Meet SARA, the almost-autonomous nursing robot

A Dutch startup BrightCape has developed a robot called SARA. SARA’s purpose is to support the nursing staff in taking care of the elderly. SARA can, for example, help the elderly doing their exercises, tell them stories or warn the nurses if something goes wrong.

To read as well: Innovation project becomes start-up: Robot Sara reduces the workload of healthcare employees

While robots are not a new phenomenon in healthcare, SARA is to a large extent autonomous. With SARA Home, the nursing staff can add profiles of individual inhabitants of nursing homes. Currently, SARA is tested as a pilot in two Dutch nursing homes for the elderly. With the feedback they receive from both the nurses and clients SARA gets improved over time. As of right now, the main focus in on helping the elderly. But the aim is to make the robot also available for hospitals.

Start-up of the Week: Farewell to filthy seafarers?

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

CityStep – E-scooters set to soar in The Netherlands

The four students from Breda at CityStep have proven that holidays can sometimes also be a time to reflect and be inspired. Sometimes you don’t even have to come up with something completely new for a good business plan. Instead, you can simply shift an existing idea from one place to another. The Brabanders were so enthusiastic about their e-scooter tour during a city trip to Valencia that they immediately thought: ‘We have to got to bring this to The Netherlands too’. But that was easier said than done, as ever since the Stint tragedy in 2018, electric bikes in the Netherlands have suffered from a bad image.

The National Transport Authority (Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer) has significantly tightened up the rules due to safety reasons, but this did not prevent CityStep from going ahead with their plans. During a networking get-together on a rooftop in Tilburg, they came into contact with a scooter manufacturer that meets these strict regulations. The first rental scooters in Tilburg are now available for hire. The transformation towards an e-scooter empire which encompasses the Netherlands should take place over the coming years.

Wabenwerk – Done with non-recyclable plastic

The invention of plastic in the twentieth century meant a real revolution in the packaging sector and in food preservation. Yet plastic is both a curse and a blessing. Mountains of disposable plastic pollute the oceans and the stuff is so tough that it takes nature hundreds of years to break it down. How wonderful would it be if you could have the versatility and advantages without the drawbacks? More and more governments are working on reducing dnon-recyclable plastic. There is even a complete ban in Costa Rica. However, an alternative is needed. The founders of Wabenwerk in Germany were inspired by Mother Nature herself.

Bees in their natural environment are also constantly working on sealing their larvae, pollen and honey in their hives. They do this with honeycombs that they make out of beeswax. Wabenwerk developed a cling foil made of this organic material so that plastic foil is no longer necessary. Bees play a very important role in the pollination of crops in nature. They fly from flower to flower and gather more pollen on their feet. Whenever things go bad for these insects, you can also see this reflected in the environment. Do the diligent six-legged honey makers still play an essential role when it comes to the livability of our planet? That may very well be the case!

SARA – More mechanical hands on hand in homes for the elderly?

The workload within the elderly care sector is set to increase at an unprecedented rate over the coming years. In about ten years’ time, a relatively large group of elderly baby boomers will need a great deal of care. At the same time, there will be significant shortages in this sector. Nevertheless, there is a trend that more or less coincides with that of baby boomers who are in need of care. Namely, the rise of service robots. The Eindhoven-based company Bright Cape has designed SARA, which is a Social & Autonomous Robotic Health Assistant, SARA already carries out work in two Dutch senior citizens’ centers on the work floor. Ironically, this robot offers a modicum of humanity in times when every minute of care is supposed to be spent efficiently.

SARA is able to chat with chronically ill clients, play a number of interactive games with them and even has a program with made-to-measure physical exercises. This allows her human colleagues to spend more time on healthcare tasks. However, it is a bit odd that a robot like SARA is supposed to make sure that the human element comes back to the care for our senior citizens. Wouldn’t it be more logical to employ a robot nurse for the medical tasks and thereby give people more time for a cup of coffee or a chat about the weather? All the same, SARA is more than welcome! Clients and care staff are happy with this innovative nurse on wheels. She is a keeper for them in any event.

Heat Power – Flexible turbines for peak demand

The first two decades of the 21st century were characterized by flexibility. And if it’s up to Henk Ouwerkerk, this should also be the case for consumers of large quantities of energy. This Dutch start-up designed a system that they have called Rankine Compression Gas Turbine. A steam turbine that can be switched on when there is a need for more power. Why is this so convenient? Large consumers often buy electricity in bulk. So when they unexpectedly need more than that, they tend to buy extra. However, this costs them a lot of money and puts an extra burden on the electricity grid.

By using the RCG system from Heat Power during times of peak demand, you can avoid that this ‘peak demand’ becomes the new standard. You can’t use this superfluous amount of electricity for any other purpose, so it’s a real shame that it’s generated for no reason. The steam turbines can be activated in the event of a power outage but remain inactive for the rest of the time. Ideal for manufacturing companies that have to deal with fluctuating and unpredictable demand.

We4Sea – Farewell to filthy seafarers?

The fact that flying and driving contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases is now well known. We all have to live more sustainably on a massive scale and every polluter has to be involved in this. One sector which is somewhat less commonly recognized as far as this is concerned, is the shipping industry. Container ships are essential for the transport of goods around the world, but they have a very nasty disadvantage. They use heavy crude oil and this is about the most environmentally damaging fuel out there. In fact, one container ship produces as much carbon dioxide emissions as no fewer than 50 million cars. So there is a lot of ground that can be gained here, as they pointed out by the We4Sea start-up based in TU Delft.

What does this international team do? They use data models to advise the maritime sector on how to reduce their emissions by a substantial percentage. Measurement equipment usually has to be installed for comparable initiatives, which is easier said than done for large ships. We4Sea uses a unique technology that utilizes satellite data, ship position data, weather data and technical data from the ship for creating a computer simulation. Real-time advice is generated on the basis of this data. This enables the crew to drastically reduce their emissions. These energy-saving measures are not only sustainable, but also make a considerable difference in terms of costs for companies. Because, of course, no one wants to emit more than is strictly necessary just for the sake of it.

Much still has to be done despite the fact that in recent decades considerable steps within the shipping industry have already been taken towards a more sustainable future. The sector has set itself strict targets. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50%. While such targets are naturally a welcome first step, they still have to be met. This is also easier said than done. For example, the Dutch government has not met its 2020 targets. Nor do  they expect to meet those of 2030 either. Perhaps the shipping industry will succeed in 2050 with We4Sea’s help! Their single-minded, innovative approach to a sector that is not known for its flexibility and sustainability has in any case convinced us to honor We4Sea with the title of Start-up of the Week!

New medical technologies are not always compatible with legal requirements

neue medizinische Technologien, rechtliche Vorschriften

The progressively ageing society and new medical technologies are challenging the Austrian health and legal system. Laws must be amended or rewritten. Medical law expert Karl Stöger from the Institute of Public Law and Political Science at the University of Graz is examining how new medical technologies are compatible with legal requirements. In this interview he sheds light on the current discourse in Austria.

Rising life expectancy and the provision of medical care for the elderly are major challenges for the healthcare system. New medical technologies such as robots could take over part of this care. However, this will result in conflicts with current legislation. Particularly where data protection and liability are concerned.

New medical technologies based on artificial intelligence are far more likely to replace doctors than medical devices. The boundaries between humankind and machines are blurring. Consequently, the question has arisen as to whether artificial intelligence should be regulated. And should that be done in the same way as a device or as a human being?

Nonetheless, at the same time, the healthcare system has problems properly fulfilling the needs of patients. Part of the population are able to afford better treatment through supplementary insurance and special outpatient clinics. Stöger sees this as posing a danger to healthcare across the class divide. That’s why he is trying to find legal solutions for adequate basic medical care.

Karl Stöger in an interview with Innovation Origins:

What challenges do advancing technology pose for the Austrian health and legal system?

One topical issue that is currently high on the agenda is medication. The technological advancements in medicine mean that we have a greater quantity of better and more effective medications. But these are also more expensive and as a result are no longer affordable for everyone. This raises the question as to what level of treatment the healthcare system should provide each patient. Another problem is that some pharmaceutical companies do not supply Austria with medications at all as the market is relatively small and the quantities are minimal.

Another issue currently under discussion is telemedicine. This means that physicians and patients no longer have to be in the same place as each other. Even bedridden elderly patients and patients in remote areas can receive better medical care when a doctor is able to advise them by telephone. However, this is not yet deductible under welfare legislation. The problem is not insurmountable. But the question remains as to how we go about it.

