Democratising Access To Assistive Technologies

“Even more important than the freedom of speech is the freedom TO SPEAK.” -Stephen Hawking

Or Retzkin, CEO and Co-founder of EyeControl, lost his grandmother, Julie, to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The sadness and frustration experienced from a loved one losing their ability to communicate gave him a deep understanding of an existing problem and a clear vision for an innovative solution. EyeControl was established in 2016 by co-founders, who all have personal connections to Locked-in individuals. Or joined together with Itai Kornberg, CTO and Co-founder, and Shay Rishoni (1966-2018), Co-founder and ALS patient, on a mission to give the Locked-in community the ability to communicate.

Source: EyeControl

Worldwide, millions of Locked-in individuals are affected by ALS, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), stroke, traumatic brain injury, and Cerebral Palsy. They possess cognitive abilities but are unable to move or speak; and therefore rely on eye movements to communicate and control their environment. The existing communication solutions require that the Locked-in individual be calibrated to a screen for communication; this dependency is severely limiting to the user, especially when waking in the night, while in the bathroom, a car and outdoors.

The communication gap is also prevalent with ventilated patients, in ICUs, step-down units, long term acute care and rehabilitation centres. These individuals temporarily lose the ability to express their needs to medical staff and family. In the US, more than 5.7M patients are admitted to ICU departments annually; approximately 40% require mechanical ventilation, precluding communication and rendering them temporarily Locked-in. 

The EyeControl is the first wearable, screenless, assistive communication device. AI-powered eye-tracking technology enables Locked-in individuals and ventilated patients — who can’t speak — to communicate using only eye movements. Simple to use, the EyeControl improves quality of life for ALS, MS, stroke victims, and other home care patients, and helps ventilated hospital patients communicate directly with medical staff and family.

Reopening paths of meaningful communication

For individuals that possess cognition but lack the physical ability to articulate themselves verbally or otherwise, the EyeControl device has life-altering impact. From the most basic function of triggering the alert signal, to reopening paths of meaningful communication with loved ones and medical practitioners, the EyeControl is revolutionizing and disrupting the assistive technology market internationally. The product offers solutions that previous devices haven’t achieved, thereby impacting patients, who are free to communicate day and night:

Wearable: The EyeControl improves upon existing assistive communication products, which require access and calibration to a screen (computer/tablet/smartphone) and restrict the patient to very specific conditions of use. As a wearable device, the EyeControl provides a 24/7 communication solution, available immediately upon waking, while in the bathroom, in a car and or outside.

Personalized: The EyeControl is the first assistive communication device that enables personalization based on the user’s precise range of eye motion, even at advanced stages of movement deterioration. Cloud services facilitate remote access, including content editing and user preferences. Additionally, an individual can hear their own language and transmit in another language, allowing communication with international caregivers.

Technology: EyeControl’s technology is based on unique machine learning algorithms developed via extensive data collection of various eye sizes, shapes, and colours. This allows the device to work without calibration, as well as in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings. Additionally, because every user has varying limitations in their range of eye movements, EyeControl’s technology was adapted for a range of up to five gestures (up, down, left, right, blink), or as few as one. This update is particularly relevant for individuals, who previously couldn’t use screen-gazing devices for their communication needs. Finally, the unique interaction between eye movements and audio cues via bone conduction adds functionality. EyeControl is developing device entertainment content, including podcasts, audiobooks, and music, available via the web portal.

User Experience: Current communication solutions are cumbersome and require extensive training and calibration. The EyeControl requires no calibration and with an average training time of less than twenty minutes it is an ideal solution for at home and in hospital use. Additionally, in contrast to screen-based technologies, the EyeControl’s camera is positioned at nose level, allowing eye contact during communication. The device also grants user privacy; the bone conduction transmits to the patient only, before broadcasting the selected communication, as opposed to other products that display/project data openly.

In a home use environment, the EyeControl is an innovative communication solution for Locked-in patients suffering from ALS, stroke, spinal injuries, or other motor neuron diseases; it becomes a natural extension of the user’s body and relies solely on audio feedback.

Its short learning curve, lack of need for calibration, and ability to connect to pre-existing digital health platforms makes the EyeControl a highly beneficial communication tool for ventilated and temporarily Locked-in patients in ICUs, rehabilitation and long-term care centres.

The essential need for effective communication solutions in the facility setting exists not only for the patient, but also for close family, friends, and medical care professionals. Restoring communication benefits the entire circle of people that surround the patient and increases the quality and accuracy of care provided to the Locked-in person.

One of EyeControl’s founders, Shay Rishoni (1966-2018), represented the Israel NGO for ALS patients. In addition to changing the world for patients and their families by restoring communication, EyeControl’s impact model involves the donation of a portion of profits to the NGO funding ALS research.

