With a growing elderly population in the United States, the market for technological products that can assist them is rapidly expanding.
Recently, a group of University at Buffalo entrepreneurs, just hours away from their spring break, gathered to present innovative solutions to address the needs of the elderly at UB’s Innovation Sprint for the New York State Dept. of Health Aging Innovation Challenge. The winners of the pitch competition have the chance to present their prototypes in a statewide contest later this year.
Hosted by the UB Blackstone Launchpad chapter and the Center for Successful Aging, six teams with diverse backgrounds and skill sets--from computer science and engineering to business, management and medicine--presented their prototypes March 15, with first-, second- and third-place winners announced.
The winning team presented Go Dress Yourself, a mechanical device that assists the elderly and those with disabilities in getting dressed, without relying on batteries, manual strength, or smart technology.
The winning four-person team earned $2,000. Harsha Kosta, a computer science engineering graduate student, said each member of the team was motivated to find solutions for the aging after having had someone to care for in their personal lives.
“Each of us was working for this idea because we felt this idea could bring a major change in the future,” Kosta said in a text message to Upstart NY. “It was [designed] with an intention to be cheap and easy to buy.
“When we pitched the idea, the judges showed real interest in our product, even though our presentation was simple and we didn’t have high-tech designs,” she added.
The next step for Go Dress Yourself, Kosta said, is to develop a cleaner product design and tie up any legal ends to a patent. She said the team gladly will commit to developing the idea further, with the goal of addressing the needs of individuals who want to maintain their integrity and independence, freedoms often lost to age.
The team presenting mRehab, which couples smartphone technology with 3D printing techniques to provide in-home therapies for stroke patients, took home $1,500 for its second-place finish.
Team member Chen Song, a computer science engineer at UB, explained that the technology is both low-cost and highly customizable. There are currently commercialized solutions on the market, but costs can be prohibitive. Emerging 3D printing techniques and built in smartphone sensors can help create customizable rehabilitation programs for stroke patients, who can also receive objective feedback on their progress through data analysis software.
A video monitoring system that uses algorithms to identify changes in daily habits or movements, thus providing an efficient alert system compared to around-the-clock monitoring, called The Guardian, earned $1,000 in third place.
Phil Schneider, team leader for the 12-person crew, said he, too, has been personally affected by a circumstance that involved caring for a sick or elderly family member.
“I thought we have something that’s very doable,” Schneider said. “I really do believe this can be an actual company if we devote more to it.”
Schneider added that when speaking with classmates and colleagues, he realized the technology already existed to develop the product. It just hadn’t been applied yet to addressing concerns associated with the elderly.
Next, teams will begin to develop their prototypes to be presented at the New York State Dept. of Health’s Aging Innovation Challenge, with $50,000 in total prize money available.
According to the Aging Innovation Challenge website, innovators are required to submit a written proposal of their prototype by April 30. Additionally, selected innovators will be asked to submit a final project by Nov. 1, 2018. By Nov. 15, 2018, five finalists will be invited to make a live demonstration of their prototypes during the week of Nov. 28, 2018.