Artificial intelligence can provide decision-making systems for doctors. AI diagnoses already outperform doctors where diagnostic imaging equipment is concerned. AI learns from an existing database. The big issue here is data protection. The question of how to deal with this facet is once more brought to the fore. It is also important to let patients know that data may be used anonymously so that other patients can be helped. Except, the better the system, the greater the possibility that the system will be able to identify the individual patient. For instance, if she or he has a particular type of tumor. We have to overcome the challenge of data accessibility. But the legal system still needs to catch up. At the same time, this issue should also be resolved at a European level.

neue medizinsiche Technologien, rechtliche Vorschriften
Univ. Prof. Dr. Karl Stöger, MJur (c) University of Graz

If systems were to work autonomously, the question of who is responsible also comes up.  One suggestion is that autonomous entities could be created. The intelligent machine would then be responsible. It has always been the case that when I travel with an item, I am legally required to have it under control.  This is done via compulsory liability insurance. The question now arises as to whether autonomous systems should also be treated like this.

But who is to blame if mistakes happen in hospitals? Who do I hold responsible? If it is a manufacturing fault, I can hold the manufacturer responsible. But the manufacturer can’t help it if someone has trained the system using faulty data. This is a challenge that applies to the entire digitization process.

In a project that we (as in the University of Graz) carried out together with Joanneum Research and Med Uni Graz, it was all about equipment for measuring blood glucose and insulin dosages for diabetes. The system can be run on a tablet and is already in use in some Austrian hospitals. The question was whether the system could also be used in home care. If the system works correctly, the nurse assistant only has to read the data and inject insulin. At present, however, this is not legally possible because the read-out data must be checked by qualified nursing staff. This means that we are still coming up against legal limitations. We need to change the law – and it is not that simple.

In what ways could digitization support a fairer healthcare system?

Wearables such as health monitors or apps provide ever better ways of compiling data. Doctors could use this data to treat their patients more effectively. In Austria, however, the use of genetic analyses is only possible on a limited basis. This is because there is a risk that private insurance companies could have access to information on the health status of individuals. As a result, individuals with a high health risk could be rejected by private insurers.  Plus the concept of a statistics-based high-risk community would be lost. Yet can people be held responsible for the fact that cancer, for example, is prevalent in their family? There is also the danger that people with a certain risk profile will become exclusively dependent on state health insurance.  High costs could be incurred there that way.

Which legal provisions would contribute to an affordable healthcare system?

The Austrian health system is financed by the federal government and the states. The Austrian Federal Government is responsible for the social welfare system and registered physicians. The states take care of hospitals. These provisions are laid down in constitutional law. The problem is that this regulation in some cases is ambiguous and expensive as a result of the doubling up of work. Savings can be achieved by consolidating services. Treatments should be concentrated at specific locations so that equipment and specialists are utilized as efficiently as possible. Hospitals have to close and merge for this purpose. However, patients think that care will be worse if the hospital around the corner shuts down. Planning and provision of care have to be carefully thought through.

One such case currently pending before the Constitutional Court is a new planning system has been in place for a year now. It spans both the federal and state levels. However, it is not clear whether this system is legally valid as the Constitution has not yet been amended.

Moreover, costs in the hospital sector and for general practitioners should also be limited. But without a deterioration in patient care, of course. In private practices, for example, savings may be made on medicines. A reimbursement code defines which medicines health insurance pays for. Some brand name drugs are not reimbursed because the same active ingredient is available in a generic drug. This is also controversial.

Thank you for this interview.

Also interesting:

Human rights for robots?

Animal-free medical research needs clear legislation

Tomorrow is good: Innovation often skips the line

We’ve all been through this, cars waiting in line for a parking spot at a parking garage which is nearest to the location you want to be. Of course that one is (almost) full. Cars are waiting impatiently, honking their horns whenever someone does not move a couple of meters ahead.

Meanwhile, the parking garage that’s literally just 3 minutes away has heaps of available spots.

So you could go there instead. Yet some people not only skip the lines, but also decide to take the next logical step and try something else. A totally different approach, like public transport or stay the night over, for example. Or even park their car on the other side of the city for a far lower tariff.  Then take the tram or bus into the city center.

Burning issue

Healthcare needs an approach like that. We have created a system wherein we fix things when we know much of these problems could be prevented. Next to the human aspect of it, there is a real need for a change in approach. Actually I think it is a burning issue, one which up until now has been broadly neglected.

Healthcare will face a doubling of demand soon enough. It already has to deal with a staggering shortage of skilled personal and high burnout rates. While patients are demanding a different service model more and more, that all has to be done within the same budget constraints. Or even less. So I think it won’t be so long before the system implodes. Then there will be chaos. We’ve seen some of that in the UK, as fixing the NHS is way more expensive than avoiding the need for it. So, we’re talking about a twofold prevention plan which is needed right here: for the citizen/patient and for the system.

Every healthcare professional would say that the notion that up to 50% of medical conditions could be prevented has already been on the agenda for years. However, I do see some progression taking place at the moment.

Different models

Nowadays, patients are being ‘spoiled’ in their every day life as citizens by webshops delivering stuff the same day, some even within the hour. In the meantime, technology is coming into use that has proven to be effective based on evidence. Health insurance companies are starting to demand the use of different models. By a significant margin they are ordering complex, low risk routine procedures outside of hospitals. And new players are entering the arena. Sounds like a ‘perfect storm’ eh? Yes – and it should! There is NO way we can keep up with the current model, pace or price. In my opinion, the solution for (the challenges of) healthcare is HEALTH.

Combining technologies and incorporating other industries like:

  • food (offer more healthy food, perhaps even based on the condition you live with)
  • transportation (transport patients back and forth to outpatient clinics) and
  • banking (lower financial debts which correlate to healthcare usage)

To name but a few.  And go from the current model of continual step-by-step improvements (which are still badly needed) towards a model which skips the line.
We need to rethink and adapt to realistic possibilities anno 2019 and get in front of the line, as opposed to just keep on honking the horn.


About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.



Start-up of the day: Virtual playground supports recovery of children in hospitals

A virtual playground for children in hospitals. PlaygroundVR is putting the finishing touches to the technical development of their virtual reality environment. “Playing outdoors is invaluable for children’s development,” says Freek Teunen, co-founder of PlaygroundVR. “Outside, there is plenty of scope for their imagination. They do a thousand things with just a ball.” Former students of Eindhoven University of Technology also want to offer this experience to younger hospital patients.

Children can be adversely affected if they are in hospital for a longer period of time and are unable to play outside as a result. “By wearing the VR glasses, children can imagine themselves to be at a playground just like any other playground they normally have in their daily lives. There are also fantasy elements such as a large music box or flying hoops,” Jason van Eunen explains, co-founder of PlaygroundVR. The whole thing is very colorful. “The children can see each other through virtual avatars. So they are really able to play together.”

How did you come up with this idea?

We are very passionate about the technology. That’s why we wanted to see how we might make Virtual Reality (VR) as useful as possible. The advantage of VR is that the user is able to forget for a moment where he or she is and can completely immerse themselves in another world. Subsequently, we soon discovered that our technology would be very beneficial for hospital patients. They aren’t able to play like they do at home. As the children themselves have indicated, they miss playing outside the most. That’s why we have developed a virtual playground.”



Doesn’t that just mean that you are making children sit in front of a screen even more?

Teunen: “We certainly don’t want children to be wearing VR glasses all of the time. That’s why we also work with play sessions, a short period when children can play with the glasses. Although we do consider that our virtual playground is different from the shooting games that children often play on screens. Of course we would like to see children playing outdoors. But if that isn’t possible, VR glasses are a pretty good solution. We still connect children with each other and give them the experience of playing outside.” Van Eunen adds to that: “It would be better if children could learn new games in the virtual playground and eventually apply them in real life. We want to further stimulate imagination and creativity that way.”

How are you going to finance this?

“We have launched a crowdfunding project this week. Our goal is to raise 55 thousand euros. Then three hospitals will be able to use the virtual playground in their children’s ward. Approximately half of that money will be used for the latest developments in technology. We will use the rest to further roll out the concept,” Teunen states.

“The goal behind crowdfunding is to show hospitals the pedagogical benefits of virtual playgrounds. This is difficult with VR because it is a completely novel technology. We first have to prove that it works. That’s what we’re going to do with the money that we raise. We think that children feel better because of the playground and as a result are able to recover much faster.”

“Financing this product with donations doesn’t seem right to us. That’s why next year we want to see how we could use the virtual playground as part of a course of treatment. We are hoping that the playground will become a healthcare resource so that it can be paid for out of medical insurance costs.”

