ATU453 – ProstheTech with Jose Montalvo

Play

ATU logo

Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Look for ProstheTech on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/prosthetech
EU Startup Story:  http://bit.ly/2FEAZ8U
Voiceitt Story: http://bit.ly/2t3YIMU
Ear Switch Story: http://bit.ly/2FBAw7n
American Girl Doll Story: http://bit.ly/2TaaqjS
——————————
———————-Transcript Starts Here———————-
Jose Montalvo:
Hi, this is Jose Montalvo and I am the CEO of ProstheTech, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 453 of Aassistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on January 31st, 2020.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Jose Montalvo on from ProstheTech, and he’s on to talk about the myoelectric prosthetic hand they’re working on, these machine learning and stronger, less expensive materials in order to make these things more cost effective for individuals who need them around the globe. We also have a story about some EU startups in the assistive technology field that are pretty exciting. A story out of CES with some of the new technology coming out that definitely has some assistive properties to it, VoiceIt which is a software that they’re using to try to help Alexa and Google Home better understand individuals with Parkinson disease, stroke, and cerebral palsy. A quick story about trying to develop a switch that uses the inner ear to control things, and we’ll finish it all up with a story about American Girl’s first doll with a disability who uses assistive technology. We thank you so much for listening today, so let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
If you happen to be listening to our show the day that it comes out and also happen to be in Orlando at the ATIA Conference, be sure to make your way to my presentation tomorrow morning, February 1st at 8:00 AM, called Working It Out. Workplace accommodations for full inclusion. We’ll go over some different case studies, we’ll talk about some important things in working with individuals, businesses, and others, to just ensure that we have full inclusion in the workplace. Hope to see you there.

Josh Anderson:
I always like to talk about new technology and new things coming out, as well as just some startups and kind of what they’re working on. I found a story over at eustartups.com, it was written by Maricel Sanchez and it’s titled 10 Promising European Startups Supporting People with Disabilities. We should go through a couple of them real quick, the first one’s called Wandercraft, and basically, it’s making autonomous exoskeleton, so helping individuals with lower extremity disabilities be able to actually get up and walk. We’ve seen some different ones like this before but it’s just nice to know that people are still working on these and hopefully some of these will be a little bit more readily available and hopefully affordable for folks some time in the future.

Josh Anderson:
The next one that it mentions is Be My Eyes which is a free app that connects blind and low vision individuals with sighted volunteers and companies. Be My Eyes have been around for quite a while, I think we probably mentioned it on this show. I know we’ve mentioned it on Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, our sister show, but it’s actually been around since 2015. A very cool app, and again, while you do as you open the app, give it access to your camera and your microphone and it connects you with a sighted individual who can then help you with your needs. So if you need to know the date on a gallon of milk, if you need to know which shirt is red, really anything that you might need the visual aspect for, and whenever you’re connected with a sighted individual, all those sighted individuals are volunteers. So very cool to have, see them on there.

Josh Anderson:
Next one’s Pedius, which is P-E-D-I-U-S, and we’d actually had them here on the show before, and what Pedius does is you make a phone call and it’s with an individual who is perhaps deaf or hard of hearing. The individual who’s deaf or hard of hearing types in what they want to say, you hear a voice say that to you, you talk back to it and then the individuals who’s deaf or hard of hearing has everything come up in text to them. It’s a really cool way to be able to communicate with individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing over the phone.

Josh Anderson:
Next one that they mentioned on here is Scewo. I’m not positive if I’m pronouncing that correct. It’s S-C-E-W-O, and they developed a compact self-balancing wheelchair. This is made to help individuals who need a wheelchair to be able to climb obstacles, even like stairs. Very nice that they do have that and if you really do think about some places especially maybe that aren’t quite as accessible, being able to take your wheelchair up the stairs would be an amazing accommodation and really open up some doors, literally.

Josh Anderson:
Next startup it mentions is Mimi, M-I-M-I, and it provides a hearing based audio personalization. Basically, this can be integrated into consumer electronics and what it will do is it will actually figure out the way that the person hears and adjust the audio for that. It can really help with all folks of all different kind of hearing abilities and really make it to where that sound is a little bit easier to hear. It can be integrated into headphones, smartphones, TVs, all kinds of different stuff it says here, and that would be pretty darn cool for really any individual because we all do hear a little bit differently.

