According to a UN study, technology has the potential to improve the living standards of a billion people with disabilities by allowing them to live a normal life similar to that of the general public.
The advancement of technological knowledge has simplified people’s lives in ways that were unimaginable to humans just a decade ago. This explains the significant impact of technology on the lives of billions of people worldwide. Just as we acknowledge the benefits of technology, we must accept its impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Take a look at Astrek Innovations, a company that aims to build a platform for a wide range of technology applications in rehabilitation, physical medicine, and assisted living.
The Birth Of Astrek
Astrek Innovations, which came to light in 2018, was actually born in 2016 when the founders were still in college pursuing their engineering. At the time, the founders were actively participating in various projects and events related to their studies. They were, therefore, well aware of the huge gap in the technology used in rehabilitation and assistive technologies.
A major factor that pushed them to take a deeper look at the gap in the industry was when they witnessed Co-Founder and CEO Robin’s grandfather, who met with an accident suffering from an injury that left him unable to walk. After several visits to rehabilitation centres, interviews with other family members suffering from the same condition and interviews with other healthcare professionals, the sensitivity of the problem was confirmed.
The most basic things for us, such as using the restroom or getting a glass of water, was difficult task for those suffering from disabilities. Paraplegia is not just an individual problem; it affects the entire family of the disabled person. The problem doesn’t end here. The sufferings range from using a wheelchair, including cardiovascular, muscular, metabolic and paralytic extremity disorders. Sitting or lying down all the time results in osteoporosis and skin diseases like pressure sores. Moreover, using crutches causes muscle fatigue and tension in the shoulders.
This brought a strong urge within the founders to commence a start-up that would aim to tackle all these problems. The name stands for innovations that help them trek to astronomical heights.
CEO Robin Kanattu Thomas opines, “The vision behind Astrek Innovations is to develop a platform for a wide range of technology applications in the field of rehabilitation, physical medicine and assisted living. The technology we are developing today has applications in a wide range of verticals in the coming days.”
What Kind Of Technology Are They Aiming To Build?
Astrek Innovations is actively running in the race of advancement of technology. They are currently developing a wearable robotic suit named Unik Exosuit, which would be used in the rehabilitation and gait training of lower limb disability patients. The device would be sold to rehabilitation centres and hospitals to be used in their treatment regimes. They are also developing an easy to use patient transfer wheelchair with an openable backrest and seat for easily transferring patients from their beds or wheelchairs to other areas like toilets. They are expecting this product to be available in 3-6 months now.
“The core technology growth over the past few years has enabled us to develop applications in ways we could not have imagined. It is up to us to actually develop it in an impactful way,” adds CTO Alex M Sunny.
How Would Their Technology Work?
The core technology that Astrek innovations are applying to their products is wearable robotics, in which actuators are located at specific joints and work in sync with each other to generate enough driving force for taking walks. The time-to-training duration decreases as the device reduce fatigue and stress in patients. The algorithm might be set to imitate a natural walking sample, while alternatives for manual control would be provided for supervised and particular needs of the treatment regime.
Combining an array of sensors and movement trackers would assist in developing the walking algorithm using machine learning techniques. The data could be processed to predict walking patterns to offer total aid to the affected person. This movement monitoring system would additionally be visualized and analyzed using companion software. This helps to generate patient profiles and track patient development in real-time. The professional in charge of training program updates and modifications can then be administered for max effectiveness.
A Glance At Their Distribution Model
Astrek Innovations products are currently under development and are not being distributed at the current stage. They are working with several rehabilitation centres, hospitals, NGOs, and institutions to develop the project to ensure a steady source of feedback from the targeted user base.
Astrek’s Unik Exosuit- What Is It All About?
UnikXO is a fully motorised powered exoskeleton that would aid in advanced rehabilitation and assisted daily living. The modular wearable robotic suit would help patients and users walk-in controlled environments and gradually as daily aid. This would increase their independence and autonomy and help to provide them with equal opportunities and enable them to participate in socio-economic activities. This is something the community is struggling with now.