Why did you opt for crowdfunding?

“We think crowdfunding is very appropriate for our objective. PlaygroundVR is a start-up and definitely contributes to society. We provide children with moments of happiness at a time when they are extremely vulnerable. Crowdfunding is a way to build support,” says Van Eunen.

© PlaygroundVR

How can VR be part of a treatment?

Van Eunen: ” Distractions are very important to children when they are in hospital. That’s why there are pedagogical staff in the children’s ward and  CliniClowns and iPads to keep the children busy. PlaygroundVR is distracting in several ways because it ensures that the child feels like he or she is completely out of the room. Instead of watching a movie, the kids are really immersed in it.”

“This distraction caused by wearing VR glasses can be used during a treatment. For instance, when a child is holding an infusion needle in their hand. This is an unpleasant experience because it doesn’t feel right and it’s not nice to watch either. A child can play outside with the VR-glasses on and is less aware that a needle is being stuck into their hand. This helps to avoid pain and maybe even painkillers. This allows a child to get through a whole treatment feeling a lot less fearful.”

“We spoke to a girl who literally said that she had forgotten for a short while that her leg was broken. Because she could just walk in a playground. Those are the wonderful things about VR. You can’t do that with an iPad,” Teunen says proudly.

Was there a time when you were afraid that the concept was not going to work?

“Yes,” says Teunen. “As soon as we started work on this three years ago. We took part in a pitch competition at the time, but were turned down right away. Back then, the VR industry had not yet developed very far and the technology was still quite unknown. Now we can see that healthcare professionals and parents do appreciate the value of it. They really like PlaygroundVR better than, for example, a Playstation with Call of Duty.”

“The challenge for us is to find hospitals that dare to take this innovation aboard. Institutions often find these kinds of new technologies exciting to implement. We are already in talks with a number of hospitals that are interested as it is. We will be launching the virtual playground at the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital towards the end of the year.”

It sounds like an important aspiration to help children. Do you have a concrete goal that you want to achieve?

“Of course, it’s cool if we can improve the hospital experience for a few children. But in the long term we want to be able to connect children with each other who are in different hospitals. Then children who have the same conditions will be able to share their experiences with each other. This way, we not only want to forge new contacts between children, but we also want to bring children together with their families and friends. As an example, we could connect children in the hospital to their classmates so that they would be able to play together in the playground,” Van Eunen explains.

Teunen continues: “We want to show that it is more fun to invent a game that has a real impact. Aside from that, we want to contribute to the VR revolution in healthcare. VR can really make a difference in healthcare. Not just for children, but also for people with dementia, for example. We are  hopeful that PlaygroundVR will inspire others to make great applications for healthcare as well.”

Digital imaging module for improving diagnostics in ophthalmology

It is the physical conditions that complicate the precision of the imaging procedures that are used in the medical analysis of eye disease. The ocular surface is convex, the sharp image plane of the microscope is flat. The Cornea Dome Lens aims to revolutionize imaging in ophthalmology.

Worldwide, twenty million patients suffer from severe diseases of the eyeball surface. 125 million people wear contact lenses to correct defective vision. Their lens fit must be documented photographically on a regular basis. More than twenty percent of the western population suffers from dryness-related complaints of the ocular surface. About half of them require regular ophthalmological examinations.

Medical care for all of these cases revolves around the analysis of the ocular surface. High-resolution color photographic documentation is required in order to detect pathological abnormalities.

Physical problem

Currently slit lamp cameras are used for this. Unfortunately, their precision is complicated by the nature of the eye. The problem is that the eye is spherical and the camera is only able to focus on a flat image surface. This means that if you capture an image of the eye, you only ever see one ring zone in focus. So far, this problem has been avoided by taking several photos. The patient has to change the position of their eye with each photo. Yet at the same time, high precision is called for. Images taken during a consult must be comparable with other images in order to detect changes in the condition of the eye. However, comparability is not always assured when the position of the eye is changed.

Adaptable optical lens module

Cornea Dome Lens should solve this problem. It is a new type of lens module whose image plane is precisely adapted to the curvature of the eye. This adaptation is achieved by using several lenses. These lenses have an aspherical curvature and are capable of overcoming errors in focusing. The lens structure is mounted on a reflex camera like a lens. The patient always fixates on the same point during the recording. This means that the eye is always in the same position and the photos are therefore always completely comparable.

Integrated digital image analysis software

Cornea Dome Lens stems from a research project that the physician Bernhard Steger from the University Clinic for Ophthalmology and Optometry at the Medical University of Innsbruck had already started during a research residency in Lisbon. The challenge was to transfer an existing technology into a completely new field of application. The method is now being further developed in cooperation with industry into a stand-alone imaging module with integrated digital image analysis software.

Control and prevention

Specifically, the Cornea Dome Lens optical lens module enables high-resolution focused color photography of the entire anterior ocular surface. In addition to the improved form of imagery, Cornea Dome Lens also offers concrete analytical tools:

  • Precise quantification of pathological changes to the ocular surface;
  • Early detection of changes overthe course of diagnosis through improved reproducibility and standardization;
  • Simplified contact lens fit assessment;

Cornea Dome Lens can be used to monitor and prevent ocular surface disease and significantly improves ocular surface disease therapy.

Award-winning project

The Cornea Dome Lens project has already won several awards.

In 2017 it won the Point Guard Biosciences Innovation in Ophthalmology Award, which is worth over 10,000 US dollars.

In 2019, Cornea Dome Lens won the science2business Award out of eighteen entries in the category of existing business collaborations. The prize is sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs to the tune of 8,000 euros and awarded at the life-science-success conference. The research world is the laboratory. Additional skills are required when it comes to the successful serial implementation of research projects. This is the area which the  science2business Award is dedicated to. Steger’s collaboration partner from industry is Optronia GmbH. Further collaboration partners from research are physicists in the field of optics at the Medical University of Innsbruck and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena.


Also interesting:

You decide: who will be our start-up of the month for August?

Innovation Origins has once again chosen four start-ups of the week in August. As September has started, we are taking another look at them. After all, there is still a monthly trophy to be handed out and we need the help of our readers for this. Together with our editors, you can decide who will run off with this great honour. To refresh your memory, here are the four weekly winners!

Vote for your favourite August Start-up of the Month now!

You have until Friday 5 pm to cast your vote.

[democracy id=”5″]

Start-ups of the week in August:

Week 32 – Actijoy: Start-up of the day: looking out for (hu)man’s best friend

Week 33 –  Método Sáncal: Start-up of the day: helping the brain via music

Week 34 – R-Energy: Startup-of-the-day: R-Energy, the urban turbine that also harnesses gusty city winds

Week 35 – Biosure: Start-up of the Day: know your HIV status in a jiffy


Pretomanid granted US approval for treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the deadliest infectious diseases in the world. More than ten million people worldwide contract it every year. The consequences are fatal for about 1.4 million people, which is more than any other infectious disease. Furthermore, the number of infections that have tuberculosis pathogens which cannot be treated with conventional antibiotics or alternative antibiotics are on the rise. Since 98 percent of TB infections affect people in developing and emerging countries, the market is hardly of interest to commercial businesses. There are few incentives for them to invest money in research and development. This means that by the start of the new millennium, almost no new tuberculosis drugs were developed.

” In order to change this, we must ensure that urgently-needed research is carried out – especially in areas that do not promise high financial profits. This is why the BMBF supports research against neglected and poverty-associated diseases”.

… emphasizes Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek. Reason enough for the German ministry to support the non-profit organization TB-Alliance (which was founded in Cape Town) with 20 million euros since 2016.

TB is seen as difficult to treat

The development of the new active ingredient Pretomanid is the latest triumph from the TB Alliance. Pretomanid has recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of highly drug-resistant tuberculosis. Approval in Europe is still pending. Dr. Siegfried Throm, Managing Director of Research at the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, states:

“Multi-resistant tuberculosis is one of the most difficult infectious diseases to treat. Many patients are unable to sustain or even die from the therapy, which usually takes several years and is very taxing. That is why any progress that is made with tuberculosis therapies – which allow patients to be cured faster and with fewer side effects – is crucial for the patients affected. It is also vital when it comes to preventing others from contracting the disease. The TB Alliance has been addressing this challenge for many years, frequently working together with pharmaceutical companies.”

BPaL therapy treatment

Treatment with Pretomanid is, as is common practice in the treatment of tuberculosis, a combination therapy with two other active substances, Bedaquilin and Linezolid – commonly referred to as “BPaL therapy”. The efficacy and safety of this new combination therapy has been demonstrated and confirmed in 19 clinical trials in 14 different countries.