Josh Anderson:
Some of the other ones on here are Re.flex, R-E-period-F-L-E-X. It’s a motion tracking wearable that will help patients during the last stages of their physiotherapy, so if you kind of think once you get through physiotherapy, you usually have to go home and try to do these exercises, you don’t really remember how to do them or you’re doing them wrong, they’re not really going to help. This wearable can get that information back to the doctor and be able to really help make sure you’re doing those exercises better so that your rehabilitation can go a whole lot faster.

Josh Anderson:
Mouse4All is an app that allows people with severe physical disabilities access Android touchscreens without ever touching the screen. It says here, it enables easy access to any app with an augmented pointer and then some intersecting axes to easily identify the position of that pointer, then you can use it with switches, either one or two button switches and it’s compatible with both Bluetooth and the cable ones.

Josh Anderson:
Wayfindr’s another one on here and that empowers visually impaired people to travel independently, and basically it’s really great audio navigation is kind of the way that it’s set up. So we’ve seen a couple of other apps like this but this is kind of one that’s been in the news a little bit and I’ve seen this on a few other kind of stories. It says here, talking a little bit more about Wayfindr, and that’s W-A-Y-F-I-N-D-R. It says as the Open Standard develops, it will give venue owners and digital navigation services the tools to implement high quality, consistent audio wayfinding solutions. If they do leave that open, that would be really, really great, especially if the venue could kind of give you information about it without that having to be entered in, and it could really be a way for, one, for businesses to be able to get more folks who are blind or visually impaired there into their businesses, but also just be able to get that information out to them to make it easier on both sides.

Josh Anderson:
Second to last one here is SociAbility, S-O-C-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y, and this is a mobile app and it will list venues and features information on accessibility. So basically, if you kind of think of, I would call it almost like a Yelp but for accessibility. That’s really kind of great especially because while a business might call themselves accessible, they probably don’t take into consideration everything that may be needed, so an individual who is visiting the place might be able to give a little bit better idea of what that actually is.

Josh Anderson:
The very last one is Munevo, M-U-N-E-V-O, and this is made to help individuals steer their wheelchair using simple head movements, and it actually uses Google Glass. It’s been a while since we’ve kind of seen somebody using Google Glass for things, but I do know that for a while, a lot of different assistive technology companies and startups were trying to use Google Glass in some different ways to help individuals with disabilities, so it’s good to see that somebody is still using those.

Josh Anderson:
So again, those are just 10 promising European startups supporting people with disabilities. Maybe we’ll end up having a few of these on the show that we haven’t had on already, and we’ll put a link to that story over in our show notes so that you can check them out a little bit more for yourself.

Josh Anderson:
We always love whenever CES happens just because even though a lot of this technology isn’t necessarily made for individuals with disabilities, there’s all kinds of cool stuff that always comes out and may or may not actually have some uses for individuals who use assistive technology.

Josh Anderson:
I found a story over at siliconcanals.com and it’s titled The Game-changing Tech Showcased at CES 2020. We won’t go through all the tech talked about in this story, although some of it’s very cool so I do recommend that you do go check it out, but we will talk about the ones that definitely have some assistive technology implications. One of them is about Lexilife, L-E-X-I-L-I-F-E. This is a lamp that helps people with dyslexia read more comfortably, so it kind of takes the thought that individuals with dyslexia, some of the problem is both eyes sending information to the brain, so per the company claims it says that the light will emit pulses of light which results in one eye to take precedent over the other, and it says that it’s actually proved to work in 90% of people. We’ll look forward to hearing a little bit more about that.

Josh Anderson:
Another one they’ve talked about in here is something called NextMind, which is a noninvasive brain computer interface. It says that it actually announced a $399 version which is a wearable, kind of goes on the very back of your head, and it says that it will capture electric brain signals from your visual cortex and then allow you to use pretty much anything. It’s using machine learning algorithms and then translate that output into direct digital commands for devices in real time. So pretty darn cool. I haven’t seen it yet. I know that a lot of companies and a lot of folks have been working on things like this, so let’s see where it goes and what all it kind of works with, but again, I can see where this can have some great implications for individuals with disabilities.

Josh Anderson:
There’s also a story here about one called Wheel.me. Wheel.me, and what they do is they actually make an autonomous wheel. So a wheel that will actually start moving and can be moved with just a touch of an app’s button, and so the way that they’ve made these, they’ve made these in some little, I’m trying to think of what I call them, almost like feet. You can attach them to the bottom of furniture and then move it. Just imagine if you have any kind of physical impairment or even lower back pain, anything like that, with a touch of an app, you could move your couch out of the way, you could move your furniture around, so very cool. I can see where these can have a lot of different uses that would work really, really well.

