MALAYSIAN startup TechCare Innovation Sdn Bhd hopes to take its rehabilitation robotics system from research to the marketplace with a pledge drive on pitchIN, the domestic equivalent of Kickstarter.
The company’s Compact Rehabilitation Robot (CR2) is a series of robotics systems developed for rehabilitation training, or essentially as physiotherapy aids. TechCare itself is a spinoff company from UTM (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia), where the system is being developed.
Its latest iteration, CR2-Haptic, is aimed at those who have suffered strokes, traumatic brain injuries or other neurological disorders resulting in hand and arm impairment. It is designed to train forearm, wrist and basic ‘activity of daily living’ (ADL) movements, according to TechCare Innovation.
“For the past three years, we have been focusing on the research and development of the rehabilitation robot,” said Khor Kang Xiang, the core mechanical and electronics designer at TechCare Innovation.
“However, we know that even with the best research outcome at the university, if we can’t deliver CR2-Haptic to market for patients to use it, it makes no difference because they would not be able benefit from the outcome at the end of the day.
“Therefore, we hope to make this change and bring the research outcome to [more] patients by commercialising the product,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) via email.
Gamification for health
CR2-Haptic is a portable and compact rehabilitation robot which can be used to train patients’ muscle functions while they play games. It allows patients to train at home by integrating tele-monitoring technology that enables therapists to monitor the patients' progress via the Internet.
This feature also allows therapists and family members to easily analyse and review the progress of the patient, according to TechCare Innovation.
Using robotics in stroke and similar rehabilitation is not new, with several other systems such as the In-Motion Arm and Reo-Go already in market, but which the Malaysian company says are too expensive and bulky for home use.
The idea behind CR2 came to Dr Yeong Che Fai, currently a senior lecturer at UTM and lead researcher and marketing strategist at TechCare Innovation, when pursuing his PhD at the Imperial College in the United Kingdom back in 2006-2010.
“I basically built a rehab robot which was tested in a UK hospital. The feedback was positive and encouraging from both physiotherapists and patients, but still had lots of room for improvement.
“Thus, when I came back in 2010, I started research here, but focusing more on delivering a final product for patient use,” he told DNA.
According to TechCare Innovation, one in six people in the world have a chance of getting a stroke in their lifetime. In Malaysia, 52,000 people suffer from a stroke every year, it said, citing reports in English dailies The Star and The New Straits Times.
“I had always been under the impression that stroke only happens among the elderly, until a visit to one of the rehab centres in Malaysia,” said Khor.
“During my visit (to a Nasam centre in the state of Melaka), I saw teenagers as young as me who had suffered from a stroke, and I could feel their pain … there was one young man who was actually dragging his leg along the way when he walked.
“I only then realised that strokes could affect anyone of any age, at any time,” he added.
As he went to the field to research the problem, he came across many patients in need of rehabilitation or physiotherapy.
“However, due to the large number of patients and lack of therapists, most of the time, patients don’t have the chance to get enough rehabilitation training for a proper recovery.
“Generally, they need to be discharged once they are mobile, as general hospitals need to handle more serious patients,” he said.
Then Khor met Dr Yeong, who already had experience in the field of rehabilitation robotics, and realised he wanted to use his skills to develop something that could help the stroke community.
“So, that's how I started to get involved with the team. From that, we started to build a rehabilitation robot with an aim to commercialising it one day so that patients can use it to improve their recovery,” Khor added.
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