Source: Verband Forschender Arzneimittelhersteller e.V. (Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies)

A high chance of recovery

“FDA approval is a victory for patients suffering from the highly drug-resistant form of the world’s deadliest infectious disease,” says Mel Spiegelman, president and CEO of the TB Alliance.

According to the study results, the recovery rate has gone up from 35 percent to over 90 percent. In addition, the current therapy regimen of up to eight drugs can be reduced from more than 18 months of treatment to just six months. Last but not least, the combination therapy is able to be administered orally for the very first time, which means that patients can completely dispense with injections.

Further studies are currently underway on the use of pretomanid in various combination therapies for the treatment of other forms of tuberculosis. This means that the possibility of a single TB therapy is now within sight. Practically all patients with active TB will be able to be treated with a relatively simple and cost-effective therapy.

Source: Verband Forschender Arzneimittelhersteller e.V. (Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies)

Wireless digital stethoscopes for parents of flu-stricken babies on the market this year

This year, the Polish start-up StethoMe is launching a wireless, digital stethoscope that consumers can use at home in order to listen to their lungs and heart. The company has been sponsored with 1.5 million euros from European innovation funding.

The major advantage that this wireless home stethoscope has, is that it digitally registers a patient’s heart or lung sounds – and that this produces a much more accurate result than one that a physician is able to physically perceive themselves. Until now, doctors have had to use the classic stethoscope in their own ears in order to assess whether there it is pneumonia, for example, or just a bit of harmless sniveling.

Incorrect diagnoses

Things can go wrong sometimes. According to the Polish inventors, doctors’ diagnoses vary based on the old, tried and trusted method. It also appears that a large proportion of these diagnoses are not accurate. Research has shown that doctors make a lot of mistakes, especially when diagnosing small children. This drove the founders of StethoMe, (who are not doctors themselves but parents of young children who were confronted with this problem just like other parents are), to come up with a more accurate diagnostic tool. As soon as the wireless, digital stethoscope is launched on the market, they will have succeeded in doing so.

No need to waste anymore time at the First Aid Clinic

Another big advantage of the StethoMe is that consumers themselves are able to use the digital stethoscope at home, which means that they do not have to go to the hospital. This will likely be a huge relief, especially to parents of babies and toddlers who often suffer from major and minor colds that can sometimes lead to respiratory problems or pneumonia. That means that they no longer have to go to the first aid clinic with their offspring every once in a while, but will be able to take a first reading at home and send it on to a doctor. For hospitals, the introduction of the home stethoscope means fewer nonessential patient visits and therefore fewer unnecessarily crowded waiting rooms. To give an indication: according to information from StethoMe, about 70 percent of parents in the US go to hospital with a child who has a cold, when afterwards it turned out that these visits were not warranted.

Graphic: StethoMe

StethoMe’s home stethoscope looks like a curved disc that you can place on your child’s chest or back. It then records the sounds of the heart and lungs. The device uses software to transfer the data generated by the recorded sounds to an app which can be installed on a mobile phone and which guides the home stethoscope user through the recording process.

Algorithm analyzes lung and heart sounds

Doctors who are planning to use the application will be able to receive the data readings immediately and, using an algorithm, will be able to see on their computer whether a patient is at risk or whether they are responding well to a medicine that they have prescribed.

StethoMe StethoMe has already won several awards for this innovation, which has recently been granted European certification and for which a patent has been applied for.

Also of interest: Start-up of the Day: device checks the health of a fetus anytime, anywhere.

Start-Up of the Week: Play the piano and say bye bye to Parkinson’s?

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals  of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.


Up Stream Surfing – Surfing fun in every river

The coasts of the Bay of Biscay, Hawaii and Jeffersons Bay in South Africa are visited by people from all over the world so they can indulge in their favorite sport – surfing. Why do people from all parts of the world go there? Because that’s where the waves are the best! Although the team behind Up Stream Surfing Hawaii can’t really bring Hawaii to the big city, they have developed a technology that recreates those waves.

This means that every river can be turned into a surfing zone. Which is a great solution, especially in big cities with large rivers. Residents no longer have to travel far for their surfing experience and can just paddle in the local waters. For really high waves you will still have to go to the hot spots of course. However, the mobile system consisting of a pulley block and an underwater sail connected to a bridge pulls the surfer forward and allows them to practice their sport wherever they want to.

Sewts – Manufacturing clothing without any manual misery

Most garments travel around the world before they end up on your body. From cotton plantations in the United States to weaving mills in India. Subsequently, children’s hands are often used to make the final products under appalling conditions in Bangladesh. After that, the clothing items go on another long journey before ending up on shop shelves in Western countries.

This could all be done with a lot less airmails and by using less child labor far less; that’s what they thought at the German start-up Sewts. What they want to do is to bring textile manufacturing back to Western countries so that machines can take over the work currently being outsourced to low-wage countries. This is a lot more sustainable and also ensures that the children in Bangladesh no longer have to work in sweatshops. They might simply finish their school and may order a piece of clothing later on from Europe, which they can pay for because they are not part of the manufacturing process.

Ruvu – automation is something you can learn

Perhaps Sewts and Ruvu could could work together because they have something in common. So, what does this Eindhoven team actually do? Builds robots! Well, there are many more robot builders around, but what the Brabanders behind Ruvu do differently than these others, is that they provide custom-made solutions for the logistics sector. Because every logistics process is different – there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for all of the companies that make things or process orders.

Their ultimate goal? Fully automated factories and distribution centers that ensure that the entire production chain will soon be made up of very tough high-tech workers who never get tired and who don’t need a collective labor agreement, vacation days or a salary. If this were to happen on a larger scale, manufacturing processes would become more efficient and economical. Plus supporters of a Universal Basic Income would have an additional argument that would strengthen their vision of the future.

Tripstix GmbH – Inflatable paddleboards

It seems as if this week is all about automation and surfing, because the Tripstix GmbH plan also fits perfectly into this theme. Although surfing is, of course, a popular form of pastime for many people, transporting surfboards from A to B is definitely not. The paddleboards are not exactly compact or handy in size and therefore are not easily carried around in a car.

However, a board is indispensable if you want to catch a few waves on the Hawaiian coast – or on a river in Zurich with Up Stream Surfing’s technology. Tripstix GmbH has developed an inflatable version for this reason, the technology of which resembles that used in vacuum packages which are sometimes found in coffee machines. Do you remember Tellsell’s Aerobed? Something like that. And not entirely insignificant either; according to the German makers, this inflatable feature is not at all at the expense of quality.

Tripstix and Upstream Surfing should probably get together for a cup of coffee, because together, they could create the ultimate pop-up surf experience without the need to endlessly lug around surfboards – and even without the sea.

The Sáncal Method – musical medics

It is still a bizarre trivial fact that people know more about the universe and galaxies that are millions of lightyears away from us than about what exactly takes place in our own upstairs department. It is known that people and music are like cookies and cream and that there is virtually no-one who does not care about music. Yet there is more; the Spanish start-up Método Sáncal developed a method for tackling neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease with music. Yes, you heard it right!

How does the method work exactly? Playing a musical instrument stimulates certain parts of the brain which are susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases. It is actually a kind of brain gymnastics that can be used by the young and old in order to prevent problems. This treatment is not only meant for elderly people who are able to play the piano. Everyone can benefit from the healing tones of this Spanish method. The introductory level is low and everyone can participate for just a few bucks.

This start-up proves that you are never too old to learn and that there are alternatives to pills. It also shows that self-expression, neurology and technology form a very amazing bond. Although auditory medicine is still in its infancy, it would of course sound like music to your ears if a few clever piano lessons were able to make sure that no one would suffer from dementia anymore. This creative combination and its concrete application options mean that this week Método Sáncal may call itself *drum roll!!* Start-up of the Week according to Innovation Origins.

Start-Up of the Month: Hands-free wheelchair mobility

Nobody sits in a wheelchair for fun, so if you’re not able to cover distances using your own limbs, that’s quite a challenge. It is even more annoying when you also need both arms in order to move a wheelchair forward. Of course, extra mobility is indispensable, although it would be nice if you were able to use your hands for something else.

Each month, IO and its readers choose a Start-Up of the Month winner. Our winner for the month of July comes from Germany. Wheelchairs that can be operated with the eyes are already covered by health insurance there and have been developed in cooperation with the people who know the most about daily wheelchair use: the users themselves. All the more reason to put them in the spotlight one more time!


