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Thomas Cavett spent six years in the U.S. Army Special Forces before he returned to civilian life in 2016, and threw himself into entrepreneurship. But despite all the skills he picked up as a medical sergeant serving U.S. posts in the Pacific, he says learning to run a successful business has been harder than he imagined.
“Honestly,” Cavett says with a laugh, “everything has been sort of like drinking from a fire hose.”
But that certainly hasn’t fazed him. In January, he took the stage at the Pitch Distilled competition in Philadelphia and won the event’s top prize for the idea that launched POWTI Innovations. His company—based in Philadelphia, where Cavett is attending The Wharton School—is focused on creating the world’s first automated, stand-alone traumatic injury detection device. The technology is intended to help high-risk workers, first responders, and thrill-seekers if they are seriously injured and can’t call for help.
“Most people know someone who has been seriously injured,” Cavett says in his pitch, which he’s done countless times since launching the company in November 2016. “Seeing how quickly people related to it validated the business idea. And that was the moment that propelled us forward.”
AN IDEA BORN OF NECESSITY
The idea for the technology behind POWTI (Point Of Wound Trauma Indicator) crystallized following the death of a first responder in the Washington, D.C.-area in 2012.
The responder was a paramedic with the Alexandria Fire Department (VA). While answering a call about a car fire on a highway overpass, he accidentally fell more than 20 feet from the overpass and suffered life-threatening injuries when he landed. Although he was eventually located by search crews following 15 minutes of confusion on the scene, he succumbed to his injuries and passed away the following day.
Cavett’s business partner and co-founder of POWTI Frank Miller—a U.S. Navy veteran who has served in the Arlington County Fire Department since 2000—was on the scene that day. For him, the moment was an epiphany. What if the fallen paramedic had been carrying a device that automatically sent his location and his status to the emergency response team, ensuring he was discovered and cared for quickly?
“Our realization was, ‘Enough is enough,’” Cavett says. “Both of us had seen so many instances of people getting injured and not getting care fast enough. We realized we needed to create something that addressed the issue. It could have been something as simple as getting there a few minutes earlier and maybe they could have saved his life.”
DATA DRIVES THE DEVICE
POWTI’s device will be roughly the same size as most cell phones and willy rely on cellular signals and satellite data to transmit the location of an injured person to emergency rescue personnel. It will come equipped with a manual button to send an alert, and automatic injury detection in case that person is unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate with medical personnel.
But making sure the device is reliable has been challenging. The injury detection feature depends on the algorithm to determine whether a person has sustained an injury serious enough to require immediate medical attention. To accurately recognize what kind of accident has occurred and whether or not it should call for help, the algorithm will need lots and lots of data. Eventually they expect the device to automatically determine what a long fall or a gunshot wound will look and feel like to the injured person, and medical personnel can take the next steps to save a life.
“We’re looking at potentially life-threatening trauma, so determining what those thresholds are is really the key value behind the device,” Cavett says. “I’m not focused on if you broke your toe. We’re focused on if you broke your pelvis, or sustained an injury so serious that it might prevent you from even calling for help.”
ON THE MARKET IN 2019
With their eyes firmly fixed on putting their product out before the end of 2018, the POWTI team expects to finish up a prototype within the next few months. They’ve also partnered with several fire and police departments in Philadelphia and the D.C.-area to outfit first responders with the device to record data and further develop the algorithm.
Once POWTI gathers this data, Cavett and Miller believe the technology will be used by more than just first responders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were nearly 5,200 fatal work injuries recorded in the U.S. in 2016, a seven percent increase from the year before. And a number of occupations recorded their highest fatality counts since 2003, including loggers, landscapers, roofers, tree-trimmers and farmers who could all potentially be outfitted with the POWTI device in the future.
There’s also a market to help high-risk adventure seekers—skydivers, backcountry skiers, and rock climbers—who could find themselves injured and isolated, in need of help.
“We’ve been getting tons of good feedback,” Cavett says. “When we talk to people—firefighters, police officers, military, or any of those people with high-risk jobs—they say, ’Yes! Tell me when I can get one!’”
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This article was produced by WIRED Brand Lab in partnership with Gentleman Jack.