “smart matter” — pretty much everything around us is getting embedded with chips and radios and sensors and all these different things to communicate, CPUs, to communicate what’s going on, sense what’s happening, and send that information somewhere. And I guess what you’re saying with your thesis it’s going to be everywhere, is that the componentry, the hardware is going to approach zero cost. I mean, you know, obviously not zero, right? But is getting…

Quin Sandler: A couple bucks.

John Koetsier: …cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. Exactly. 

Quin Sandler: Yeah.

John Koetsier: Which is a fraction of what most shoes cost these days, if you’re running in them or using them for something you’re spending easily $100 to $250 a shoe, maybe more. I’m probably, [laughing] there’s probably somebody going out there, “My shoes are $500!” and that’s probably true.

Quin Sandler: I was going to say, I think I have like a $300 pair. So yeah, they’re very expensive. 

John Koetsier: Exactly. That is super interesting because I tend to think that we’re going to have some kind of medical, maybe health and wellness AI, that you know is going to follow us around. We have data coming from our watches. We have data coming from our smart rings. And then we have data coming from our shoes, other places in our clothing, maybe a pair of glasses we’re wearing. You’ve got AirPods in. 

Quin Sandler: CGMs, you know, people measuring their glucose, their lactate, like…

John Koetsier: Yes.

Quin Sandler: It’s the datafication of the human being. 

John Koetsier: Interesting. Interesting. Well, love it. Probably going to try it. That is not an endorsement… I haven’t tried it right now and you’re not paying me anything, just so anybody knows, but I probably will try it and give it a shot and see how it goes. You’ve already kind of answered this, but you’ve answered it in an industry-specific way, you know, you see this being embedded in every shoe. Where do you see your company in five years? Your technology. 

Quin Sandler: That’s a good question. I think, so, the embedded shoe part is just the hardware component. I think you actually just touched upon it and I agree, I believe we’re moving very rapidly into this world of personalized wellness, health care, fitness, performance. I think this idea of comparing a human being to another human being is a very old age way of looking at everything. I think what’s going to happen here and where we feel like we’re going is really building the infrastructure to monitor the complexity of how a human being moves, and based on their goals, developing insights and recommendations and interventions with a possible human in the loop to really drive better outcomes. Whether, again, that’s performance, or recovery, or injury prevention. So, I feel like we’re building and where we want to go in the next five years is being the backbone for that world around the lens of biomechanics and movement, which really appeals to the quarter of the population that deal with musculoskeletal issues.

And I feel like that’s where we’re going, almost this like operating system for movement health that can be embedded in shoes. We could monetize that data. We could build predictive analytics around outcomes with different diseases like Parkinson’s, the progressions, the regressions. It’s the data set and what we can do with that, I think, in the next four to five years, that becomes really, really exciting.

John Koetsier: I love talking to somebody who, when they’re speaking, my eyes kind of go up because they’ve triggered a thought [laughing]. And you kind of said it there, I mean, we see that we have car OSs, we see that we have the emergence of home OSs. Obviously we have operating systems on our mobile devices, on our laptops and computers. A human OS that captures all the data from all the smart things that we’re wearing, that we’re putting on our face, putting inside our bodies, whatever that might be, is clearly somewhere in the future as well, and I’m excited by the future. 

Quin Sandler: Me too.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much, Quin. This has been a lot of fun. 

Quin Sandler: It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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