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Embracing AI

Two alumni are advancing their careers, thanks to artificial intelligence

By Christine McGrath

The Perfect Fit
What if you could wear shoes that had been created specifically for you? No more discomfort. No more trying different sizes and brands to find the perfect fit. Well, Chaudhry Raza Hassan, PhD ’20, a Stony Brook University biomedical engineering graduate, not only helped design an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven, precision-fit shoe, but that shoe, the Iambic Model T, was named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2023

Chaudhry Raza with sneakers

Chaudhry Raza Hassan with samples of the shoes he’s created.

Hassan co-founded Iambic in 2020 with the idea of creating a foot scanner that would plug into retailers’ mobile apps and websites. Hassan’s background in biomechanics — specifically orthopedics biomechanics — with prior work in machine learning models, sensor technologies, signal processing and image processing — set the stage for the creation of the Model T.

“As a PhD student at Stony Brook, I worked on different models of the human knee, spine and ankle,” said Hassan. “And I recognized the problem of footwear fit during my time in the orthopedic departments. As a society, the footwear industry operates on a ‘one size fits all’ basis, and that’s just not true.” 

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Iambic built the AI algorithms needed to design inclusive, AI-tailored shoes, especially for the more than one-third of consumers who do not fit a standard shoe size. 

“As we started testing our software, we realized that even with the right technology, there are flaws with the design and manufacturing in footwear,” Hassan explained. Upon identifying this problem, the Iambic team pivoted, setting up their own supply chain to manufacture their precision-fit shoes. “If we wanted to be able to give people shoes that are their best fit, we knew we’d have to do it ourselves.”

Iambic’s AI-smartphone scanner lets customers take three images of each foot and answer questions about their comfort preferences via the app. This data is then used to form a unique foot last, which serves as the mold for the shoe. But what sets Iambic’s Model T apart from traditional custom-fit shoes? “By using our AI-based machine learning models, we can create these shoes at 1/10th of the cost and 1/6th of the time,” said Hassan. “Older processes rely heavily on 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 fully leather shoe and takes less time to make than a fabric sneaker.”

Each shoe has an adaptive sole system, which means that when worn, the sole reveals a colored layer providing data on alignment, balance and gait. This data is then used to improve the next pair, resulting in a shoe that evolves with the wearer. The Model T was designed with individual customers and ongoing innovation in mind. 

Hassan credits Stony Brook and one of his mentors, Distinguished Professor Yi-Xian Qin, PhD, for much of his success. “I spent time working on computational models of the human musculoskeletal joints and doing research with the orthopedics department and Professor Qin,” said Hassan. One of the main reasons he chose to pursue his PhD at Stony Brook was its connection to Stony Brook Medicine and Stony Brook University Hospital. “It was such a collaborative effort, seeing the benefit of your research reaching patients.” 

black and white sneakers

The Iambic Model T sneaker was named for another breakthrough invention, Henry Ford’s Model T car.

In addition, Hassan said, Stony Brook’s Center for Biotechnology provided extra coaching to help prepare him for a career beyond academia. “This was important, as I knew at the end of my PhD that I wanted to take my technical skills and apply it for society’s benefit,” he said. 

The mentorship Hassan received at the center provided guidance on how to secure development funds, how to create business plans, and even marketing and sales tactics. In fact, Hassan said, the Center for Biotechnology has supported and championed Iambic’s pursuit of footwear size inclusivity and wellness, and helped to secure grants. “The center has been pivotal in our transformative journey from foot-scanning software to the pioneering AI-driven footwear brand we are today,” said Hassan.

The Model T was chosen by Time in its search for the world’s most impactful new products and ideas based on originality, efficacy, ambition and impact. According to Time reporter Ashley Mateo, “A last is a foot-shaped form that hasn’t seen much innovation in a millennium. That’s changed with the Iambic Model T shoe.”

What’s next for Iambic? Hassan said that the company will continue to celebrate its Time recognition and keep streamlining its production processes. “We also want to consider eco-friendly materials for our footwear, but ultimately, we want to be able to use AI to create a broader impact for society,” he added.

