Four years ago, an abnormal bus accident on the way to Pondicherry shocked Rishi Krishna life. Not because it resulted in an amputation of his right arm, or even because he has had to deal with some of the darkest days of his life so far. But because the sum of all the experiences he had after the accident led him to bid for the entrepreneurial life, where its only mission is to lend a hand to other amputees like him.
Its start, a affordable assistive technology company, focuses on alleviating the pain and discomfort amputees often face, especially when trying to use bionic and smart prosthetics.
It’s a pain and discomfort that Rishi is familiar with.
âAfter my amputation, I started looking at all the prosthetic options available on the market and realized that the most decent ones were over Rs 20 lakh. And when you’re in that frame of mind, it’s easy to see those Rs 20 lakh as meaningless if it could get you something that could be a close replacement for your arm, âhe says. Your story.
For a majority of Indians, Rs 20 lakh is something they may never see in their life. But even beyond the simple cost, the smart prosthesis options currently on the market are uncomfortable – they are either too heavy or too little intuitive. And these are all issues that Rishi himself dealt with.
âIn the end, I removed the prosthesis I had bought for me and kept it aside, that’s exactly what most people do, âhe says.
Call it desperation or innovation, Rishi decided to do something. Sitting with folded arms was not an option for someone who wanted to continue traveling and not let their amputation become a hindrance. He therefore joined his friends, and decided to make an arm that he would use.
Soon the university project transformed into a full-fledged startup, And the rest, as they say, is history.
Image credit: Symbionic
What does Symbionic do
Rishi had learned from personal experience that the options available for amputees on the market these days had a few issues with them:
- They were Dear, and a good quality prosthesis, with smart capabilities, started at Rs 10 lakh, minimum.
- They were uncomfortable because it is a unique affair. It was impractical, especially considering the changes in body size.
- They were very counter intuitive, and did not pick up the signals accurately.
All of these factors ultimately led to the prosthetic device being thrown aside, never to see the light of day again.
Symbionic solves all these problems in poignant ways.
The prosthetic products offered by the startup are all highly customizable. The the amputated stump is mapped and 3D printed, so that the socket is a perfect fit for the wearer aand does not hurt their arm. And this prevails throughout the amputee life cycle, where they can take advantage of personalized grips as their bodies change and grow.
Unlike the majority of other brands that use metal parts in their smart prosthetics, which ultimately makes the device heavy and painful to wear for long periods of time, Symbiotic uses organic-grade plastics and other lightweight materials. This not only makes the device comfortable to use, but also ensures its longevity.
Image credit: Symbionic website
More intuitive and economical
Symbionic developed and designed the sensors it uses to help give the functionality of the arm, internally, using locally available products, which considerably reduces manufacturing costs. The replacement of metal parts by biograde alternatives also allows the startup to offer its smart prostheses at a much higher price. affordable price than what is available in the market today.
A quick search on IndiaMart for smart bionic prosthetics launches options of Rs 8 lakh from for those made by foreign companies and exported to India, which is quite expensive for the average Indian, especially considering no after-sales service is available.
On the other hand, Symbionic full prosthetic smart arm – which is personalized until fingers – currently sells for Rs 2 lakh. And Rishi says he’ll reduce the cost of manufacturing to less than Rs 1 lakh soon.
Brewing with more features
Rishi elucidates the frustration facing amputees – in addition to the pre-existing mental anguish – when they try to work a smart prosthesis with the following example:
âSuppose you want to use your voice assistant, like Siri, to make a call, and you say ‘Siri, call Ms. XYZ’, but nothing happens. So you try again, a second and a third time. Maybe you’ll do a fourth try, or even a fifth, and then Siri will start calling Mr. ABC instead of Ms. XYZ. She finally gets it on the seventh try. Would you go through this whole process a second or a third, or, if you were unusually desperate to make it work, the tenth time? “
This is the case with most bionic prostheses today, especially when it comes to actually using the functions the arm promises. The best devices that exist today offer a 78-93 percent functionality, and with practice it gets better. But not many people stay patient enough through the process.
Image credit: Symbionic Instagram page
âYou don’t want something to be successful or unsuccessful – you want functions to work 98-99% of the time. Only then will the wearer feel confident enough and encouraged to continue using the prosthesis, âhe says.
To solve this problem, Rishi and his co-founder, Niranjan Kumar, Chief Technology Officer start-up, added layers such as AI-based pattern recognition and application-based pattern tracking system to overload the already superior sensors.
Other features such as a rotating wrist, individual control for all fingers, and a functional thumb, all set the device apart from its competitors, as well as closely mimic the functionality of the body.
Today Rishi says he has a device he can ultimately carry – although he wants to continue to iterate the product until he ticks all the boxes and meets the vision he has in mind.
“I’m my company’s own lab rat,” he says, comically alluding to the fact that he’s probably suffered more pain and discomfort creating a prosthetic device that can help others avoid this. , that he wouldn’t have done if he had just accepted his fate and stuck with whatever was on the market.
Symbionic is currently specialized in the creation of prostheses only for amputees above and below the elbow, and hope to develop in this category more widely.
While most devices on the market take over a month to get used to, the the learning curve is quite short with the Symbionic product. We need amputees less than 10 days to master the product, especially when used in conjunction with the startup application this follows, monitors and helps train porters, and improve gripping features.
Rishi says he is is currently testing his MVP, and is a month of a beta launch, that he plans to lead with amputees in his network.
It plans to launch the product commercially in January 2022.
Symbionic will initially sell the device directly amputees, even though Rishi says the way forward will be to collaborate with physicians and set up mapping and 3D printing capabilities directly in their clinics, it’s something he’s currently working on.
Rishi and his team are also building a online training and rehabilitation platform, that uses virtual reality, for amputees around the world. Symbionic has partnered with NGO / NPO such as Mukti to pilot the study of their prostheses and hopes to continue working with them to support them in the future.
The startup has raised nearly Rs 30 lakh as pre-seed funding for BIRAC, and did a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, which gave it enough firepower to fuel its R&D. Rishi says he has started looking for institutional funding that he intends to use for hire engineers who are passionate about solving this problem.
The company is part of ATF Laboratories accelerator program, and was incubated by VITTBI.
âI hope people who use our product realize the amount of empathy with which we have designed our device. I want people to be excited about buying a product from us, just like you would if you were buying an iPhone. It doesn’t need to be wrapped in shame or embarrassment anymore, “Rishi says, adding” It’s a cool thing that we’re building, and we want people to feel good wearing them too.
The addressable market for prosthetics and orthotics was approximately $ 6.11 billion in 2020, globally, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.2% through 2028, according to a report from Grand View Research. According to SKP Business Consulting, the Indian orthopedic and prosthetic appliance market is valued at over $ 450 million and growing at over 30% per year.
A number of startups with varied value propositions, including, , ProLiving and many others are rapidly changing the bionics game in India and creating devices that don’t hurt consumers’ pockets too much.
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