Josh Anderson:
There are some new kind of smart locks on here that actually use the flash and then as well as a toothbrush that’s supposed to be able to clean your mouth in 10 seconds, kind of looks like a mouth guard. If you ever played sports as a kid or I guess as an adult, you put this thing in as these nylon bristles, in five seconds, it cleans your teeth, you flip it over and it cleans them again in five seconds, so I think especially for individuals who maybe have to have assistance with those kind of things, could be a really great accommodation or something that could at least make that go a little bit quicker and just ensure that folks are getting their teeth brushed correctly.

Josh Anderson:
Again, I’m sure that we will see more and more cool stuff coming out of CES. This is just one of the first stories I really found. Some things that really, if they’re not assistive technology, they definitely have some assistive properties to them. We’ll put a link to this over in our show notes, and remember, if you ever found something cool at CES or maybe something that we should know about, somebody we should have on the show or just something that you thought was cool that you’d love for us to talk about here on the show, remember you can always call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Drop us a line on Twitter @INDATAproject or give us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org.

Josh Anderson:
Speaking of CES and startups, I found a story over The Verge and it’s Voiceitt, which is V-O-I-C-E-I-T-T, aims to help stroke survivors talk to smart homes. It’s by Nicole Wetsman and the story talks about a program called Voiceitt, and what Voiceitt is trying to do is make it easier for people with speech related medical conditions to communicate with their devices. So if we think of the Amazon Echo, the Google Home, all these different things, but if you have a little bit of an issue with speech, sometimes you have a lot of trouble talking to these, and we’ve kind of talked about maybe some folks with ALS, folks with down syndrome and people working to make these work a little bit, but this one is the first one I’ve seen that’s really for the stroke survivors or other folks with some nonstandard kind of speech. Parkinson’s disease, stroke, cerebral palsy, these kind of things can make talking a little bit more difficult.

Josh Anderson:
It says that Voiceitt actually started with a translator application, it’s currently beta testing, and this is what actually kind of got me, I thought this was very cool, because what it does is this will record the user who has this kind of a speech impairment and then the application uses the recordings and some other information gathered from its database of nonstandard speech samples and will actually interpret what that person is trying to say. When they speak into the app, it provides a synthesized audio translation as well as text on screen, so this could be communication with other individuals, with friends, with family, with loved ones, not just with their robotic devices I guess you might say. Not just with the Amazon Echo or the Google Hhome or Siri or something like that, this would actually allow them to be able to communicate more freely with their friends.

Josh Anderson:
Basically what they’re doing is they’re using their existing database of nonstandard voices, so these things they’ve built up with this, and then that’s where they’re going and using these in order to make it a little bit easier for those personal home assistance to do it. Again, this is the second, maybe third story we’ve had like this over the past maybe year of just them making these things more accessible, and it’s really cool that these companies are kind of stepping up in order to kind of help out, and I believe that Amazon and their Alexa Fund is actually helping fund a part of this technology, so very cool and it looks like they’re opening the door, or I guess the voice, to so many different individuals with different speech patterns and different needs. We’ll put a link to that story over in our show notes.

Josh Anderson:
There’s a lot of different ways we can access our computer. Eye blinks, head mice, switches, the keyboard, our voice, but what if you could control it with your tensor tympani? I probably said that wrong, plus what exactly is that? It’s your middle ear muscle. I found a story over at hackaday.com. This isn’t actually something that’s available but it is something that some hackers have made just to kind of see if maybe they might be able to do it. These are little tiny muscles inside your middle ear, and basically it says that 75% of folks can actually control these on their own. I’ve been sitting here trying it ever since I read this and I still don’t think I can get them to move, but hey, it says that folks can, so it’d be a really great way if maybe that’s the only kind of movement that you’ve got or the easiest movement.

Josh Anderson:
On Hackaday, this is usually just kind of some hacks that folks have made so this isn’t actually something that’s available or maybe even completely and totally in the works, but what they used was a cheap USB auriscope, so like the little tiny cameras that they can put in someone’s ear, and then what it does is sit there and can actually see that little bit of movement and then work as a switch. So again, if that’s the only kind of movement that you might have or the easiest kind of movement that you might have, you could easily just to do that movement in order to activate a switch just like you would a joystick, a button control, a head mouse, anything else like that. Very neat. Again, just making things a little bit more accessible.

