NEOFECT: South Korean Tech Startup Creates Robotic Arm To Help Stroke Victims

Time to say goodbye to expensive therapy and frequent visits to rehabilitation centers. Stroke survivors will now be able to receive personalized and more effective treatment at much lower costs in the comfort of their homes! We spoke to Hoyoung Ban, CEO of NEOFECT, the startup that is revolutionizing therapy with robotics, machine learning and gamification. Read on for more!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I graduated from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and majored in Aerospace Engineering. After graduation, I joined Samsung Electronics where my job was to work on new technology research. After working for Samsung for a while, I went to the US and was the cofounder at a small startup for a couple of years. I then moved to University of Virginia for my MBA. After graduation, I started Neofect.

What is Neofect and what is RAPAEL smart rehabilitation?

We focus on smart rehabilitation and we work on how patients get rehabilitation. Many stroke survivors depend on analog devices but we think that digital technology can be more viable in terms of medical costs and in terms of quality, providing personalized therapy using the data and machine learning technology. RAPAEL platform is a self-care platform. The first rehabilitation device we have launched is hand – rehabilitation and though we focus on stroke survivors, it can also be used for other patients such as people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

At the moment, hospitals are the primary users – we’re positioning it as a B2B product. However, the idea is to eventually help patients and their families at their homes. We are looking to enter that domain, to make it affordable and available to all.

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How did you begin? What was the trigger that made you realize this need?

It originated from my CTO’s idea. He studied Rehabilitation and Robitics Technology at the University of Southern California. He suggested to me several ideas such as car-washing robots and such other “bullshit” ideas *laughs*. I said, ‘What is your main subject?’ He was reluctant to share, because it wasn’t really a commercial field. But when he shared the idea, I thought it is definitely meaningful and it had a very big commercial potential. I knew this, because my father died of stroke and two of my cousins also suffered from stroke and underwent rehabilitation. I already knew that if we could make this technology meaningful, it would have a great potential. We had to create a home-solution for stroke providers.

What is the current alternative, if someone does not have access to such technology?

Currently there are mostly analog devices like Lego blocks. You know, very simple analog devices. This is accompanied with therapy given by therapists. This leads to a very high cost – especially in the US. It is also relatively inefficient. Several people give up the rehabilitation process due to the high costs. Our technology has 3 components – one is the device, second is the games – we are trying to gamify the rehabilitation process, the third is data-analysis – through which we can provide efficient and personalized therapy to people.

How much more effective is it as compared to conventional rehabilitation?

We have researched with Korean National Rehabilitation Center in January 2014. The findings proved that our solution is significantly better than conventional therapy.

Could you tell us about the technology? What sort of gamification is it and what’s the analysis that goes behind?

We are making actual games – using hand movements. This is synchronized with a mobile device and the patient, using the product and watching the smart-device, play the game. While they play the game, the movements are recorded and how much they move during the game is recorded. Based on the data, the difficulty of the game is controlled. The games are designed by professional game designers and physiotherapists together. The games have a motivating effect on the patients but it also has a clinical meaning. Currently we are focused on the hand movement, but we are moving to other movements, such as arm movement.

How affordable is the technology for the patients?

Currently we provide B2B products to hospitals and it costs less than $10,000. For patients who wish to get their treatment at home, we will provide solutions that are less than $1000. We have not yet decided the price for the home users, but I can say it would be less than $1000.

What is the current adoption? How many people use it and in which parts of the world?

We launched the product in late December, last year. Currently most of the major hospitals in Korea have adopted our system. We are looking to move to the US and European markets. We are currently working with European distributors and in Mid-East Asia. We have established a US office and incorporated in the US. We are trying to build a direct sales network in the US market.

We hope this will change the lives of millions around the world by providing them more efficient and cost effective relief!

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Category: Idea Factory