Robots will play a prominent role in our future. As head of ReSymmetry, which has developed a robotic wheelchair that is designed to provide the feeling and freedom of movement to the wheelchair-bound, I have seen first-hand how robotics can be used to improve our health. And thanks to WeWork, which presented us with a Creator Award, we are now able to launch our project, with the aim of bringing this important technology to as many people as possible.
ReSymmetry’s vision is to improve the quality of life and longevity of disabled individuals. As an occupational therapist with a career spanning 25 years, I have a clear, in-depth understanding of the treatments available to persons with disabilities, as well as the problems caused by incorrect use of medical and rehabilitation devices and their improper adaptation, with particular emphasis on seating solutions and wheelchairs. Our smart robotic wheelchair will eliminate many of the problems and complications that are caused by prolonged motionless sitting, and will also enable individuals to avoid painful and costly surgical procedures and hospitalizations.
The ReSymmetry device, called Healy, uses robotics to gently move parts of the body in order to avert the dangers that come from extended sitting and lack of movement — dangers that include orthopedic, neurological, cardiovascular, and other complications, from osteoporosis to spasticity to blood clots. Individuals who sit in wheelchairs for extended periods of time in the same position, unable to change their posture, are at high risk of these and many other secondary medical conditions that are not directly associated with the cause of their disability — further complicating their situation, and making it more difficult to treat or help them.
ReSymmetry’s Healy addresses seating needs of persons with disabilities in a unique manner — Healy’s moving parts, based on a tailored movement program, results in “active sitting”, as opposed to the usual passive sitting. This movement is highly beneficial to mitigating the secondary effects of prolonged motionless sitting. The system thus reduces pressure on the healthcare system, obviating the need to divert often scarce resources (financial, manpower, etc.) from dealing with other problems — thus benefiting everyone. The system can help wheelchair-bound individuals of any age, but it will be especially helpful to children, with the potential to make an important impact on their physical and cognitive development. We also want to develop a system specifically geared to helping the elderly.
Gaining awareness for our system was one of the reasons we wanted to be a part of the WeWork Creator Awards, which has generated a buzz in Israel and around the world. Through our participation we hoped to raise awareness about our smart robotic wheelchair, its revolutionary technology, and the benefit it can bring to the lives of disabled children and adults. We also hoped to interest potential investors and collaborators, and of course, to receive the offered funding. The result has been better than we even hoped for; our win in the WeWork “Launch” category allowed us to leverage this funding and apply for matching funding within the framework of the Israeli Chief Scientist’s program. The larger sum of money that we hope will become available with that funding will allow us to develop a more advanced prototype, and enable us to bring our smart robotic wheelchair to market sooner.
I believe that the recognition by WeWork of the importance of our work will have an important impact on the world of rehabilitation devices, which is generally extremely conservative, with little development taking place. Sitting for many hours each day is now considered “the new smoking,” as it causes harm not only to people with disabilities, but also otherwise healthy individuals who live a sedentary lifestyle. Developing an innovative robotic wheelchair that introduces motion, and transforms sitting from a passive state to an active one, will help combat the secondary medical and orthopedic conditions associated with individuals who sit in wheelchairs for many hours and are unable to change their posture autonomously, with a positive impact on the function of their respiratory, cardiac, vascular, digestive, and skeletal systems, and also help prevent pressure sores and blood clots.
Our aim is to revolutionize the life of wheelchair users, allowing them to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Winning the Creator Award has helped us significantly spread the word about what we do. As a result of our experience with the Creator Award, we were selected for the Changing Lives award at the prestigious NAIDEX exhibition in April 2018, which took place in England.
And winning the Creator Award has inspired us to keep pushing ahead until our vision — improving the lives of persons with disabilities, of all ages — is fulfilled. And our experience, we hope, will be an inspiration to others. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his famous speech, “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!… I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” I urge all creators, wherever they may be, to look ahead and find the promised land and work hard to get there!
RSVP for the Creator Jerusalem event on June 20: https://we.co/jerusalem-creator
Efrat Shenhod is a Licensed Occupational Therapist with 25 years of clinical experience. She formerly worked at the Israeli Ministry of Health’s National Unit for Rehabilitation Equipment and the Assistive Technology Unit in the Children’s Rehabilitation Department of the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center. Today, she is fully devoted to developing wheelchairs for disabled children and adults.
In this unique partnership between the Times of Israel and WeWork’s Creator Awards, we invite you to meet innovators from across the country and learn more about their stories and how they are making the world a better place.