Josh Anderson:
Again, I don’t know if this will actually be available at any time. I don’t know if they’re actively kind of working on it or if this is just something that they just started just for fun, but we will go ahead and put a link to that over in the show notes so you can go check it out for yourself.

Josh Anderson:
Our final story today comes from thehill.com, their Changing America section, and it’s American Girl Names Doll with Disability as 2020 Girl of the Year. So while I guess this isn’t quite assistive technology, many folks probably know that the American Girl dolls are some dolls that young girls just absolutely love, but the Girl of the Year doll this year is Joss Kendrick. Joss Kendrick is the name of the doll. It’s depicted as a Huntington Beach, California surfer who wears a hearing aid. It says it was first available December 31st of last year, so it hasn’t been out very long, and it says that the American Girl company actually consulted with not just an Olympic surfer, but also with the Hearing Loss Association of America in order to make sure that they got this completely right, and of course it has a back story behind her.

Josh Anderson:
It actually says that she was born with hearing loss, was born deaf in her left ear, can hear a little bit in the right, wears a hearing aid. Very cool that they actually kind of put this on there, and I know it’s been shown a lot in different studies that if little girls and little boys can see dolls and characters on TV that look more like them or depict them, it’s a little bit easier for them to kind of figure out how life works and those kind of things, and we just like to see things that kind of remind us of us so that we know that we’re loved and we’re important. We’ll put a link to this over in our show notes, and again, not completely assistive technology but I would have to say that the American Girl doll uses assistive technology with their hearing aid, so we’ll kind of just work that in there.

Josh Anderson:
Prosthetics have really come a really long way and with things like AI, machine learning and robotics, they’ve kind of come even farther, but they do remain a very expensive accommodation for the individuals who really need them. Our guest today is Jose Montalvo and he’s the CEO of ProstheTech, a tech startup out of the University of Notre Dame right here in Indiana, and they’re working on making a more affordable option for individuals. Jose, welcome to Assistive Technology Update.

Jose Montalvo:
Thank you for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Before we get into talking about the technology, could you tell our listeners just a little about yourself and your background?

Jose Montalvo:
Yes. I was born in El Salvador, that’s in Central America, and I moved to the US just for college. I went to Stonehill College first. I got a physics degree from there and then I did my electrical engineering degree at the University of Notre Dame, and right after that, during my last semester of school, I started the prosthetics company.

Josh Anderson:
Go ahead and tell us what is ProstheTech.

Jose Montalvo:
What we’re trying to do is lower the cost of myoelectric prosthetic hands. Currently, buying a prosthetic hand is extremely expensive prices range from 30 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, so most of the people cannot afford that, and especially in countries like mine, and two of our founders are also from Latin America, so especially in our countries, it’s really, really hard to acquire a prosthetic hand, so people who lose their hand first off lose their jobs because most people who lose their hand in Latin American countries are working manual labor, so the first thing that happens when you lose your hand, you lose her job. If you lose your job, you cannot afford a prosthetic hand, and wages are already really low over there, about $300 a month, so I’m buying a $30,000 prosthetic hand on the lower spectrum is completely impossible for them to even think of.

Jose Montalvo:
So they lose their hand, they lose their job, and now they have a family to feed and they don’t have ways of doing that because they don’t have education to get a different job and they don’t have their manual abilities to keep doing the current job. What we’re trying to do is a prosthetic hand that helps those people especially, help people actually regain their abilities back and be able to support their families or be able to live a normal life basically.

Josh Anderson:
Definitely, and for our listeners, what is a myoelectric hand?

Jose Montalvo:
A myoelectric hand is a hand that listens, basically listens to the muscles in the arm. I can explain that a little further. Whenever you’re thinking about moving your hand, what happens is your brain’s sends a signal through your arm all the way to your hand, and then that signal activates the muscles and the muscles basically move your fingers. So what happens is when you lose your hand, you still have all of those signals going through, you still have all the muscles all the way up to where you were amputated, so when that signal is sent, we have sensors that listen for the change in voltage between two different points in the arm, and using machine learning techniques, we can figure out this person is trying to point their finger at someone or say hi to someone or shake a hand or do whatever other different pose you want to do, so by using the electrical signals in the arm, we can make movement basically.

