Robotics, AI driving elderly med-tech market
By Alfred Romann, Staff Writer pdf
HONG KONG – Later this year, the robotic Lean Elderly Assistant (LEA) will literally roll onto the market.
LEA is unique. It looks, at first glance, like a high-end rollator or walker but it is much more: a robotic assistant that incorporates a range of smart technologies and makes it easier for users to remain or become more active.
LEA can move on its own, dance, facilitate human interaction and much more. It is categorized as a class I medical device and tailored to the needs of elderly users.
Another Israeli company, Intuition Robotics, is planning to launch Elliq, a robot with an artificial intelligence core that can interact with users, encourage mobility, project moods and much more.
They are just two of the many new products under development by companies around the world looking at meeting the health care needs of a growing elderly population.
“It’s a very big market,” said Maja Rudinac, who invented LEA and is the CEO and co-founder of Robot Care Systems, which is developing LEA in the Netherlands. “On the one hand you have a very rapidly growing population. What is being said, for example, is that in 2050 on a worldwide basis, there will be four people working for one in pension.”
The numbers in Europe and North America suggest a much larger market, with likely one person working to one retired by around the same time.
“More and more devices will be needed to help them,” Rudinac told Medical Device Daily.
The topic is significant enough to be a key focus at the MIXiii Biomed 2017 conference in Tel Aviv that begins on May 23. A whole track is dedicated to the issue of robotics and its application to elderly populations.
Rapid advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are happening just as their large contingent of elderly people is facing one side effect of improvements in health care: much longer life spans. The longer life spans, however, translate into longer periods at later stages of life when people might have different needs.
“I see robotics as the next market boom, like [the impact] computers had or cellphones had,” said Rudinac. “Once components get cheaper and cheaper, I think we there will be more and more robotic devices… It’s a new generation of machines.”
Components are already getting cheaper and making it possible to produce sophisticated products that rely on new technologies to drastically improve the quality of life of patients.
Upnride, for example, is an Israeli company that produces various products for upride mobility. The company’s latest
product is a “wheeled robotic device,” in the words of the company, that provides “upright and seated mobility.” In other words, wheelchair-bound people can use Upnride in the standing position to move around.
The benefits are myriad, said Upnride CEO Oren Tamari. For one, there are psychological benefits to standing up rather than constantly sitting. Another is that being in an upright position can have multiple health benefits compared to constantly sitting.
“There are more and more old people who have to use wheelchairs,” Tamari told Medical Device Daily. Upnride provides “functional upride mobility.”
The company is now starting clinical trials in New York for its device, looking to demonstrate the health benefits of spending more time upright. Tamari also believes that there will be cost savings for insurance providers that will make the
product attractive. Upnride is now working on a CE mark and a submission to the U.S. FDA.
Another Israeli company looking to tap this growing market is Intuition Robotics, which developed Elliq, “an active aging companion.” Elliq uses robotics and AI to integrate a number of technologies that allow it to interact with users, facilitate connectivity and track healthcare requirements, among others.
Elliq uses natural communication and a type of body language to better communicate. Its interface includes movements
and lights that can convey emotion and spur activity. It also integrates a tablet that facilitates communication and tapping into information.
“We are really taken aback by the reception,” said Intuition Robotics CEO and Co-Founder Dor Skuler. “We searched for a design that was not intimidating.”
The change in demographics is extreme, with the global population above the age of 65 years likely to reach 30 percent of the total in the near future. Both the needs and the market are quite large.
Given the size of the aging population and the modern technologies that already exist, products for this particular group of people should be coming up fast. But, said Tamar Flash of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, there is a disconnect at the moment even though robotics, AI and neuroscience are all moving forward.
“We don’t provide good enough solutions in terms of what is possible,” Flash told Medical Device Daily. Still, there is “a lot of need and a lot of technology that is being developed … there is also a lot of interest from the robotics community.”