Hocama Ltd. is the world leader of robotic and sensor-bases rehabilitation solutions in Switzerland. Their passion is to reinvent the world of rehabilitation with advanced technologies and to improve the lives of patients around the world. Hocoma Ltd. has been successfully involved in two Active and Assisted Living (AAL) projects so far, namely EXO-LEGS and IronHand. In IronHand the SME Hocoma takes over the tasks of the project business partner in the consortium.
IronHand was selected as an outstanding AAL project and was selected to be highlighted with an interview in the national AAL brochure “Innovations for an ageing society”. Discover in the interview with Dr Alexander Duschau-Wicke from Hocoma Ltd., former Swiss project coordinator of the IronHand project, how participating in AAL projects benefited the company.
How did you hear about the AAL Programme and what prompted you to get involved in an AAL project?
We had already participated in previous funded projects. Project funding from the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) is important to us. We also took part in projects as part of the 7th European Framework Programme. So when we received a request from abroad asking whether we would be keen to participate in an AAL project, we were open to the opportunity.
AAL is a perfect match for our business field and our plans. The network that is opened up by international projects should not be underestimated either. For example, we now work with a Swedish start-up thanks to our involvement in an AAL project.
What added value does joint product development with European partners offer your company?
International partnerships are very important to us. There are many elements abroad that, when combined with our expertise, can be turned into genuine innovations. In the IronHand project, for example, the combination of Swedish glove technology with our company’s software is ideal and saves times and resources. Partners from overseas are also useful for subsequent product launches. Through them we can learn how a foreign market works. And they can help us find suitable distribution partners.
What has been your experience of working with national and international partners?
The collaboration on the IronHand project has been very successful. Thanks to strong industry partners, our work has been very targeted and our interest in the end product has really spurred on our joint efforts. Our academic partners and the end-user organisations who are always involved at AAL are very experienced in international projects. An imbalance in the consortium in favour of academic partners can lead to you losing sight of the end product. It’s all about finding the right balance. What’s more, with large consortiums there is a risk of cultural problems or difficulties with coordination or understanding.
What are the particular challenges you have encountered over the course of the project?
The development of technology to improve people’s health always requires ethical approval from cantonal ethics commissions and Swissmedic. For this purpose we have to submit information that we are often only able to gather as the project progresses. The iterative development process with partners runs counter to such requirements and results in additional work. A simplified process with the authorities would be helpful. On top of this, every country has its own approval process.
Has the AAL project raised your company’s profile in the ‘silver market’ and what market potential do you see for AAL products and services in Switzerland?
We currently sell our therapeutic solutions to institutions such as hospitals. However, by engaging in dialogue with end-user organisations in AAL projects, we have gained a better understanding of the needs of seniors. This helps us to optimise our products and offer them directly to those concerned.
How important is supporting older people through technological innovations in Switzerland?
This is undoubtedly an area that is set to become increasingly important in future. If we want to meet the specific needs of older generations, technology has to advance further. In Japan, the pressure is already higher than it is here. Another aspect is the growing need for nurses. Immigration alone can’t solve this. Technical assistance services will be needed, too. I’m confident that Switzerland with its high purchasing power can become a leading market for AAL offerings. Switzerland also has a number of other organisations such as the terzStiftung that work to introduce older people to technology. This reduces the psychological barriers more quickly and increases technical affinity.
What would be your advice to any future project participants from Switzerland?
Having a good personal and direct relationship with your project partners before you join a consortium is crucial. The matchmaking events organised by SERI are an ideal opportunity to make contacts with future partners at an early stage.
How is AAL different from other programmes? What sets AAL apart from other programmes?
AAL is the only programme that systematically involves end-users in the development process. The end-user organisations that have to be involved in AAL projects provide us as researchers and developers with an understanding of the users’ actual needs. The AAL2 Business Support Action that is offered to all AAL project participants has also benefited us a great deal. The workshops and individual business coaching are very practice-oriented and helped optimise our market launch plans. We have only ever seen this combination of practical development and individual advice at AAL. The programme is therefore a good addition to other programmes that award project funding.
You can learn more about the Swiss participation in AAL projects in the recent national publication on the AAL programme produced by SERI (the Swiss Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation). Find the whole AAL catalogue “Innovations for an ageing society” on the national Swiss website: http://www.sbfi.admin.ch/aal.
International AAL Forum on “Innovations ready for breakthrough” in St. Gallen, Switzerland
Another way of finding out about AAL’s research and development in the field of active ageing is the AAL Forum. The AAL Forum is the largest annual event for age-appropriate technologies in Europe and a network platform for anyone active or interested in AAL. This year’s AAL Forum will take place from the 26th to the 28th September in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Register as a participant:
You can register for the whole event, including the opening ceremony on Monday, September 26 and the big closing event with dinner and party on Wednesday, September 28. You can also register only for single days (registering for Tuesday includes entry to the evening ceremony on Monday; registering for Wednesday includes entry to the farewell party). AAL project participants, students and exhibitors can profit from discounted prices. You can register here for purchasing your ticket entry.
We also warmly welcome the participation of senior citizens who are interested in AAL products and services currently under development.