The wearable technology market is gathering momentum as companies such as Google (with Google Glass) and Apple (with its soon to be announced iWatch) push the market forward with exciting products.
Established companies and startups are targeting the high volume general consumer market. However, a significant market opportunity exists for entrepreneurs (and established companies like Medtronics) to service the market for people with physical disabilities. As the population ages, this market will grow.
Wearables for People with Physical Disabilities
At a recent We Are Wearables Meetup in Toronto, a number of innovative startups presented their solutions for this market. A couple of observations before I highlight the specific solutions:
- A wearable product targeted at the physical disability market needs to be tailored to each market application since each medical condition is unique. Form factor, design, and software differs for each market application.
- The cost of many of these applications can be very high since the design needs to address a complex problem. In many cases the price for the consumer with physical limitations is prohibitive and often beyond their reach.
- The consumer market is driving down component and manufacturing costs. Wearable products for disability applications are benefiting from the economies-of-scale of the consumer wearable market.
- The overall awareness of the market for wearable products is increasing as the consumer market grows. Wearable products targeted at the market for people with physical disabilities is benefiting from this overall increase in awareness.
- Many of the products require clinical test trials to verify the products claims and may also need government approval before sale.
Bionik is a medical-device company focused on the development of physical rehabilitation technologies that help wheelchair-bound people regain their ability to walk. The company was founded by two Ryerson University graduates and was nurtured at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone.
The company has developed its own intellectual property.
It will soon release the ARKE – a lower body exoskeleton that helps people regain their ability to walk. The company stated that there are 10M wheelchair-bound people of which 5M are able to use the ARKE.
It is initially targeting the rehabilitation market and, as costs come down, it will enter the home market. At $50,000 per device, the price is steep and beyond the reach of many people. It is working with health authorities in the US, Canada, and the EU on reimbursement strategies to help people make the investment.
Bionik’s competitors are Argo, Ekso, and Parker/INDEGO.
The company appears well positioned to address this market and will probably gain the attention of traditional medical technology companies such as Medtronics and even Google as it expands into robotics.
The SENSIMAT is an active, intelligent pressure management product aimed at wheelchair bound people and is designed to reduce the risk of body sores. The product is currently in clinical test.
The product combines the mat with an iPhone app that records and monitors if the person has been immobile for too long and alerts the caregiver when it is time to move.
The Lyxio is a digital knee brace targeted at people who have had a knee injury. Many people often do not follow the protocol prescribed by their Physiotherapist and the Lynxio helps them stay on their program.
eSight is digital eyewear product designed to help people visually impaired people regain their vision. The company is located in Ottawa.
According to the company, 2% of the population is legally blind, often through macular degeneration. The company has 130 clients.
The product is quite expensive and many of the clients require financial support to purchase the product. eSight offers many financing options.
Sensassure is an early stage company that is building an incontinence management solution targeted at elder care. The solution includes a disposable pad that continuously monitors incontinence activity and notifies the caregiver, via the cloud, if the diaper needs to be changed.
The company plans to have the product in trial by September of 2014.
This article is part of my Digital Health guide.