There are over 6.4 million children with disabilities in the U.S., and even more who sustain Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) or experience other neurological injuries as adults. Much of the therapy interventions for these children emphasize the importance of repetition during one-on-one interactions with a trained physical or occupational therapist. Studies have shown, to ensure effectiveness, therapy must also be continued at home in-between clinical visits. Atlanta-based startup, Zyrobotics, addresses the need for accessible and affordable therapy at home through the development of a robot neurorehabilitation platform, specifically designed for children. Led by two female entrepreneurs with decades of experience between them, the Zyrobotics team recently pitched to a packed house at Rise of the Rest. We caught up with the company’s leadership to learn give you the scoop.
Founded by Dr. Ayanna Howard (CTO. pictured above) and led by Dr. J. MacCalla (CEO), “Zyrobotics is an assistive technology company that was conceived in the summer of 2012 and officially incorporated in 2013 as a Georgia Tech VentureLab company,” explains Dr. MacCalla. “Our mission is to create accessible technologies that engage and empower children with disabilities and enhance their quality of life. To do so, we have developed personalized technologies that are adaptive to each individual’s capabilities. Zyrobotics’ first product offerings include accessible interfaces and smart toys, socially assistive robots, and a suite of educational apps that are specially designed to enable educational and accessible play. Our mission facilitates freedom through technology for children of all abilities.”
“The Zyro Robot Therapy System couples a robot therapy coach with an accessible manipulative and therapy apps that promote physical movement for therapy,” she continues. “Although there are a number of therapy apps already used in the clinical setting, they typically require therapist intervention to encourage movement in the 3D space. Our technology uses pervasive technologies to model this therapist interaction in the home for children with acquired or developmental motor disorders.”
Zyrobotics stands out from its competitors due to their focus on in-home therapy and their pervasive technology that is accessible to the needs of children with disabilities. “In addition, by using a cloud-based infrastructure, our system enables clinicians to easily specify parameters of the therapy apps the child engages with and retrieves the results from these exercises, thus providing the necessary feedback needed for a team-based approach to therapy,” boasts Dr. MacCalla. “None of our competitors offer this capability.”
The idea for Zyrobotics’ technology came from research discoveries made in Dr. Howard’s lab at Georgia Tech. A few years ago, she received a National Science Foundation grant that focused on developing technologies to teach children with disabilities how to program robots. After seeing the impact it had on children, she then focused on developing a more general-purpose input device that would allow individuals with a motor impairment the ability to interact with tablet computers, despite any difficulties they might have with effecting pinch and swipe gestures. Soon after, she decided that she wanted to commercialize the technology to expand its social impact and Dr. MacCalla was brought on as CEO.
All members of the senior management team have taken commercial products to market. Dr. Howard has over 13 years of R&D experience covering a number of projects that have been supported by a range of agencies including: NSF, NASA, Procter and Gamble, ExxonMobil, and Intel. Her robotics and assistive technology research, has resulted in over 180 publications and numerous patents. Her accomplishments are highlighted through a number of awards and articles, including highlights in USA Today, Upscale, and TIME Magazine. She was named MIT Technology Review Top Young Innovator, recognized as NSBE Educator of the Year, and a recipient of the Anita Borg Educator Award.
Dr. MacCalla has a 30-year track record managing technology companies. Prior to Zyrobotics, she was the CEO of Automated Switching and Controls Inc., a communications and controls company with over $8M in annual contracts with city and state transit. Prior to that, Dr. MacCalla was President of Advanced Systems Concepts Inc., overseeing approximately $3M in DOD contracts for military communications and control systems. As Chairman of the LA Metropolitan Transit Authority Foundation, she managed their $100M endowment and was a board member of the California High Speed Rail Commission.
“Our interest in startups and tech exists because we believe that technology is the way to solve a lot of problems; not all, but many. Moreover, because of our backgrounds, we have always been interested in technology and robotics. For Dr. Howard, a love of science fiction was a natural progression into engineering,” says Dr. MacCalla. Going forward, “we are currently in the process of learning exactly what reporting metrics are most useful to provide therapists. Our system can collect a host of statistics and run analytics, but determining exactly which reports are most useful to therapists is an ongoing learning process. We are also in the process of learning how our technology can best address the needs of other individuals with motor disabilities, such as stroke recovery patients, veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury, and Parkinson’s patients.”
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