An independent life for everyone

Marketing manager Markus Englmeier of Munevo is very happy about the award. “We would like to thank everyone who voted for us. This award is extra motivation for us and extra confirmation that we are on the right track.”

The team has a clear vision for the future and wants to continue innovating healthcare with new services and products in the future. “We hope that our smart devices will enable us to reach even more people who have mobility issues or disabilities. By doing so, we are helping more and more people to live their everyday live independently as possible and this is probably the greatest reward for us,” says Englmeier.

This week, the initiators themselves are enjoying a well-deserved holiday. Which is also quite important!


Munevo who?

The idea has of course been widely discussed for some time now, but here it is in brief: Munevo DRIVE enables wheelchair users in Germany to operate their wheelchairs via smart glass. This means that wheelchair users are able to use their arms for other purposes.

And whereas many start-ups are still in their early stages, Munevo DRIVE has long since become a reality for our eastern neighbor’s wheelchair users. In Germany, these wheelchairs are covered by health insurance companies. What may be considered very impressive, as this is a fairly conservative sector of the market which usually needs a lot of perseverance. Meanwhile, the initiators have already received their first transactions.

Wheelchair users can no longer do without it. You only come to realize how important mobility really is once you yourself wheelchair-dependent. Google Glass may have peaked a little too early at the time of its introduction a few years ago, nonetheless this application shows that smart glasses do indeed have a future ….

Five magical medical channels on YouTube

Innovation is taking place in all kinds of sectors, some of which affect more people than others. Yet no one can avoid this sector as we all have a body that should ideally be kept in tip-top condition. Healthcare is developing at a rapid pace.  Whereas the need for hand-washing in medical procedures was disputed until the end of the 19th century, nowadays we can perform complete operations using nanorobots.

Pretty remarkable how we are now able to stay healthier longer and in improved ways. Are you interested in the latest developments in the field of healthcare and do you want quick and easy access to this information? Check out these five channels on YouTube, where medical professionals are passionate about their own very special and important field of expertise.

1. Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic‘s history dates back all the way to 1855, and this American non-profit organization employs around 63,000 people who work in hospitals, research labs and universities. Everyone can follow their work on YouTube where their channel explains the function of organs and reports on extraordinary surgical operations.

Perhaps the most well-known is their series about a facial transplant that they performed. The treatment is first explained using motion graphics and then they demonstrate how the patient was operated on. There is also room for follow-up care so you can see how the family has responded and what the result looks like after two years.


2. Armando Hasudungan

The Australian physician Armando Hasudungan has been making films about his profession since 2012. No moving images from the operating room for him, but a whiteboard and a pen. Hasudungan explains in an accessible way the stories behind diseases, the impact of medicines and the workings of the human body.

His own consistent visual style and accessible language guarantee that both medical professionals and people with an interest in healthcare can understand him easily. Not only is he doing well on the internet, he is doing well in universities too, where his films are often recommended to students.


3. Osmosis

The Osmosis motto states that: ‘Everyone who cares for someone will learn by Osmosis!’ What is particularly striking about this channel is that it takes the viewer’s level of knowledge into account. Their videos on YouTube are aimed at mainstream audiences who want to know more about the medical world, psychology and public health.

They have a website for the real die-hards and professionals where subject matter is discussed in more detail. However, you will be able to find a lot of useful information on YouTube as well; every disorder, both physical and mental, has its own explanatory video. It may not be the best channel to watch if you have the inclination to be hypochondriac …. although they do have a film about that too.


4. Medcram

The Medcram channel offers medical lectures and is based on the principle that the viewer should learn as much as possible in as little time as possible. Complex topics are explained in a visual way and sufficient frameworks are provided so as to ensure that the information is complete. Medcram is primarily a tutor who puts the emphasis on what is most crucial from a clinical point of view.

The lectures are very diverse; from simple first aid to symptoms of common injuries. The channel is specifically intended for people working within the healthcare sector and who are in the process of receiving medical training. Nevertheless, because of its public character, everyone can join this virtual lecture hall.


5. The Medical Futurist

34-year-old Dr. Bertalan Mesko is a welcome guest at international conventions on healthcare. In fact, there are few channels in which a title so clearly discloses the content. Whereas the preceding channels mainly explain the practical element of healthcare, Mesko focuses on the future and casts his expert eye on new developments in the field where he gained his PhD.

The Medical Futurist takes the viewer into … the future. The future of medication, healthcare, diseases, treatments and technologies that are await us in the upcoming years. These developments are made concrete with clear examples and personal stories. Mesko believes that progress in healthcare lies predominately in novel and far-reaching applications of technology. That’s when it’s quite OK to think big.


Not yet done with learning? In that case, we have even more educational YouTube channels on offer. In the previous episodes of this series, technological innovation, entrepreneurship and mobility were key.

An app that makes medical reports easier to understand

Health App

The aim of healthcare is to keep people healthy. The Viennese health tech start-up Medicus AI wants to support this goal – with an AI-based platform that presents medical findings in an easily understandable way. At the same time, the platform will support doctors and diagnostic laboratories in their work.

Doctors and other healthcare personnel are required to explain the results in a comprehensible way to those in their care. If they fail to do so, patients will be unaware of the implications for their health condition or the importance of therapy and monitoring. This is where Medicus AI comes in. The start-up was founded by dentist Baher al Hakim, who comes from a doctor’s family and knows the communication problems between doctor and patient that may occur from his father and brother. At the same time, he is convinced that technology has reached a point where automation and artificial intelligence is able to provide a lot of personalized information on a large scale.

The software that al Hakim developed as part of a global team depicts blood tests and medical reports in a clear and accessible manner. This way, the right information is delivered at the right time. In a personalized way and without doctors having to spend a huge amount of time on explaining this information. As a result, patients who are aware of the significance of the reports are more likely to adhere to therapies and check-ups. The Apple App is freely available and can be accessed in the App Store, yet also has premium functions that are specifically geared towards sports people and the chronically ill. For example, patients can also store their fitness data on it and thereby get a clearer picture of their health.


According to the start-up company’s mantra, everything Medicus AI does should benefit the patient. Nevertheless, the business model is not primarily aimed at patients, but rather at diagnostic laboratories and statutory insurance companies. Al Hakim sees a wave of innovation ahead that will fundamentally change the entire diagnostics industry. Problems have to do with commodification, lower profit margins and stricter regulations. The start-up company’s solutions will provide laboratories with supportive, cross-platform software and an attractive, comprehensive service package, as CEO al Hakim said in a statement on

In addition, the intelligent features will also support physicians throughout various diagnostic stages.

Accordingly, the business model has been based on hospitals and statutory insurance companies which are trusted by consumers.


Patient confidentiality is of paramount importance, not in the least because of the various stakeholders involved. As al Hakim points out, the system is DSGVO compliant. Aside from that, use of a central server has been avoided so that every form of information is directly available on the device. Data only leaves the user’s digital device with their exclusive consent. However, the user is able to share the data with any doctor and people whom they trust.


In November 2018, Medicus AI was recognized by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) as one of the Top 2 European Scale-ups in the ‘Digital Wellbeing‘ category. The start-up company received an investment in February 2019 of 2.75 million euros from Roche Diagnostics during a Series A round. At the end of July 2019, Medicus AI made it through to Kickstart Innovation, the largest accelerator in Switzerland. The prospects are good. However, al Hakim is not the only one on the market with this technology. As he notes in an interview on, several industries are also involved and a lot of work has already been done. He sees competitors as partners. His goal is to cover various health aspects. Quote. “We will be faster if we cooperate and then share the revenue.”


Also of interest:

An App to Empower Patients in Healthcare

Start-up of the week: Hands free wheelchair mobility

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals  of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

Qwiek – a sensation in senior housing

Most senior housing complexes are not exactly known for their inspiring environments nor their innovative highlights. Admittedly, there are innovations, although these have more to do with the health of elderly residents when something goes wrong. After treatment with the help of hi-tech equipment, many of them will go on living monotonous lives in their cheerless rooms with few visits from their family members.

At Qwiek they thought differently about this, since the surroundings in which seniors spend the autumn of their lives could use some music and color. The team developed a pillow that makes music so that the clients are better able to sleep, and have already come up with an easy-to-use projector which is able to transform every dusty room into a multimedia adventure. The greatest challenge? Making this product as simple as possible so that everyone will be able to use it, including your computer illiterate grandmother.

