VLAB, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the MIT enterprise forum organised an event on human augmentation. The focus of the meeting was very interesting: how new technologies are moving from replacing to augmenting human abilities.
Panel was made of Sonitus technologies specialised in audio and biometric communication solutions, Ekso Bionics, robotic exoskeletons specialists, Hosmer Dorrace, orthotics and prosthetics company, Shahin Farshchi, VC specialised in exponential technologies and was moderated by Catherine Lathan CEO of Anthro Tronix, company specialised in optimizing the interaction between people and technology.
Sonitus presented his earing aid device that fits in the mouth, like a retainer. Based on the principle of bone conduction transmitting sound through the teeth, the device helps people with single sided deafness or hearing loss.
This device is not only aimed at people with hearing problems but also optimize hearing in environments where it’s difficult to hear and speak because of high noises. For instance, soldiers on the war field or workers in noisy settings.
Ekso Bionics demoed his wearable bionic suit that enables disabled people in wheelchairs to stand up and walk. Even if the technology is still quite slow, it’s a big step for people with disability, giving them a chance to stand up again.
The eksoskeleton technology is currently being used by the US Army to develop a tactical assault suit that will enable soldiers to walk farther and lift more. This project should be up and running by the end of 2014.
The discussion that followed was very interesting. Attending that conference, I expected to know more about those (new) technologies but the discussion was on another level. What seems to be new to me and to many people has actually been around for a long time and the panel was about the future of those technologies and how they will evolve. An interesting point made is that we don’t know what those actual technologies will be used for 10 years from now, things we cant imagine yet.
The challenge for the companies developing those technologies is to convince consumers to try their product and that they actually do what the companies says it does. You need early adopters to try out your product in order to make it better.
An other important factor is the financial side. 2 of the 3 companies present on stage have been VC backed up. How do you convince VC to follow you when your technology is so innovative? Shahin Farshchi was there to answer that question. Actually I was surprised during my stay in SF to find out that some VC are exclusively investing in technologies such as 3D printing, eksoskeleton, bionics, etc… I tried to have them invest in spanish companies but they didn’t meet the criteria lol… So, what Shahin is looking for when backing up a company is a transformational company, with very high entry barriers and a minimum annual revenue. If you meet those criteria, contact Lux Capital 🙂
During the networking part, there were several other companies demoing their solutions:
Complete tactile sensing solutions for robotic systems, Sync-Touch fingers adapt themselves to different existing robotic solutions. It can replicate the ability to identify and discriminate objects, based on their compliance, texture and thermal properties. More info: http://www.SynTouchLLC.com
Implantable Telescope Technology for AMD (aged-related macular degeneration) patients. That solution enhances patients’ vision and enable them to do things they couldn’t do anymore because of their diminishing sight. http://www.visioncareinc.net/
EEG systems that can track patients’ brain activities. Easy to wear compared to clinical solutions. http://emotiv.com/
Those types of solutions are being used outside of clinical settings for personal neurological assessment, as well as to manipulate simple games.
FIXED the movie
Documentary about the science fiction of human enhancement, raising questions like what does ‘normal’ and ‘disabled’ mean today with the new possibility offered by technology. Check the trailer:
Very interesting conference, which makes you stop and think about the possibilities that the future will bring but it’s kind of scary too in a way…