Wearable health tech doesn’t always require sensors, software, or electricity, and some leading-edge technology doesn’t resemble futuristic robots so much as sci-fi aliens. For people of a certain age (including the author of this article) an innovative new wearable might even appear reminiscent of the 1980’s TV miniseries “V,” which featured reptilian aliens masquerading as human beings. SCALED, a protective joint brace, draws on evolutionary biology to provide stabilization without sacrificing mobility. The result is a level of biomimicry that functions like real scales and possesses a lizard-like beauty.
Designer Natalie Kerres graduated in 2020 from the Global Innovation Design program with joint master’s degrees from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art (RCA). She designed SCALED as her final project. Kerres went on to receive $45,000 from the startup accelerator program MedTech SuperConnector to develop her design for series production.
A typical cast, splint, or brace helps protect injuries during joint healing but limits range-of-motion. With this in mind, Kerres studied animal features that offer protection without restricting mobility. She ultimately chose scales because they provide even distribution of impact force. Overlapping scale arrangements also allow the joint to move freely in one direction while limiting movement in the opposite direction.
To make scales for humans, Kerres employed parametric design techniques, engaging algorithms that determine a set of parameters which manifest a unique geometry. By customizing these algorithms with variations based on intended use, body shape, and injury location, SCALED is a highly personalized wearable. A glove-like fit that allows for unconstrained range-of-motion means that users can also wear SCALED during exercise activities to avoid further injury.
Unlike the Visitors in V who wore a human guise but underneath were horned alien monsters, SCALED supports the essence of human motion, rather than threatening to devour the entire human race. Nevertheless, videos of SCALED prototypes affixed to the ankles, wrists, and spine of a ballet dancer offer pleasing glimpses of an iridescent reptile emerging from human skin as the dancer bends, unfurls, poses, and twirls.