What is biomechanics? Let’s find out.
June 14, 2022

Not to boast, but younger me was onto something. Admittedly, I did not get all the details right but the headline is all that matters: biomechanics really was the next big thing.   

Biomechanics is the study of how living things move. The world’s largest free-standing biomechanics facility happens to be in Omaha, Nebraska. There, all manner of instruments help to detect and manipulate motion. From cutting-edge motion capture studios to custom virtual reality environments to custom squirrel treadmills (no really!) the University of Nebraska has made its mark in the field and built an amazing space where it can happen.  

All that great research is only part of the story. UNeTech celebrates the human discovery and publication that university faculty produce in their roles in research – but that’s not really our job. Our job begins when research transitions over to development. UNeTech helps inventors and entrepreneurs incubate that amazing discovery into a new product. In that incubation, the Department of Biomechanics is among our most reliable partners. That partnership is built on three acronyms: MOVAN, NONAN, and MAPRO. 

MAPRO is the Machining and Prototyping Core and it is a service-based laboratory offered by UNO Biomechanics. Led by Dr. Brian Knarr, MAPRO builds advanced prototypes on a fee-for-service basis. Be it a scale prototype of a new angioplasty balloon, a design for a new heart valve, or even a self-pacing treadmill, MAPRO uses the amazing tools that drive UNO Biomechanics research to build prototypes for two campuses.  

MOVAN is the Movement Analysis Core. Led by Dr. David Kingston, MOVAN designs, recruits, and executes studies on human motion. Using the amazing motion capture facilities of the world’s largest free-standing biomechanics facility, MOVAN can test prototypes, design experiments, or expand clinical studies.  

NONAN is the Nonlinear Analysis Core. Led by Dr. Aaron Likens, NONAN helps to use advanced mathematical methods to assess changes in human motion. All that data in the world won’t help you if cannot interpret it. Nonlinear analysis helps to find self-repeating patterns present in human motion. The variability between these patterns helps to determine volumes of information about human motion.  

Already, that work has helped to develop two amazing startups built out of discoveries from the department of Biomechanics. RespirAI is a Tel-Aviv-based startup that is developing a wearable solution to monitor and address the fourth leading cause of death worldwide: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). COPD is a description of symptoms that can have a wide variety of causes. Currently, there is no cure nor is there an effective way to track or diagnose COPD. 

Inventors at UNO discovered that the mechanism that synchronizes human walking and human breathing is very different in people suffering from COPD. The process by which your body starts breathing harder as you walk farther is surprisingly poorly understood. Researchers at UNO Biomechanics, using non-linear analysis of COPD patients walking and breathing, discovered a way to measure the de-synchronize between walking and breathing. That de-synchronization correlated with patients’ COPD severity. More importantly, it spiked before patients suffered COPD exacerbations: deadly episodes that often land patients in the ICU.  

UNO Biomechanics built an early prototype and, with UNeTech’s support, deployed that prototype into a national clinical test. Based on those results, Israeli entrepreneurs Nimrod Bin-Nun and Assaf Gar formed RespirAI in partnership with UNeTech and UNO Biomechanics. The company currently testing a next-generation prototype in a clinical study in Israel after receiving a sizable investment.  

Additionally, Biomechanics inspired another UNeTech Startup: Impower Health. Years ago, two students needed to write new code for a research treadmill. Asked to research the gait of patients recovering from strokes, they simply couldn’t adjust the pace of the treadmill so as to make their patients comfortable. They wrote an algorithm to adjust the pace automatically. 

It turns out a self-pacing treadmill is a thing of legend among the fitness companies of the world. UNeMed filed a patent for the algorithm but the self-pacing treadmill had a lot more work ahead of it. MAPRO, working with MOVAN improved the algorithm, installed it on a surplus PRECOR treadmill from the student center, and developed a commercial-ready version of the invention.   

UNeTech used the work of MAPRO to attract Mr. Doug Miller, a former director at Life Fitness to form Impower Health. Impower is currently raising its seed round in close association with Proven Ventures and is poised to take the fitness world by storm.  

Working together, UNeTech and Biomechanics have helped to bring about the future of biomechanics I envisioned in my younger days – if not exactly the way I’d envisioned it. In the coming weeks, UNeTech will talk more about the companies bringing Biomechanics innovation to market, future innovations that will be startups of the future (again!), and a bit more about the history of Biomechanics at UNO.  

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