Today, Fitmust is one of Ashva’s best and most efficient products, taking affordable and quantitative physiotherapy to the next level.
However, the road to its development was just like any other – slow, uneasy and frustrating. For a company focusing on making physiotherapy data-driven, we were borderline exhausted by how fruitless our research was turning out to be at the very beginning.
It began with the very first prototype of Fitknees and the assessment of Surface EMG technology, which is presently used for neural health testing. But after multiple experiments using data analysis, various mathematical models, and machine learning, we soon found it to be inaccurate when it came to obtaining muscle strength in musculoskeletal patients. That was our first setback.
Fortunately, we had another idea to go with – motion sensors. Though motion sensors have their apparent limitations in capturing muscle strength, we decided to replicate the n-rm test using ankle weights (N= no of reps, RM = repetitive movement). After all, a 1-rm test is a gold standard muscle strength assessment test for athletes.
We integrated the n-rm test and calculated the maximum reps one can do wearing the heaviest possible ankle weight. But to no avail, we discovered that the n-rm test is disadvantageous for two main reasons. Firstly, it may be dangerous for untrained patients, especially the elderly population, because their muscles may not be able to sustain the n-rm test load. Secondly, the n-rm test is essentially like a BMI table, defining muscle strength as per the weight and no. of reps. We were using motion sensors to detect the no. of reps, without really measuring the strength of the muscle.
After two heavy failures in finding a breakthrough, we were stuck. That’s when our CSO and PI – Dr. Padmanaban Sekaran suggested the application of a handheld dynamometer. Surprisingly, the demand and awareness of handheld dynamometers in well-established physiotherapy centers were incredible. Still, due to the cost and lack of aftermarket support, not many clinicians were using them in the country.
We turned to a well-known USA manufacturer of isometric dynamometers and realized its cost was $2500! For a startup in its humble beginnings like ours, this device was simply unaffordable. We tried to seek partners in the market who could loan or lend the device but we barely found 6-7 physiotherapy clinics in the country that owned this machine.
But this problem itself presented our solutions. Firstly, we could strip down the cost to less than half. Secondly, we could create a marketplace within India to manufacture HHDs and supplement that with the best aftermarket support.
From all the learnings and mistakes we had made during the R&D of Fitknees, we rapidly created a prototype of Fitmust within 3 months. We 3D printed the casing, hand-soldered the motherboard, calibrated the first Fitmust device against the several ankle weights from the n-RM test experiments, and took it for patient testing to our PI’s clinic at 6.30 in the morning.
Several prototypes and iterations ensued, which involved us having to purchase custom-made load cells as per our designs from Germany. Each sensor cost us a mammoth Rs 80,000 and with the little financial resources we had, it was a challenge to make the load cell designs work within the second iteration itself.
A challenge we accepted and completed.
Today, we hold a patented design on Fitmust and can proudly say that it is 100% Made in India. Our first Fitmust buyer in the country is Dr. Poornima – a forefront clinician and movement expert at Dhanvantari Physiotherapy Centre, Chennai. From there on, there was no turning back. We launched the first batch of just 5 Fitmust devices in Chennai. Today, we have sold over 40 Fitmust devices whereas, until 2021, India barely had 7 equivalent products!
With growing sales and marketing activities, the necessity of improving and maintaining the quality of our Fitmust devices has increased. We have set up strict protocols for testing the hardware during and after production. We also have clear structures to try and realize our software’s effectiveness.
As a company striving to be heavy on R&D in this physiotherapy industry, we are constantly iterating not just on the product but also our processes. Ashva went through the entire process holding to its fundamental principle- keeping the patient at the center of its mantle. From product design to usage, a customer-centric approach has forced us to keep reinventing ourselves to better serve patients and clinicians; for better treatment and a healthy healthcare experience.
A lot of the learnings from Fitmust are now in turn translated into Fitknees – our flagship product. Ashva as a brand may not have been launched more successfully if not for our first marketing product – Fitmust.