Josh Anderson:
With that machine learning component, is that going to be tailored to each individual?

Jose Montalvo:
Yeah. That’s one thing that’s unique from us is we use a bunch of different machine learning algorithms when we’re training the person. So whenever you go, you get better at your prosthetic. You’re going to be doing, trying to make gestures by moving your muscles or thinking about different things, and then we use all that data. We put it into our machine learning algorithm and then that machine learning algorithm reads differently from different people, and then we use different other machine learning algorithms that are created and being developed or have been developed over time, and all of those different ones give a different percentage accuracy and then we choose the smartest one in order for the person to be able to perform the most grips possible.

Josh Anderson:
Wow, that’s pretty darn amazing. Jose, how are you planning on making this a little bit more affordable? Because just in what we’ve talked about a little bit of it, I mean it sounds very high tech, very cool. How’s it going to be able to be more affordable than maybe the options that are out there right now?

Jose Montalvo:
We’re focusing really, really high on the materials we’re using. Current prosthetic hands do use really high end materials, and we don’t want to compromise on that because one of the main things that people complain about is that prosthetic hands break too easily and they’re so expensive, they shouldn’t be breaking in a year or two, they should last for longer. Imagine you buy a car and then your car breaks down the very first year you buy it, that shouldn’t happen. What we’re trying to do is use modern materials. Currently, prosthetic hands are being done just with carbon fiber, for example, and aluminum in some other parts, and every single part is being used, like just that one element is being used in individual parts. So you have one component that is just using aluminum, one component that is just being used at different material.

Jose Montalvo:
What we do is we integrate materials together in order to make the process faster to produce which lower their cost in people making the hands, then you have to pay less wages because they work less on each prosthetic hand. For example, something we’re using is 3D printing technologies. We are mixing carbon fiber with PLA which is a plastic. The carbon fiber PLA mix is a little stronger than regular carbon fiber and it’s also really easy 3D print which makes it faster and cheaper for everyone when actually building the prosthetic hand.

Josh Anderson:
Very nice. Where are you at in the development of the ProstheTech?

Jose Montalvo:
Currently, we have divided our development into three different categories. The first we did was developing the software, and we are pretty much done with that. We have tested the software, we have done testing with a couple of different patients, then we moved into the electronics equipment. The electronics took us a little longer than we expected, so we just finished the testing period now and we’re about to evaluate the data we were getting, and then we’re moving forward with the mechanical aspect of the hand. We have always had the mechanical aspect pretty much done but we’re moving towards using the feedback that we’ve gotten from users in order to actually make the hand work better for them.

Jose Montalvo:
For example, current prosthetics are really heavy. We’re looking forward to making ours a little less heavy because it’s still really hard with motors and all the stuff in it, but we’re looking forward to making all that stuff, so we plan to be done with the electronics by the end of June, and then with the mechanical, with final tweaks and stuff, by the end of August. We start hoping to start testing, having like a trial period with the full product by the end of August and fully start selling by the end of the year.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Are you planning on trying to roll these out pretty much just in Central America to start out or worldwide or do you have kind of a test market plan or is it just too early for that?

Jose Montalvo:
The plan is first, the US and in El Salvador. In El Salvador, we’ve been talking to a couple of agencies that have shown great interest in the product, especially because of the affordability part. So what we’re doing is targeting those places and then we’re also targeting places here in the US, prosthetic clinics that we’ve been talking to around the area and South end. We talked to them, they help us, they give us a little feedback where they show us how it’s actually done with current prosthetics and we learn from them, so those would be perfect places where to start selling to them basically and then they can start spreading all over the place.

Josh Anderson:
Jose, how can our listeners find out more and follow the progress of ProstheTech?

Jose Montalvo:
I think the best place is our LinkedIn page. Everything we do, basically we post there. We have a pretty good wall, so basically just go on LinkedIn and search for ProstheTech LLC and you should be able to find it, it’s the only one that appears on the search. That’s mainly where we post stuff. We post links to YouTube channels. We have one YouTube channel. We’re not very active on it, but yeah, LinkedIn would be the best way.

Josh Anderson:
All right, perfect. We’ll put a reminder for that over into our show notes. Our guest today was Jose Montalvo. Jose, thank you so much for coming on and talking about ProstheTech and we can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.

Jose Montalvo:
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter, @INDATAproject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.