Introducing the Idea Guy at SOLO
In the series “A Foot Up on Technology,” we will introduce you to the people and ideas that make SOLO a leader in foot scanning technology. In our first installation of the series, we sat down with Nathan Yoder, former director of research and development at SOLO, to hear how TOM-CAT®/iTOM-CAT® scanning went from an idea to become the standard in foot scanning technology.
Born and raised in Southeastern, PA, Nathan Yoder graduated from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. He started his career at Lucent Technologies as an engineer. In 2003, Nathan joined SOLO and during his tenure he received his Masters of Science in Physics from Lehigh University.
Q: When casts and foam boxes were used for years, what got you thinking about foot scanning as an alternative to those methods
Barry Sokol, CEO of SOLO, wanted it developed. I liked the idea because it eliminated inbound shipping and eliminated disposal of waste (casts and boxes). At that time, there were not many scanners available that provided accurate results, they were easy to use, and provided a visual picture overlay of the foot onto the point cloud. A point cloud without that visual overlay doesn’t give nearly as much scope as one that does.
Q: Tell us about the first prototype.
It originated in my home office with a ghastly interface that would send any potential user running. The first number of scans were intriguing but inconsistent. I was uncertain if it would work. After establishing a statistical model, consistency improved and there seemed to be potential that encouraged me to proceed.
Q: In addition to the foot scanning process, you also developed correction software. Why was that important?
Correction software takes the scanned image as input and allows the user to shape the orthotic to the scan and make any additions or corrections to the orthotic that the customer requires. My experience and understanding of what is required to make a good orthotic from a scan allowed me to establish parameters that dictated what function was required of the scanner. In other words, a good orthotic requires a good scan.
Q: Once you developed the technology, you did something nearly unheard of in the technology world – you shared it with others. Why?
Allowing other businesses to use the technology provided SOLO with valuable feedback to make even better products. With a small cost to utilize the technology, many labs found it easy to use our technology rather than develop the same technology themselves. By working together, we are all pulling in the same direction to achieve a common goal of providing the best outcome for patients.
Q: What advice would you give a student who wants to consider a career in developing new technology.
Find what excites you. Research, collaborate, look for feedback. Expect and invite others to call your baby ugly. Remember to take breaks; inspiration rarely happens when we’re deepening the rut.
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