By Keina Chiu | With the objective of restoring active lifestyles for in-patients, the disabled, and the elderly, Hong Kong-based MedEXO Robotics pours their heart and soul into developing affordable, convenient, and socially inclusive devices that palliate movement difficulties. Their champion product, the WalkAid, is a wearable gear that combats the ‘Freezing of Gait’ (FoG) symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Affecting 26% of patients with mild Parkinson’s and 80% of those who suffer from more severe cases, FoG is a momentary cessation in motor activity that halts patients’ ability to move around.
The WalkAid Comprised of two major components – the Visual Cue Device and Tactile Insoles – WalkAid is a rehabilitation robot that helps Parkinson’s patients with walking difficulties. The former provides visual cues via laser projections, while the latter is a tactile walking guide that gives off vibrational signals.
Complementing the device is a mobile app that works with a laser device supported by an Internet server. “Upon providing data visualization, the app enables a customized user’s setting by letting users set their preferred laser intensity ranges, insole vibration mode, and insole vibration intervals,” says MedEXO Robotics Founder and CEO, Denis Huen Yin-fan. In 2016, the serial healthcare entrepreneur
also co-founded MedPot, a social enterprise, to help chronically medicated elderlies to consume drugs safely with the assistance of technology.
Among other things, patients can also gain access to information on their devices including battery status, real-time data, an archive of past records, as well as a performance report which informs users about FoG occurrences.
“A patient’s lower-body movements can be recognized with great precision by applying data retrieved from the motion sensors onto the app or laser device. This means that detections can easily be made whenever a patient falls down from tripping or losing balance,” says Huen.
Because the root cause of Parkinson’s is still unknown, discovering a total cure for Parkinson’s is no easy task. While some cases of Parkinson’s are hereditary, most are sporadic. According to Huen, more often than not, the disease results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While scientists have yet to come up with a cure, existing medications and surgical practices are able to alleviate symptoms by a substantial amount.
Cobots, Not Robots Meanwhile, despite the rising influence of AI, Huen deems it unnecessary for medical practitioners to worry about labour displacement. “Although AI can be trained, taught, and is smart enough to do a lot of autonomous work, when it comes to medical application, final decisions still lay within the hands of qualified medical practitioners. In light of certain ethical issues, robotics and AI should facilitate instead of replace humans,” he says. With this in mind, Huen coined the term “cobots” to refer to robots that that will coexist with us in all our future endeavours.
What’s Next? At present, MedExo Robotics is developing an exoskeleton robotic arm device to mitigate neural disorders in the upper limbs. With a comprehensive suppression control system, this up-and-coming creation provides a resistive and constraining force to control abnormal movements by reducing tremor amplitudes and enhancing voluntary motions.
Personalized treatment is optimized through collected data and user feedback. Ultimately, the arm serves as a remote monitoring platform that enables doctors and family members to keep track of their patient’s condition any time, and anywhere.
MedEXO Robotics has won many awards, including the Gold Award in E2 Day (Social X Tech) Pitching Competition, Champion in DBS Social Innovators 2016, Champion in BREAKTHROUGH Stage at RISE 2016, Audience Award in Oxford University Innovation Idea Idol 2017 and Winner of the Harvard Business School Association of Hong Kong Startup Competition 2017.
About DENIS HUEN YIN-FAN Denis Huen Yin-fan is an award-winning scientist and entrepreneur with a specialization in health care. Currently a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering at Oxford University, he completed a Master of Science by Research Programme with distinction in Medical Robotics and Image Guided Intervention at Imperial College London. One of his past inventions, a robotic leg for the disabled, obtained numerous awards including the Third Place Grand Award at the 57th Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2006. In the same year, he was named one of three “Little Young Scientists of Tomorrow” by the Ministry of Education of China.