Source: EyeControl

Inclusion in the Israeli “Health Basket” and UK NHS supply chain is just the beginning

As a young company of only three years, EyeControl has achieved monumental advancements and has frequently overcome major obstacles. With a growing base of global customers, the EyeControl is CE marked, FDA listed, ISO certified (high standardisation and quality assurance); and, is included in the Israeli “Health Basket” and the UK NHS Supply Chain. The device has also been granted reimbursement codes for Medicare/Medicaid in the USA. First sales commenced in 2019, with the support of the Israeli and UK governments; and, the company plans to expand to the US market. As a result of solid leadership, strong IP, expert guidance, and tenacity, EyeControl already succeeded in overcoming significant industry thresholds.

The various endorsements, awards, and grants EyeControl has received from global competitions, organizations, and governments are further testament to industry standards, having been selected from among hundreds to thousands of applicants. 

EyeControl’s assistive technology received acknowledgement from the global ALS community, when in December 2017, the device was presented on the main stage of the International Symposium on ALS/MND, one of the largest and most significant MND conferences. EyeControl was invited to present as an innovative commercial business, although the event is usually limited to scientific research and development.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose to feature the EyeControl as one of the top three Israeli life-changing technologies; and, the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation included the company in their exclusive Grand Opening exhibition.

In June 2017, EyeControl participated in the GeekTime Next Techfest, Israel’s largest technology festival, and won first place in the Future Tech Category. They are the only Israeli company that reached the finals of the WeWork Global Creator Awards, and won the second highest prize from over 6,000 applicants.

The company received the prestigious Horizon 2020 SME2 grant from the European Commission and is supported by the Israeli Innovation Authority as well.

The assistive technology market continues to develop and grow

The EyeControl is in early stages of product development within the assistive technology market, which grows by 5% -10% annually; and, there is already a high demand for the device. Market opportunity far exceeds existing figures, as the company intends to penetrate the medical facility market and connect to other digital platforms.

The company’s first in-service training workshop was a huge success; nearly 30 Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Assistive Technology Experts, and Special Education Teachers had the opportunity to trial the device and learn about obtaining EyeControl through the Israel “Health Basket”. As field professionals working with a variety of Locked-in patients, their feedback and engagement plays an important role in honing product development and improving user experience.

The team is demonstrating the EyeControl at Israeli and UK health institutions, to medical professionals working with Locked-in and ventilated patients in a rehabilitative capacity. During device trials at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, the EyeControl was used to bridge the communication barrier between medical staff and temporarily Locked-in patients; and, it was suggested that its implementation in rehabilitating patients would result in higher accuracy of care and an enhanced healing process.

In 2019 the company opened a UK subsidiary and hired their first local UK representative. 

Experience led innovation

EyeControl was established in January 2016 by individuals who share unique personal connections to Locked-in patients. The founders understand the difficulties and frustrations that accompany the loss of speech; and, this is a driving force behind their dedication to the project. They built a strong team with shared values, and their leadership provides positivity and motivation. EyeControl’s diverse international team is comprised of 60% women, Jews and Christian Arabs, native Israelis and immigrants from around the world (USA, Australia, Canada, the Former USSR, France). Adhering to the Israel Diversity Standard, the organization supports equality for the LGBT+ community in the workforce. Shay Rishoni (1966-2018), Co-founder of EyeControl and Former CEO of Israeli ALS NGO, Prize4Life, was an ALS patient himself.

Originally from Herzliya, Israel, Or Retzkin, EyeControl’s CEO and co-founder, serves as a Major in the Israel Navy reserves, leading a unit of 25 soldiers and officers. He was the first to complete a joint BSc degree in Physics and Accounting at Tel Aviv University; and went on to graduate with an additional MSc in Finance. The experience of losing his grandmother to ALS was a major turning point, which inspired him to embark on a mission to enable Locked-in individuals the ability to communicate. His unique blend of business and scientific acumen has given him a strong advantage and extensive insight in the building of a successful medical technology start-up, EyeControl.

Prior to founding EyeControl, Or worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Israel, in the high-tech and industry audit departments. He continues to lecture in Tel Aviv University’s Accounting Department, and volunteers as Alumni Director at the 8200 Impact Accelerator.

Partnerships key to reaching patients worldwide

EyeControl is actively establishing partnerships with existing leaders in healthcare and medical devices that will enable quick and efficient penetration of the medical facilities market. By collaborating with more experienced and networked firms, EyeControl’s market penetration will be greatly accelerated, allowing the product to reach the maximum number of patients in need at facilities around the world.

The EyeControl improves quality of life and restores the voice of a community that cannot speak for themselves. The company is democratizing access to assistive technologies, making them easier to use, and providing extensive benefits to the Locked-in community.

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Or Retzkin