Artifictial Ecosystems – Smart moss walls

Nowadays an average living room is full of houseplants. And for those of you who want even more – but have hardly any gardening skills – you could choose to cover your exterior wall with a meter-high layer of moss. The vertical gardens from the gentlemen at Artificial Ecosystems are greening up facades and roofs. Green fingers are no longer necessary because the ecosystem is able to maintains itself with rainwater and an internet connection.

No, it is not a hyper-intelligent plant species that uses the Internet for private purposes, because the moss wall is in fact connected to a software program that takes care of the maintenance. The difference when compared to other vertical gardens, is that BryoSYSTEEM moss has been specifically developed to thrive on an exterior wall. Competitive systems use species that originally ‘just’ grew in the forest, subsequently maintenance is much more difficult for those species of moss.

3DQR – Augmented Reality finally grows up?

It is common knowledge that augmented reality can trigger a lot of innovations. The problem, however, is that anyone who wants to get started with this will have to reinvent the wheel. Do you remember those incredibly lame HTML websites back in the 1990s? They didn’t look natural and were only accessible to real nerds. 3DQR is in this phase right now, according to Daniel Anderson, the founder of 3DQR, and so he thinks it could all be a lot more streamlined.

By providing a content management system (CMS), AR will become more accessible to more people as well as making it easier to create apps. The ‘difficult’ steps can be left to the automated system so that the designer’s ideas are able to be realized, regardless of any lack of of technical know-how. Not technical – and yet want to create a virtual world that will improve the world a little more? Using 3DQDR brings this dream closer by.

The possibilities are endless; positioning virtual furniture in living rooms, visualizing how devices are operated, and naturally, being able to go on a virtual holiday to a distant galaxy.

CoVince – Netflix for e-Learning

Lifelong learning is a bit of a cliché, but some clichés are also just simply true. Technological progress is accelerating faster than ever before. And doing the same job with the same level of expertise for 40 years is no longer the case for most people. How are you able to update that expertise? The team behind the Dutch start-up CoVince says that this can be done in a Netflix-like way: you decide exactly what you want to learn from what’s available in a large library and off you go.

It is no longer necessary to go to an actual school building thanks to a combination of AR, gaming, an online community with teachers and fellow students, and an avatar that has been generated especially for you. All this can provide everyone with new and useful knowledge from the comfort of their own home. You could compare it to a kind of smarter educational version of Second Life that hopefully has a slightly less miserable ending. In any case, CoVince inspires great confidence and everything looks very futuristic and impressive in the videos.

Munevo DRIVE – Hands-free wheelchair mobility

Nobody sits in a wheelchair just for fun. Mastering it takes some practice and the user is unable to use their hands freely while on the move with a conventional wheelchair. But there is another way: a team from the University of Munich has launched an app that makes it possible to operate a wheelchair using head movements and smart glasses.

Who knows best how a wheelchair works? These are generally the users themselves. Munevo DRIVE was therefore created with these experiences in mind so that the system accurately addresses the sore points that they encounter. And the concept phase is definitely over: health insurers have recently reimbursed Munevo DRIVE, rendering the obstacles that surrounded a futuristic wheelchair experience a thing of the past. Users are delighted with it.

And that is not surprising; you will only realize how important mobility is when you yourself need the equipment to get from A to B. In this respect, Munevo DRIVE opens doors for a vulnerable group and demonstrably makes their lives a little more wonderful. And that thanks to Google Glass, a product that was laughed at a few years ago because back then it had no added value to everyday life. The latter is the reason why we have selected the team for the start-up of the week award!

Tomorrow is Good (podcast): Quantum-like computing and Arctic data centers

It’s 40 degrees Celsius, and I’m sitting outside an awesome coffee-bar in Scheveningen (The Hague) with my long-time friend Deepak Kaura, talking about innovation and recording my next episode for my Future of Health podcast. It’s a cafe he actually pointed out to me (he’s a coffee-freak).

From his role as chair of the board of directors at Joule innovation department within the CMA (Canadian Medical Association), to his role as CMO of 1Qbit (advanced computation including quantum-inspired and quantum computing) and then all the way through to why front line staff in healthcare (physicians and nurses) should claim and take on roles in innovation. Deepak on twitter.

A pediatric radiologist who has set up several technology companies in the past, Deepak Kaura brings a range of experience and leadership skills to the role of Chair of the Joule Board of Directors. Passionate about improving health through the use of technology which is balanced with personalized human touch, Deepak is dedicated to innovation, team building and has a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence.

After five years in Qatar, Deepak has recently returned to Canada in order to join 1QBit (a quantum computing software company) as its Chief Medical Officer. As Executive Chair of Sidra’s Foundational Clinical Services Management Group in Qatar, he played a critical role in creating and establishing new standards in patient care at a 400-bed hospital for women and children. As well as that, he set up Imagine, an innovation framework that produces intellectual property through crowdsourcing concepts. Prior to this he was the head of Diagnostic Imaging at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

Deepak earned his medical degree at the University of Manitoba. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Radiology, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Certification of Canada and has a Master of Business Administration from HEC Paris.

Aimee van Wynsberghe – data centers in the Arctic to train an AI, really?

A conversation in a crowded lobby with Aimee  about how training an AI could impact the carbon footprint, how we need to think about the difference between the human touch of a doctor versus a robot, and why we need to talk NOW in stead of waiting until we the problems turn up in our backyard.

Aimee van Wynsberghe has been working in ICT and robotics since 2004. She is Assistant Professor in Ethics and Technology at TU Delft in the Netherlands. She co-founded the Foundation for Responsible Robotics and is on the board of the Institute for Accountability in a Digital Age. She is author of the book Healthcare Robots: Ethics, Design, and Implementation. Read more about this on Wikipedia. She is a colleague of mine as an Edge fellow at the Center for the Edge @deloitte.

So, why not also have a listen to our conversation in this podcast?!

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Peter de Kock and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working on solutions to the problems of our time in their own way. So that Tomorrow will be better. Here are all the previous episodes.



Start-up of the day Qwiek: making healthcare more enjoyable


A projection on the wall, whether or not supported by music –  this is what helps the elderly in a care facility become more relaxed or more active. And this is just one of the healthcare support products that Qwiek makes. Soon the company will launch their third product on the market: a pillow which makes it more easy for users to fall asleep with their own music.

Today an interview with Chris Rameckers, one of the founders of Qwiek and their commercial director.

What’s your main motivation?

“In our previous company, an industrial design agency, we first came into contact with healthcare via a client. In the nursing home, all that the elderly ever did was just sit, they wandered aimlessly through abandoned corridors and met up at the elevator. That was where there was a little bit of activity and that was the most exciting thing that happened. That’s when we knew right away: we really want to do something about this. The group of people who are now in a nursing home have worked hard all their lives, often strenuous work. I don’t mean to say they’re wasting away, but it was hard to see them like this. With our products, aftercare and training, we want to make sure that this situation will change.”

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

As technically savvy guys, we really want to work with the latest technology. When we started out, an iPhone with a touchscreen was already quite a boon to healthcare as a gadget. We were in actual fact a bit too premature in coming up with our technical proposals. At first, we came up with some kind of game console with a 3D camera, but this was far too complex. It took a while for us to see that for ourselves, because every time we gave a demonstration, the seniors were enthusiastic. But without our help, they forgot how it worked and then the seniors gave up. After two new versions and a lot of investment, we let the idea die in spite of all its beauty. That was hard, but we did learn from it. Above all, it has to be simple.

What are you most proud of?

Nowadays, every week, the families of residents in care institutions tell us how happy they are with our product. That’s great to hear, that’s what you’re doing it for. The other day, a woman called to say that for more than a year she hadn’t had a conversation with her mother who has dementia. Since her mother had been using our product, she was much calmer and recognized her daughter again. I am pleased that we are an accessible company, where we are in good contact with both the nursing staff and the people who use our products.

What can we expect from you in the coming year?

We are constantly improving our product. Each year we invite nursing staff from nursing homes throughout the Netherlands that are working with Qwiek. That way we stay informed about what’s going on. We also want to launch our new product, Qwiek Snooze, which is a mat for under your pillow that helps you fall asleep with the help of music. We have also developed this product in collaboration with healthcare providers.

What makes your product better than other products on the market?

We are pleased with other technical innovations in healthcare, it helps to ensure that technology is accepted more quickly within healthcare. Because that’s hard to do sometimes. I don’t know what makes us necessarily better than other products. We focus on different types of patients than many other products do, everyone has their own specialization. But together we will all be able to make healthcare a little better.

