CEO Series

Why This UTM Grad Wants Stroke Patients To Play Games With Robots

Despite winning 30 awards, acceleration from MaGIC, our PM Najib’s note of their product, and pretty extensive media attention in 2014, this year sees a rehab-based startup called Techcare toiling away in relative silence.

While the team of three founders has expended a lot of effort and research into developing a product that can be accessible to those who might need it most, what is immediately striking is how they’ve gamified what can be a demoralising and stressful rehabilitation process for those with limited mobility, either due to age or illness.

Techcare is a notable Malaysian blip in a rising trend towards gamified rehab, which saw a lot of attention in 2016 among medtech players internationally.

In fact, we’ve seen some of the technology available internationally use the Kinect, while others are also approaching it using VR.

In our own quick search on the matter, it’s clear that rehabilitation for stroke, in particular, is one of the more researched aspects of medical gamification.

Techcare puts a more portable and affordable spin on their offerings, which allows them to supply to the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (NASAM) to benefit local stroke victims.

Since 2014, Techcare has produced three products that have expanded beyond just stroke, and tackling a wider range of health verticals.

  • Fitness Balance Board (Fibod): To help retain the crucial balancing skills that usually begin to decrease after 30 years of age—reducing falls due to ageing. The balancing board gamifies improving your balancing capability, strengthens core muscles, helps with body coordination and improves ankle flexibility to reduce injuries.

  • Instant Feedback: It’s able to record all of a user’s sport movements, from golf, to swimming, and any others that require a strong form. Instead of having to rely on coaches to observe and give direct feedback, this device allows users to just plug and play.
  • CR2-Haptic: A compact and portable rehabilitation robot for hand exercises, suitable for the elderly and stroke patients. Patients play games on the device, which tests the patient’s hand dexterity and sends assessment reports on a cloud-based platform. The robot is able to train for different functional movements, and also provides cloud-based assessment reports for family and healthcare practitioners to check.

Techcare didn’t delve into gamified rehab business just to jump on the bandwagon. 

UTM graduate Khor Kang Xiang told us that this all started during the first year of doing his degree, when he wasn’t sure what to do with his life.

“I had a simple life. A lot changed when I was in university. I joined a robot competition called RoboCon. I learned a lot of skills. We represented Malaysia to Egypt and won Best Design. ”

“I then thought what now? Is that all? I kept looking for something better until I visited a stroke centre in Johor. Then, I decided to build rehab robots to help. This was 6 years ago. It started during my university life.”

Once part of his PhD project, Techcare grew into his business. Kang Xiang’s lecturer, Dr Yeong Che Fai—who already has a few robotics company notches on his belt—eventually became his co-founder. Their team-up picked up their CTO in Patrick Chin.

This eventually led to the development of a robot that would benefit the shoulder and elbow. Kang Xiang brought the robot around to sell it, but it was then he realised that this isn’t exactly what his customers are looking for.

So for Kang Xiang’s final year in university, he went to about 20 rehab centres and hospitals to understand how they’re traditionally doing, and what are the limits.

It was there he understood: user experience is important.

With more refinement on their value proposition, the Techcare CR2-Haptic came to be. It was project zero that began their Techcare development. 

The founders trying out the CR2-Haptic / Image Credit: Founders Asia

In fact, Kang Xiang’s beginnings with the NASAM centre cycled back home when Techcare began working with the organisation 3 to 4 years ago.

An NGO that was started by a stroke survivor, this organisation is better equipped to provide advice and refinement on their robots meant for stroke patients. Now Techcare’s robots has been used by the NGO for two years, across the 9 centres they have in Malaysia.

“Working in healthcare is tough because there aren’t many people doing this in Malaysia.”

It means more to the team when they hear about patients who are able to engage with their rehabilitation themselves, especially if a therapist is too expensive for them.

With 70% of his employees coming from PhD backgrounds, they came together wanting to actually create an impact with their education.

Techcare has received inquiries from Hong Kong, France, the USA, and others, despite not being the first players in the market.

On top of that, the team informs us that of those who used the portable robot, 16% showed significant improvement after 6 weeks of training, and of those, they showed 67% improvement in how much they could move.

Despite that, the team needs a bit more help with traction. 

The Fibod, their latest market offering / Image Credit: Techcare

Unfortunately, bleeding hearts don’t pay the bills. And after graduating the MaGIC program with their idea, the team is now in the Cyberview Living Lab Accelerator to turn the startup into a viable, profitable business.

“As engineers, we’re not that good in business. We always want to push ourselves to different level, and last year, we decided to push a bit more in business.  We want to join this [accelerator] and explore new opportunities, as well as learn the business world and how it works.”

As for their future goals, it’s all very down-to-earth.

“Firstly, we want to achieve more customers, and get more partners to work with us. We hope to raise funds as well, so that our company can be more established.”

Again, they are definitely not the first players in the market. Even if we ignore the CR2-Haptic for stroke patients, something like their Instant Feedback definitely rings familiar to us, even though they’re definitely giving the tech their own little spin.

But if there was ever a space that could benefit from more players and competition, it would definitely be in the medical tech scene, which help the quality of life enjoyed by our species as a whole.

 

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