Robotics Offer Second Chance at Mobility
Hong Kong robotics entrepreneur Denis Huen has some insight into fighting against the odds. He told Innovation Hong Kong that in his early school days his results were not good enough to pursue science courses, a fact he attributed to having dyslexia.
He nonetheless persevered and managed to study science.
One day he read a newspaper account of poor farmers in Cambodia that had been losing limbs in explosions caused by hidden mines from the country’s mid-20th century wars.
“At that time I was still a student but I started thinking that I needed to do something that could change people’s lives for the better,” Mr Huen told us on the sidelines of the Internet of Life Summit 2018 held in Hong Kong. The event was part of the StartmeupHK Festival 2018, an initiative of Hong Kong’s investment promotion agency InvestHK.
As a small boy Mr Huen had wanted to build a robot. As a young adult he thought about creating a robotic exoskeleton to help people with limited mobility, such as those Cambodian villagers.
Closer to home, he noted that one of the side effects of longer life expectancy in a developed economy such as Hong Kong was a rise in chronic health conditions that could cause mobility problems for those affected.
It led to his robotics start-up – Medexo Robotics – focusing on ways of enhancing body movement: mobility and also hand functions. The first group he worked with was Parkinson’s Disease patients. They may suffer from involuntary trembling and – depending on the extent of their condition – a frozen gait when attempting to walk.
“We have developed a robotic glove, to stabilise the hands and the fingers… but some patients have problems with the whole of their arms. So we wanted to extend the robotic glove concept to the whole of the arm. We wanted something affordable, low profile but also stylish enough that the wearer feels it is part of their body,” stated Mr Huen.
The second part of the start-up’s work involves development of several wearable products for Parkinson’s patients: a laser device, and a high-tech insole for shoes.
The laser device projects a laser beam on the ground, to act as marker to help those Parkinson’s patients that suffer from a frozen gait.
“It can also be attached to a walking stick, but some people don’t like being seen in public carrying a stick: that’s why we came up with the idea of a wearable device,” said Mr Huen “We think that makes the device more socially inclusive.”
Medexo Robotics’ insole product can detect the walking movement of the wearer, and also give them vibration feedback, to help them control their gait.
“The tactile cue [in the shoes] can help them with the walking rhythm,” stated Mr Huen.
Prototypes of the products are already being used by some patients. “We are now moving on to the beta stage, with some small-volume production,” noted the entrepreneur.
“The eventual manufacturing will be in [mainland] China. My manufacturing partner is based in Hong Kong, but they have factories in China,” he added.
picture courtesy of FleishmanHillard