Start-up of the day: bringing healthcare to your home

Patients with chronic conditions are the biggest users of the majority of healthcare resources. The Norwegian start-up Dignio is working towards a system that allows the patient to be more involved in their treatments themselves, without having to physically go to hospitals or healthcare facility as often as they normally would have to. Dignio connects patients and healthcare professionals through a digital platform which alters the traditional way of delivering health services and opens up new possibilities for more sustainable solutions. This will result in a better quality of life for the patient and a reduction of hospital admissions and outpatient visits.

Dignio calls this “Dignio Remote Care,” a method with which patients with severe chronic diseases such as COPD, diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart failure and cancer, are able to take medical measurements at home and feel safe in the knowledge that healthcare professionals will accordingly follow up the results and are available for support and care. It provides flexibility and a feeling of security for these patients in their everyday lives.

Innovation Origins talked to the CEO of Dignio, Lars Dahle, about the start-up and their new system.

Check other start-ups of the day entries here.

What was the motivation behind the creation of Dignio?

We wanted to find a problem to solve rather than just invent technology and then try to find where we could best apply it. Patients with chronic conditions use 70-75% of the total healthcare resources in any industrialized country. If we are unable to provide better care with less resources to this group, there would be no way we could solve the other pressing issues in this sector as we move forward.


Why is Dignio relevant?  

The Norwegian Directorate of Health became interested in what we do at an early stage (2014) and commissioned a pilot project, where independent researchers measured the use of healthcare services of 190 patients with severe chronic diseases, with an older age of 70 years plus, in four districts in City of Oslo. The official report showed that these patients who are normally heavy users of healthcare services, needed 32% fewer hospital admissions, 50% fewer visits to the emergency room, and 41% fewer outpatient visits to doctors. The patients maintained the same level of progress and at the same time improved their quality of life. It is pretty safe to say that we contribute to the improvement of healthcare for chronic patients while using less resources.

Do you think that there are many start-ups tackling the same issue? 

I hope so! There is still so much to be done in the healthcare sector, and there are so many people out there living miserable lives who do not need to. We need this to be a larger movement, so I welcome everyone who is focused on the same issue – as long as they are doing it for the right reason – which is to improve patient’s lives (and not merely to earn more money).

What makes Dignio stand out from the pack?

From the very beginning, we have bet on bringing experts in medicine and health together with software and tech experts. They are working alongside each other every day. We believe it’s impossible for technical people to develop a good solution for the healthcare sector just on their own. We now offer training for performing the procedures in order for patients to be able to take more responsibility for their own health. Also for the technical platform and ecosystem so as to ensure that this kind of new healthcare service actually works. Most of our competitors believe this is a technical challenge to solve. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

What has been the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome during the whole Dignio process? 

When the solution is developed, whatever it may be, it needs to be extensively monitored and checked if it meets its goal in the real world. “How does the patient respond?” and “are clinicians adopting this solution in their everyday work ?” This has taken us many years and we have burnt a lot of our money on this journey and we have had to get through periods with not much income.

Was there a moment in where you thought of giving up?

Not moments – long periods! – for example – lying in bed, knowing that the bank account is almost empty, and there are 12 employees who expect to be paid next week!

What has been the most gratifying moment/ biggest accomplishment?

When we hear the testimony of the patients using the system. When they tell us how this was a turning point in their lives. That they finally feel more in control of what is going on in their body, and that they can master their every day lives after years of major concern and worry.

What can we expect from the coming years? 

Dignio will now move into international markets. We need to get outside of Norway and positively influence and help more lives!

We would like to be a global player in the effort to move healthcare out of the hospitals and clinics and into the patient’s home. We prefer to work with the public healthcare system in order to have more impact.

What is your ultimate goal? 

To be able to improve the health of one million lives!

 Who is the Dignio customer? 

We only work with healthcare providers. We do not offer anything directly to the patient.

How has been the feedback you’ve gotten?

Feedback from all of the stakeholders has been great. The patients love this kind of healthcare service. The clinicians involved find the Dignio system easy to operate, and the methodology we “preach” makes sense. BUT – we still find this sector to be burdened with a lot of skeptics and “nay-sayers” – so we don’t expect it to be easy. We must build it one brick at a time.


Need inspiration? Check our Start-up of the Day series here!


Start-up of the Week: innovation a loaded concept? Certainly not!

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals  of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.


Psious: Turn your fear into a computer game

How do you overcome an anxiety disorder? This is often done by confronting your fears; holding a tarantula, looking down through a glass elevator or going off on holiday by plane. All the same, this is easier said than done. Through the virtual worlds of the Spanish start-up Psious, these situations can be simulated during treatment so that patients are able to ‘rehearse’.

This simulation software is not only used for anxiety and phobias, but also for the treatment of disorders such as PTSD, OCD or AD(H)D. According to inventor Xavier Palomer, this could lead to a revolution in psychotherapy whereby patients can carry out their own VR treatment remotely. And this in turn would lead to shorter waiting lists and less medication being prescribed. Who would now dare claim that computer games are mind-numbing?

Solitaire Power: From musty office smell to clean energy

CO₂ is both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand it is fundamental to life on earth, but on the other it is unwelcome when there is too much of it. And no, for once this is not about the greenhouse effect and global warming. Solitaire Power is aiming closer to home; people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors and because of this, they are actually breathing in too much CO₂.

This Finnish filter system ventilates spaces in such a way that more oxygen can be inhaled. Better air quality makes people more productive and also puts them in a better mood. But there’s more! The excess carbon dioxide is stored and converted into a renewable fuel. In this way, stale office air turns into a clean source of energy, requiring less fossil fuels and ultimately still being all about global sustainability!

VarmX: From deadly snake venom to life-saving donation

When you think of snake poison, you think of an affliction rather than a cure and since prehistoric times many people have had an uncomfortable feeling with these slithery reptiles. The poison that some species produce, e.g. the Australian taipan, is a very complex substance that causes very diverse reactions in the body of the ‘victim’.

Cardiovascular diseases are extremely high on the list of most common causes of death in Western countries. Much of this is due to the impact of blood clots. A blood clot is actually an accumulation of large amounts of proteins in the blood vessels. And if the venom from the Australian venom snake is good at anything, then that is breaking down proteins. And the best part? VarmX reproduces the poison in the laboratory, eliminating the need for physical snake bites in the operating room. Good to know, of course.

Tenzir: the black box for online security

The black box is always sought in the event of a plane crash in order to determine the cause. The information in this black box is not only used to find out what went wrong with that particular crash, but also serves as a basis to hopefully prevent these types of incidents in the future. There is no such thing when it comes to the online world, even though cyberattacks have quite a few similarities with air disasters.

The problem with old fashioned anti-virus software and firewalls, however, is that they do not work during a successful cyberattack, which means that essential information about the work methods of the hacker or the virus and the vulnerabilities affected care not able to be stored. Tenzir will operate in the background and will continue to work; whether it is a successful attack or not. As a result, the cat-and-mouse game between viruses and cybersecurity gets an extra watchdog.

Mein Lagerraum³: a second life for the discarded sea container

A world without sea containers would look quite different; these metal giants are a crucial link when it comes to the logistics of world trade. Due to the universal standard, loading and unloading has almost become child’s play. However, sea containers do not have an everlasting life and after they have been written off, are usually scrapped in a not too environmentally friendly way.

But there is another way, that’s what they think at Mein Lagerraum³. The containers can actually be used as rather good building material. This start-up from Dresden transforms them into storage and cooling units, mobile workshops, building huts, cocktail bars, stages, mobile laboratories, horse boxes and so on. Not bad for other people’s junk! The possibilities are endless, on top of that they are economical and durable as well!

Innovation can manifest itself in many ways; the Germans show that an idea and a bit of ingenuity is enough. No conceptual future utopia, high-tech machine or years of university research are involved. The world can also be made a little more sustainable even with the use of practical and ‘old-fashioned’ craftsmanship. This is something that is sometimes forgotten and undervalued in our increasingly digital society. This is why Mein Lagerraum³ can call itself the start-up of the week this week!

Start-up of the Day: device checks the health of a fetus anytime, anywhere

“Taking care of a child is considered by everyone to be a basic necessity. We serve this need.” Says Patrycja Wizińska-Socha, the CEO and founder of the medical start-up Nestmedic. Patrycja Wizińska-Socha graduated in biotechnology from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology and completed her doctorate at the Wrocław Medical University. She wanted to work in telemedicine. When her friend lost her baby just before the due date, Patricia decided to create “Pregnabit” – a service which allows pregnant women to check the health of their fetus, anywhere, anytime.

What exactly is Pregnabit?

