Raza Hassan PhD ’20 Helps Design a TIME Best Invention With AI-Driven Shoe

Imagine having a shoe that is meant for only you. No more discomfort. No more figuring out your size. Stony Brook University alumnus Chaudhry Raza Hassan PhD ’20 has helped design an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven, precision-fit shoe, the IAMBIC MODEL T, that was recognized by TIME as a best invention.

Hassan with the MODEL T shoes.
Hassan with the MODEL T shoes.

Hassan and Maeve Wang co-founded IAMBIC in 2020. In 2023, TIME chose 200 inventions based on their originality, ambition and transformative impact. The MODEL T was featured in the design category and “shines a spotlight on IAMBIC’s passionate dedication to advancing size-inclusivity in footwear,” said Wang. 

According to Hassan, who is the chief technology officer for IAMBIC, Stony Brook University’s Center for Biotechnology played a huge role in preparing him for a career beyond academia. Hassan sat down with us to talk about his time at Stony Brook and explain what exactly the MODEL T is and why it’s so unique.

How does it feel to have the IAMBIC MODEL T chosen as a TIME Best Invention of 2023? What was that moment like when you found out?

It’s actually a funny story. We were nominated by a journalist who saw the MODEL T through our launch event, so we had no idea we were even in the running. TIME contacted us through the comment section of our website, and we initially thought it was spam! Of course, once we confirmed it wasn’t spam, we were thrilled. It was a very humbling experience to see this technology and product that we spent 3 1/2 years working on recognized on such a big stage.

What exactly is the Iambic MODEL T? How did the idea for an AI-driven precision-fit shoe come about?

When we started IAMBIC in 2020, our original concept was a business-to-business platform. We wanted to create a smartphone foot scanner that would plug into mobile apps and websites for other shoe brands and retailers for footwear matching based on their customers’ foot images. Through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, we created and validated a smartphone scanner. But upon testing it with the brands, we realized that there is a fundamental problem in footwear design and manufacturing — shoes sizing today is still based on the foot data from decades ago and the supply chain is so fragmented that the quality issues on the measurements go unaccountable, leading to faulty product data for footwear matching. That means even with our scientifically validated technology, people would not get good-fit shoes from these mass-market brands. We knew if we wanted to give people shoes that were their best fit, we would have to actually develop them ourselves. So we pivoted in 2022 with support from NSF, set up our whole footwear supply chain and had our first shoe launched in April 2023. Our end goal all along was to create a tailored and elevated shoe that can be dressed up or down — our MODEL T.

The IAMBIC MODEL T.
The IAMBIC MODEL T.

How does the app work to create the custom-fit sneaker?

After customers place an order, we direct them to our app, where they provide three images of each foot and answer a foot and footwear survey assessment. This data is then used by our AI platform to precisely design a shoe last tailor-fitted to each individual’s measurements and footwear preferences. A shoe last is the physical mold on which shoes are designed and built and is critical to tailor-fit shoes. Our technology allows us to create these shoes at one-tenth of the cost and one-sixth of the time compared to traditional tailor-fit footwear. Older processes rely heavily on manual trial and error, so developing something can take up to a year and cost up to $10,000. Our MODEL T is $550 for a full-grain leather shoe with a durable rubber sole.

Each shoe has an adaptive sole system, which means that as you wear them, the sole reveals a colored layer providing data on your alignment, balance and gait. This data is then used to improve your next pair, resulting in a shoe that evolves with you. The MODEL T was designed with individuality and ongoing innovation in mind. 

IAMBIC's founding team - Chaudhry Raza Hassan, PhD '20 and Maeve Wang.
IAMBIC’s founding team – Chaudhry Raza Hassan, PhD ’20 and Maeve Wang.

What was it like to create a startup?

It was fun and interesting! My co-founder, Maeve Wang, and I were lucky enough to meet in January 2020, before the pandemic shut everything down. We were supposed to meet for an hour for our first meeting, but that meeting lasted six hours as we brainstormed IAMBIC and what the company should look like. I brought in the technology, while she brought in omnichannel optimization, digital health, analytics and venture experience. Maeve and I started by working remotely and eventually brought other team members on board — including the leading footwear researcher in the world, app developer, material scientist, data analyst, user-experience specialist and a designer. What’s great is that our team is filled with people who have multitalented skill sets. For example, our data analyst has an undergraduate degree in physiotherapy, and our user-experience specialist does music journalism in his spare time. With our amazing team in place, we began developing both the brand and the technology.

Why did you choose to obtain your PhD at Stony Brook? What was your experience like at the university?

One of the main reasons I chose Stony Brook was its connection to Stony Brook Medicine and Stony Brook University Hospital. Just like most of the PhD students, I spent a lot of my time in the lab, studying translational technologies. In the later years, I began working with the fundamentals of the biotechnology program, which provided me with a background necessary for the startup world. My primary field of research during my PhD was on human musculoskeletal joints using computational models and their clinical applications, for which I conducted research with the orthopaedics department. I really enjoyed seeing the benefits my research provided patients.

How has Stony Brook helped you succeed in your career?

I worked closely with Professor Yi-Xian Qin along with great mentors, including Dr. Diane Fabel at Stony Brook’s Center for Biotechnology and Dr. David Komatsu at the Department of Orthopaedics. I had always known that after my PhD, I wanted to apply my technical skills for society’s benefit, be it academia or industry. The center guided me on how to secure development funds, how to create business plans, and even marketing and sales tactics. The Center for Biotechnology has also supported and championed IAMBIC’s pursuit of footwear size inclusivity and wellness and helped secure grants. It has been pivotal in our transformation from foot-scanning software to the pioneering AI-driven footwear brand we are today.

What advice would you give students interested in using AI in retail or whichever industry they plan to seek out after graduation?

Understand every facet of the industry you want to work in. Developing AI-based technologies is one thing, but you must also understand who your customers are, what they want, what society needs and what your product will look like. It’s also important to be able to rely on your team. As someone with a technical background, I knew I needed to involve the marketing and research teams to better understand our end goal — our MODEL T. And don’t be afraid to pivot or take risks. If you aim high and take chances, you never know the heights you can reach.

Raza and the MODEL T are featured in the Spring edition of Stony Brook Magazine.

-Christine McGrath

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