My Dad died from complications from Parkinson's Plus this year. I still miss him every day.
Dad's illness introduced me to a world I'd never really experienced before, a world in which active, brilliant and able-bodied people gradually become confined to a wheelchair, dependent on caregivers for everything.
It was a nightmare for someone who had been as active and who loved to interact with people as much as Dad.
The Indignity of Immobility
One of the worst aspects of a degenerative disease like Parkinson's or Muscular Dystrophy or ALS is that it gradually (or not so gradually, in my Dad's case) robs its victims of their ability to take care of themselves.
I never realized before last year how important it is to one's sense of self to be able to turn a page of a book or pick up something you dropped. Mundane things I took for granted every day became as impossible for Dad as flying. I also learned from observation in his nursing home that primary caregivers could become exhausted from turning those pages and picking up those dropped items, hour after hour, day after day, year after year.
Kinova Robotics co-founder and CEO Charles Deguire learned these lessons much younger than I did: he had three uncles with Muscular Dystrophy, each of whom found ways to live their lives to the fullest, traveling around the world, starting companies and other achievements that could be daunting even to able-bodied people.
One of his uncles devised a makeshift mechanical arm to help him function without relying entirely on a caregiver. Over the decades, I am sure any number of ingenious home-made arms have been developed by those confined to wheelchairs and those who care for them. Few have made it to the marketplace and none has provided the combination of form, function and cost that would result in widespread adoption.
Enter the JACO Robotic Arm
Advances in robotics and materials coupled with Charles' love of his uncles and his passion for engineering led to the development of JACO, the first commercially available robotic arm created from the ground up for people with very limited upper body mobility. Other commercially available arms are much heavier, clunkier, slower, and weaker than the JACO.
The JACO also has the advantages of being compatible with any powered wheelchair, whether controlled by a joystick, keypad or other device. Plastic fingers mean that those who are highly adept with a joystick - AKA most people with electric wheelchairs - can even scratch their nose safely with the JACO.
Above and beyond all that functionality, I have to say that I just love the look of the JACO arm. It's sleek and sinuous, with six degrees of freedom in its movement. As an engineer by training, I also love the fact that it is fully modular: if a part fails, you just buy the new part, not a new arm. The tech comes out and in a couple hours, you're ready to go again.
The JACO arm is a thing of beauty even to someone who isn't in the process of losing her mobility. I just wish that I could have given my Dad access to one for the very small window of time between when he was starting to lose his mobility and when he became completely incapacitated. He was an experimental physicist, so you can imagine the fun he would have had!
AdvaMed2012: October 1 - 3 in Boston
Kinova Robotics is one of 18 companies in the Canadian mission to AdvaMed2012 that is being held in Boston for the first time this fall. The conference brings together industry leaders, international MedTech executives, business development professionals, investors, distributors and many others.
Disclosure: I have been retained to coach each of these companies on their pitches for the conference. After I coach entrepreneurs on their pitch, I often write blog posts about them based on what I have learned in the coaching process. Any errors are mine and mine alone.