Patrycja Wizińska-Socha: This is a telemedical system for testing the welfare of babies. It is made up of a device, i.e. a portable cardiotocograph (CTG), a platform on which data from patients is transferred, and a telemonitoring centre where midwives and physicians continually analyze all test recordings. The patient carries out the CTG test on their own, at any time and place, and within a few minutes she receives feedback on the results.

Patrycja Wizińska-Socha, CEO of Nestmedic

In what way is your product better than rival devices?

Our solution provides professional medical equipment combined with medical service. We have gained all of the necessary certificates and we examine the same parameters as other good quality non-portable CTG equipment does; i.e. the heart rate and movements of the child, uterine muscle spasms as well as the mother’s heartbeat.

We distinguish ourselves by the fact that we do not just leave the patient with the results. These are immediately analyzed by the medical staff at the telemonitoring center. If everything is all right, the patient quickly receives a text message from us with that information. If there is an abnormality or if something is not clear, the telemonitoring center’s medical staff will immediately call them for a medical consultation and recommend appropriate steps. Sometimes we call an ambulance for a patient who is using the Pregnabit system, if they are in need of urgent medical support.

What motivates you to do this work?

We want to make people’s lives better. I am a realist and I know that every child cannot be saved. I also know that thanks to modern technologies, it is possible to help many of them. And that is very important. All those sleepless nights, broken weekends, no vacations -all this to save as many children as possible. After 5 years of work and the transition from an idea to commercial applicability, we are convinced that all these efforts have made sense – we really do save children’s lives.

What are the biggest obstacles for the company?

Funding. The launch was very difficult. For almost two years I had been looking for funding, grants and investors. I was a doctoral student at the time and the trust in me as a young person -without an academic title, without a permanent team -was limited. Even from institutions that grant grants to scientists. Eventually, we managed to find the first investor and the company was launched. However, raising funds for the rapid development of the company and for foreign expansion, still plays a very important role.
The expectations of financial investors in Poland are very demanding when it comes to innovative start-ups. In a sense, we still are a start-up. We already have an established product, nevertheless it needs to be constantly adapted to the needs of specific foreign markets. Not everyone understands that. That is why we are now talking mainly to foreign investors, because they have a more open approach to innovation.

What are the greatest milestones for your company?

When we first found out that our involvement had made the birth of a healthy child possible! There was a problem during that particular pregnancy, as the baby was wrapped in the umbilical cord. If we had not notified the mother of what was happening, her pregnancy could have ended in tragedy. What a wonderful feeling of great joy that was for the whole team and an incredible impetus for developing our work further.

And the moment when MIT Technology Review awarded us the title of Innovator of the Year was also very important to us. That gave us wings too!

What are your plans for the coming year?

We are focusing on three areas. First of all, foreign expansion and sales. Now we are entering the Finnish market and starting to collaborate with the University Hospital in Helsinki, the largest in Finland. We’ve already made our first sales to Nigeria. We have defined additional foreign markets and have prepared strategies for entering them.

Secondly, product development. We are constantly introducing new features. In addition, we are already thinking about other products that will help care for women before, during and after pregnancy. We have a strong technological team; we see a lot of needs around us and we strive to do our best to handle these appropriately.

The third thing is funding. We are currently finishing negotiations with a German investment fund. This will enable us to further our development.

Where do you want to be with the company in five years’ time?

We want to break even and start generating revenues so as to facilitate the dynamic development of Nestmedic. We plan to be a global company with a wide range of telemedicine products, including an IT platform with algorithms which enable remote monitoring and analysis of reports. We want to develop appropriate business models for our products and set new standards for healthcare. We have the ambition to enter the main stock exchange market abroad rather than in Poland.

Information about the company:

– Founders: Patrycja Wizińska-Socha and Anna Skotny
– Year founded: 2014
– Financial info: the company is financed through several sources. There have been sales revenues for the past two years. In addition, several private investors have invested in the start-up, received grants for R & D products and is listed on the stock exchange (new connection).
– How many employees? And are they hiring? There are 10 permanent employees at Nestmedic along with several subcontractors and employees of affiliated companies. The affiliated company is the Medical Telemonitoring Service, where midwives and physicians are also employed.
– Ultimate goal in a few words: To be a global telemedicine company with a wide range of products.

the company
the device
Patrycja’s profile at Linkedin 


More about start-ups of the day here

Start-up of the day: Virtual Breeding Ground for Sports Innovation

Arno Hermans, together with Victor Beerkens and others, devised an accelerator programme especially for sports start-ups, under the name Sport eXperience. That was at the end of 2015. Hermans said that “there are so many beautiful and clever things going on in the field of sports, that it is a shame not to apply this in everyday life”. The first version of the acceleration programme started in January 2016. Six more followed, including two in Denmark. The Sport eXperience team also gives advice to Start-ups. In 2015, Hermans dreamt of a “physical stadium as a breeding ground for sports innovation”, today Sport eXperience launches a virtual platform: Sport Tech Campus.

What is your main motivation?

“I want to inspire people and be involved in the growth of a company, that’s what I like best. Start-ups develop an application, as a solution for their own problem, but is there really a demand for it? With Sport eXperience we help them to explore the market and to link them to a requesting party. You can call us a matchmaker or connector.

With Sports Tech Campus we want to combine all the knowledge and experience of these sports Start-ups and our business network. See who is doing what, that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel and that they can complement each other. Each Start-up fills in a profile and therefore has its own page on the platform. It is also interesting for investors. “Via Sports Tech Campus, they can do a competition analysis and see who is already doing what, for example in hockey. With the information from this platform, we can organise events, help to explore markets and validate ideas, focusing on where the need lies.”

What’s your biggest obstacle?

“I often want to go too fast, see opportunities everywhere, meetings where we have to go or connections that can be made. What I have to ensure is that I get people with me.”

Has there been a moment when you wanted to stop?

“There have definitely been times when I wanted to stop. If some things just don’t work out or a proposal that doesn’t go through. When I put a lot of time into it. Then I think: why am I doing this, what am I doing it for? That kind of thought. But then I come home and there is still that nice e-mail or a nice conversation. Then I sleep over it and the next day I think: oh yes, actually it’s pretty cool.”

What are you most proud of?

“We have learned a lot in recent years. That experience has brought us where we are today. It’s a lot of sowing and slowly the more fun part breaks out, the harvesting. There have been many beautiful moments. Like in March when we went to a Danish sports fair with ten Start-ups. Then I can fully enjoy it, when we present ourselves there with twenty people. You have a little plan in advance, so it’s exciting whether people will sign up and actually be there. I really enjoy it when we sit together in our apartment in the evening and drink beer. That is very informal, if that succeeds, that’s what I think is really fantastic.”

What can we expect from next year?

“We are going to turn the virtual platform Sport Tech Campus into a European platform. First in the Netherlands and this summer in Denmark. If it works there, we will expand to include Germany, France and Italy, for example. Contacts with the United States are already in place.

We also continue to help sports and innovation companies with projects, in the Netherlands and abroad. For example, in Urban Sports, for which we have just applied for a subsidy together with a German company. And I’m involved in a company that has developed the most innovative skateboard, biodegradable, even firmer, even lighter.”

Where do you think you’ll be in five years?

“If we tackle the Sport Tech Campus properly, it will become a global platform in which all sports and innovation companies can find their place. We’ll fly all over the world. To tell about the Sport Tech Campus. Or as a member of the jury at a sports innovation event, for example, or just visiting companies and sparring with them. My ultimate personal ambition is to become an angel investor in the sports and innovation corner. Sport eXperience will continue to exist, we will continue to build bridges to other sectors such as healthcare and we will tackle new social challenges such as preventing obesity in children and combating loneliness of the elderly.”

For your information:

Founders: Victor Beerkens and Arno Hermans

Founded in: 2015

Financial information: Sport eXperience is self-financing and is paid per project, Start-ups that create a profile on Sports Tech Campus pay monthly € 12.50. Members exchange information via the platform, can be found and can participate in the events free of charge. Hermans hopes to expand the number of paying participants in Europe to about two thousand members.

The team consists of five people: Victor Beerkens (co-founder, internal organisation and international business developer), Aswin Steenhof (sales manager, “with a network in the sport”), Johan de Rooij (financial manager “is finance finance finance”), Bart Rovers (facility operations and “has a network in the fitness industry”) and Arno Hermans (founder, face out, comes up with new ideas). And many others with whom Sport eXperience has regular contact, such as in Denmark.

What is your ultimate goal?

“I want Sport eXperience and the Sport Tech Campus to become the sports and innovation platform of the world. To be that connecting link, worldwide. With a lot of people of course, I can’t do that alone.”