For more information about Hassan’s work or the Model T, visit iambic.co.

 

Chaudhry Raza Hassan

Chaudhry Raza Hassan and wolfie

Chaudhry Raza Hassan



Forging a New Path

Alexander Reben ’08 was initially drawn to Stony Brook to study applied mathematics at one of the top programs in the country. Yet looking back, Reben said that one of the best parts of his education was the chance to dip his toe into other areas of study that piqued his interest, such engineering and art. Within a program at Stony Brook that integrated digital arts, culture and technology, he was able to combine his own love of technology and art with classes in software for visual arts and presentations on how artists work with computers.

Alexander Reben

Alexander Reben

His degree and the connections he made at SBU lead him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his MS in media arts and sciences, where he studied social robotics, the study of how people and robots complete tasks together. After graduating he began a corporate career at Cisco, a software/technology company, as an interaction design strategist, but his love of art was still calling.

With a curiosity for new technology and an interest in embedded systems and machine learning, Reben experimented creating works with Neural Nets, Deep Learning, BigGAN and StyleGAN. These were precursors to the popular OpenAI programs he uses now, like ChatGPT and DALL-E, an AI system that generates graphics and art based on a description input by a user. This experimentation inspired him to pursue a new path as a full-time artist.


“It seemed like a natural fit for me — using AI in my paintings and sculptures,” Reben explained. “Essentially, I view AI as an extension of social robotics.” He believes that, much like robotics, which automates physical capabilities, AI automates intellectual capabilities. “AI is going to accelerate much of what robots can do.”

And AI is now accelerating Reben’s art career as he was recently named OpenAI’s first artist in residence. “I’ve been using OpenAI’s technology since its early GPT Beta, and I made connections with some of their staff about their programs as I infused it into my personal art. When they created the artist in residency position, they approached me about being the first person in the role,” said Reben. “It will allow me to dive deeper into what they are working on and learn what makes sense for the future of their AI tools.” 

Sculpture in bronze

Reben titled this sculpture “The Sentinel of Memory in the Valley of Vulnerability,” 2023. Bronze, 40 x 19 x 7 inches.

Reben’s curiosity and eagerness to learn technology were sparked at Stony Brook University and have stuck with him throughout his career. He credits his art and engineering professors with encouraging him to branch out and explore his love of art. “Stony Brook was a place that supported the type of education I needed to be able to explore a bunch of different fields to really figure out what my passions were and eventually how I could combine them,” he said.

While his new role at OpenAI evolves, Reben hopes to be a trailblazer for future artists in residence.

“I’ve incorporated AI in several different ways through my art. Sometimes I’ll create a piece of art and have AI create a wall label for it, and other times I’ll input a vision into an AI program, which will then digitally create the artwork, which either myself or another artist will bring to life,” Reben said. 

That art is on display at a solo retrospective at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA,  a first for him as most of his art has previously been included in shows with other artists. The retrospective features a historical timeline of his earlier pieces of art without AI and leads into the AI-driven pieces. 

“It’s always great to share my artwork with the public,” Reben said. “A lot of times I like my art to spark discussion. And that’s exactly what AI has been doing — sparking discussion about what comes next, asking, ‘How can we incorporate AI in ways that enhance the work we’re already doing?’”


Visit openai.com/residency to learn more about this new program.

Top Photo: The Council of the Foxes, 2023. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 50 3/4 inches (framed).

Works of art created by Alexander Reben using AI tools or generated ideas.
To see more of his art, visit his website.

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Dreams of the Cheese-Faced Gentleman, 2023. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 28 1/2 inches (framed).

Courtesy of the Artist, Alexander Reben.

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One of the sculptures on display from Reben’s solo exhibition.

Courtesy of the Artist, Alexander Reben.

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The Dining Window, 2023. Oil on canvas, 42 x 33 1/2 inches (framed).

Courtesy of the Artist, Alexander Reben.

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Another element on display at the Crocker Art Museum.

Courtesy of the Artist, Alexander Reben.

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AI generated images on tapestries from Reben’s exhibit.

Courtesy of the Artist, Alexander Reben.

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