COO Jithin Vidya Ajith says, “Technology becomes an enabler only when it is accessible to all spheres of life. That is what we are trying to achieve, to improve the conditions for equality of opportunity for all.”
The device would also have a patient monitoring system with a data visualisation and analysis platform. Experts can view the patient’s progress in real-time and save it for later use.
A Glimpse Into Their Funding Scenario
Astrek has raised a pre-seed investment from IAN Fund-I. They have also received multiple research and development grants from Kerala Startup Mission and the Nidhi Prayas Grant from IIIT-Hyderabad. Recently, Astrek Innovations was a fourth place holder at the Swadeshi Microprocessor Challenge. The award included incubation support and a 20 Lakh development grant.
Understanding Their Revenue Model
Astrek Innovations target market is the physiotherapy equipment market and rehabilitation robotics market. In the next phases, they intend on expanding to the assistive device markets as well. The hardware product (Unik Exosuit and patient transfer chairs) would be sold to hospitals, rehabilitation centres and medical facilities, making us a B2B startup. The customer would use the exoskeletons in rehab programs for multiple patients who are the product’s users. The hospital could charge an hourly/program based fee from the users for the usage of the device.
The Exosuit is designed to work with existing infrastructure and systems to integrate into the facility’s norms easily. The device will have a data visualisation platform to view and analyse the data from the motion capture system. Additional devices including smart crutches and strollers would be sold with the Exosuit, to improve use cases and flexibility of the exoskeleton. Users will also have access to premium services as per requirement. On account of increasing cases of cardiovascular and neurological diseases, amplified by the growing size of the geriatric population, the demand for quality physiotherapy is increasing. The physiotherapy equipment market was projected to grow at a rate of 12% CAGR. Globally, the physiotherapy equipment market is expected to reach 21.7 Billion USD by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 5.6% from 16.6 Billion USD in 2020.
What Unique Problems Are They Solving?
Well-timed quality therapy improves the chances of recovery and a return to daily life for the rising number of people with lower-limb disabilities. Disabled people face difficulties in everything from toiletries and getting a glass of water. Paraplegia is not just an individual’s issue but affects the entire individual’s family, especially those from economically backward families. They also undergo a host of other diseases including cardiovascular, muscular, metabolic and paretic limb disorders. A gap exists for devices with accurate gait cycles, tracked progress and helped with daily living situations. Robotic gait therapy shortens recovery time with better gait-symmetry and reduced manpower. But the complexity and high costs of the products make them inaccessible for most.
Astrek Innovations Biggest Challenge Today
One of the biggest challenges today is the availability of quality components here, including supply chain disruptions in the post-COVID-19 scenario. Comprehensive support for hardware prototype making is limited. Furthermore, the IC shortages have caused a lot of hassles in product development.
“One of the biggest hurdles in technology penetration of the physical medicine sector is the lack of awareness regarding available products. A lot of rehab centres, NGOs and medical professionals have now taken it upon themselves to increase awareness amongst their colleagues in this regard,” adds Co-founder Vishnu.
Amidst these challenges, the company has bagged 4th place in the Swadeshi Microprocessor Challenge, which included a 20 Lakh research grant and incubation support. Organised by MEITY, in association with C-DAC and IIT Madras, the program had over 6000 participants from all over India.
Astrek Innovations Take On Rehabilitation Centres In India
There is a huge gap in the rehabilitation and physical medicine sector regarding the penetration of technology. According to the Founders, Rehabilitation centres and physical medicine experts are generally very open to using technology to add benefits to their treatment regimes. They have advanced imaging techniques and robotic devices for precision surgery, but the physical medicine sector has been neglected to a large extent. The rising number of injuries and cases of lower limb disabilities has caused the rehabilitation centres to be on a constant lookout for new-age technologies.
The Team Behind Astrek Innovations
Astrek Innovations is the culminated effort of Robin Kanattu Thomas (CEO), Jithin Vidya Ajith (COO), Alex M Sunny (CTO), Vishnu Sankar (Marketing & Partnerships) and Sidharth Pattathari (Designer), who were batchmates in engineering school. The team members are technology enthusiasts who are always on the lookout for new ideas and thought processes in developing new-age applications.