Robo Bionics' Journey behind creating bionic arm Grippy - Medicircle

Globally, around 3.3 million people suffer from upper limb amputees of which only a mere 2-3% have access to rehabilitative devices or technologies. Read to know how Robo Bionics is helping people who have lost their limb in an accident or were born without a limb.

Globally, around 3.3 million people suffer from upper limb amputees of which only a mere 2-3% have access to rehabilitative devices or technologies. The main challenge here is availability and affordability. India witnesses the addition of 23,500 cases of amputees annually. In total, there are 16.2 lakh people who are missing a limb of which 60% cases are for amputation below the elbow.

While studying at IIT Patna, Llewellyn D'sa saw a batchmate, Jayant Vyas, without a limb. Together with his batchmate Kumari Priyanka they created a prototype limb. With a background in Computer Engineering, Anil Nair is the co-founder of Robo Bionics. Together they launched Robo Bionics in 2016 to make affordable and lightweight bionic arms in India. The co-founders of Robo Bionics have received the AFI Best Indian Social Enterprise Award in 2019.  

About Robo Bionics

D'sa begins, “This is for people who have lost a limb but also for others. My batchmate Jayant didn’t lose a limb, he was born without one. For people who are missing a limb by birth, it is quite difficult to learn how to operate a bionic or prosthetic hand. This is because they don’t have the necessary muscle signals or that level of control that a person with a hand in the past does. So we started to solve the problem where people without a limb at birth too could use such technologies. This is where we understood the gap and started working on it.”

“This is how Robo Bionics started. Along the way, we started noticing that people existed in both dimensions, that is, those who have lost a limb due to an accident or traumatic incident and those who are missing a limb by birth. This also becomes the USP of Robo Bionics, as the other devices cater only to one side of the dimension. Another USP of Robo Bionics is that it is the lightest weight device. After fitting it with the necessary attachments (socket) it weighs just over half a kilo. This helps them use the device comfortably for a long stretch of time.”

“They can easily start regaining many activities. One of the beneficiaries of this is Vipin, who was able to light a matchstick within 1 month of using Grippy (the bionic arm). We didn't know the device of capable of that but with his dedication, he was able to achieve it.”

Affordability of Robo Bionics

D'sa says, “There are approximately 15-20 devices available in the market. Out of which 85% of the device are imported. The imported bionic arms start at the price of Rs 10 lakhs. They keep going upwards from this starting price with some costing Rs 50 - 60 lakh for a single hand. For the end-user, Grippy comes at a price of Rs 1.8 to 2.25 lakhs. So if you compare it to the entry-level bionics, Grippy comes at one-fifths of the cost. Grippy also gives them similar functionalities and comfort.”

“One key point that is available in this price range is the sense of touch. Grippy is one of the only devices which gives the reader the sense of touch by letting him/her know if they are touching a soft or hard surface. This is possible by a simple touch without crushing or damaging the thing they are touching. Grippy gives the feedback to the user making it as close as possible to the action of a real hand.”

Robo Bionics’s Patient Network

D'sa mentions, “We have worked with over 15 patients during our development phase. Before launching it we tested it with another 10 patients. After our launch, we have touched close to 25 patients. We are about to cater to 15 more patients. So in total, we have touched 60 to 65 patients. These people are not only themselves evolving but are also helping us evolve.”

Robo Bionics’s Products and Customer Feedback

D'sa adds, “We are building an ecosystem around hand rehabilitation. We would cater to different segments of limb disability and not just limb differences. It's too early to comment on how much we have progressed. Hopefully, in 6 months' time, we will be able to share the future roadmap regarding those products. Every product that we role out gets tested at every stage with clinicians and patients who understand what is the need. Only then it is brought out of the market. ”

We take care to maintain the utmost quality. So every product undergoes internal testing. Grippy has undergone international complication tests as per the international standards. This certifies its safety and we intend to continue with the same quality culture for all our products.”

Robo Bionics’s Funding

D'sa lends, “Raising funds has been one of the most difficult parts of the process. Especially for us as a hardware medtech startup. It has come in through various sources the most notable being the Government grants, especially BIRAC which has helped us in numerous ways. The other sources, though not direct government grants, that have helped us are the incubation centre at IIT-Patna and IIT-Bombay’s incubator.”

“All in all they have played a key role in taking our idea from its concept all the way to a commercialisation stage. We all know that pharma and bionic products have a huge gestational period. The institutions and their funding have carried us forward in our trial period and gestational period. I have personally been invested in this field for 7 years, right since I started my fintech.” Anil Nair adds, “I have been in robotics for the last 5 years. Before that, I was in software consultancy. When Llewellyn pitched me this idea, I got interested in this and joined Robo Bionics.”

Robo Bionics’s Revenue

D'sa elaborates, “We launched in late 2021, so we don’t have details about that. We have closed 2022 with revenue of around 18 lakhs. In the coming year, we have already booked products worth Rs 25 lakhs. This we will complete in the first quarter itself. We are looking to close this year for around Rs 50 - 60 lakhs."

Robo Bionics’s Goals and Expansion Plans

D'sa explains, “Coming back to the topic of quality, we are hellbent on quality. To make sure we deliver on this, both Anil and I have undergone the training and the certification necessary for an internal auditor i.e. ISO 13485 which is a Quality management system for medical devices. Both of us are certified, internal auditors. The reason we did so is to implement ISO 13485 as part of Robo Bionics. In terms of expansion what we are looking to do is to not just limit the technology to India but take it globally. The next plan is to achieve the USA FDA within this year. So we could branch out to other countries as well.”

Scalability Challenge

D'sa adds, “Scalability is not a challenge in India. There are certain areas like the Limb Fitting clinic and other setups, where we leverage the existing pipeline to deploy the device in India. We try to ensure that the patients don't come to us but we go to them. We ensure that one of our partners in the city could get the job done.”

“Coming to the operational part, Grippy has been designed keeping in mind that people could be from remote areas or any other part of the country. So we have designed Grippy in such a way that it can get repaired even by a local watch repairer to a certain extent. This gives us the opportunity to take the device to the user instead of the user coming all the way to us. In India specifically, there is a problem of accessibility. We only have 200 - 250 lymphatic clinics across the country. And we have lakhs of people with missing limbs. We are now branching out to develop an ecosystem as a whole. So for users as well as others the deployment and engagement will be much easier.”

Experience of starting the Startup in a small city

D'sa mentions, “To be honest, there were difficulties operationally, mainly in terms of logistics. When we started out we had to experiment with materials and different apparatus and it was important to understand how certain things work. In doing so, a city closely located near a port or custom clearance agency would be able to have a turnaround time to be much faster. We used to wait for many days. This is the only operational difficulty. But that was substituted by the assistance and warmth shown to us by the early adopters of the technology. We were surprised to see that 15 people with limb differences were willing to openly come and try out our technology. There are problems but there are also ways around the problem.”

Edited By: Priyal Shah

Contributed By: Llewellyn D'sa & Anil Nair, co-founders, Robo Bionics

Tags : #Top-Innovative-Healthcare-Startup-Series #RoboBionics #LlewellynDsa #KumariPriyanka #AnilNair #OsdenMascarenhas #Grippy #Startup #Medtechstartup #bionicarm #limbloss #prostheticarm #smitakumar #medicircle

About the Author

Priyal Shah

Priyal Shah is a graduate of Media from Mithibai College, Mumbai. She is a writer, researcher and avid reader.

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