“Self-care is about a wide range of activities, needed in everyday life, that are often private and strongly related to dignity and feelings of autonomy. Who wants to be fed or helped when going to the toilet?
Technologies for supporting self-care are, therefore, fundamental to independent living.”
On 30 April, AAATE together with WIPO held the 3rd online seminar in a 3-part series exploring the findings to WIPO’s recent report on “WIPO Technology Trends 2021: Assistive technology”. WIPO investigates in this report 7 domains, one of which is self-care, gathering insights from 72 experts – several of them AAATE members.
Taking the WHO’s priority assistive technology list as well as the ISO 9000 list for products for people with disabilities as starting point, WIPO found over 15,500 patents related to emerging assistive technology (AT), explained Irene Kitsara, patent analytics expert at WIPO.
Although the majority of patents is about optimizing existing products, WIPO analyzed the innovation in patents for more than 350 assistive technology products that were specifically addressed at people with functional limitations, not just technology that could potentially help people with disabilities, and found more and more smart and connected AT products.
WIPO also saw a convergence with other disciplines, including medical tech, data science and consumer electronics and mainstream products. The innovations could be split into more invasive AT (recovery of functions, enhancements) and less invasive AT, incorporated in consumer electronics. But only 18% of the AT mentioned in the report is currently commercially available. And out of all investigated patents, only a small percentage related to self-care.
Self-care however comprises many of the very mundane, daily activities that decide over the level of our quality of life, and it is surprising that there are not so many innovations in this field. Drinking, eating, dressing, toileting, personal care can all be considered part of self-care and strongly relate to a person’s dignity and autonomy.
The fastest growing conventional technologies are adaptive clothing, while health and emotion monitoring technologies represent the largest group in the emerging technologies.
Overall, Luc de Witte from the University of Sheffield summarized, we are dealing with a very fragmented market with many players who have small portfolios. The growth figures are relatively low but have recently been increasing, with the majority of inventions coming from Asia (China, Japan, South Korea).
To enter into more detail of the listed technologies, three of the creators cited in WIPO’s report joined the online seminar to explain in detail the development and capabilities of their innovations, namely the wrist-worn wearable EMBRACE 2, the AI powered AT platform ATvisor and a feeding assistant developed in South Korea.
Petra Nemet from Empatica presented in detail the capabilities of the EMBRACE 2, a FDA-cleared wrist-worn wearable to monitor epilepsy with the support of artificial intelligence. This wearable can detect possible convulsive seizures and instantly alert caregivers.
It is a description device for clinical platforms and epilepsy monitoring, which is of particular importance as people with epilepsy often suffer from SUDEP – Sudden unexpected death in Epilepsy. The goal of Empatica is to reduce SUDEP 2 by 50% with EMBRACE. The device is powered by an algorithm with high sensitivity to detect seizures (especially nocturnal seizures) and equipped with an alert app, sending alerts to predefined contacts. The device also has a companion app to provide personalized reminders to take medication and to provide feedback about sleeping and activity patterns. In the future the company even envisages the device to be able to detect or forecast viral respiratory infection in the users.
It is estimated that by 2050, 2 billion people will need some form of assistive technology. The challenge will most likely not be the availability of the AT but to professionally and successfully match the AT to the unique functional profile of each client. Moran Ran from ATvisor.ai presented a possible solution to this issue. ATvisor is a digital platform for assistive technology, that supports healthcare professionals and their clients – people with disabilities and the elderly – through artificial intelligence in finding the optimal match for their needs. Personalization and a good match in client-technology is important to avoid high abandonment rates. The search engine on the platform is based on the International Classification of Functions by WHO. Machine learning, natural language processing and data science is used to interpret the client’s needs. The algorithm learns and can in the future scale to consumer markets.
Currently, ATvisor is rolled out in Israel in a smart home project. The platform registers 7,000 visitors each month and so far 8,000 visitations have been carried out, with end-users and practioners completing their profiles on the platform. The listed products number already in the ten-thousands and come for the moment mostly from the US, the UK and Israel. The platform also analyzes the feedback of the user on the product to learn more about the impact of the product, and feeds back into the algorithm.
ATvisor has also started working on projects in Kenya and Bangladesh working with field workers to adapt the platform to the needs in developing countries.
Finally, Won-Kyung Song from the National Rehabilitation Centre in South Korea presented his institute’s work on a robotic Feeding Assistant, or rather their work on multi-purpose robotic devices to assist in a variety of daily living activity. The Feeding Assistant, a robotic arm that can be directed by the user, allows people with upper limb disabilities to eat the desired food whenever they want, and effectively gives back autonomy to the user.
The closing question and answer session with the audience turned around questions of intercultural adaptations of the presented technologies and the costs of acquisition as well as total cost of ownership. The webinar gave a good impression of what it possible when emerging technologies are used to develop assistive products. There is clearly room for more innovation here and it is likely that we will see many more self-care products in the near future.
WIPO’ report on “Technology Trends 2021: Assistive technology”: https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_1055_2021.pdf
National Rehabilitation Centre, South Korea: http://www.nrc.go.kr/eng/main.do
The AAATE is the interdisciplinary pan-European association devoted to all aspects of assistive technology, such as use, research, development, manufacture, supply, provision and policy. Over 250 members from all over Europe and throughout the world currently take part in the AAATE. www.aaate.net
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a specialized and self-funding agency of the United Nations with 193 member states. Its mission is to lead the development of a balanced and effective international intellectual property (IP) system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all. www.wipo.int
GAATO is an Alliance of Assistive Technology associations worldwide. It is based in Geneva. www.gaato.org