Last week iED attended the EIT Digital Conference 2019 in Brussels and had the chance to know better companies and startups that will change the rules of the game in the digital world. One of them was the start-up Sara Robotics, a company established in Netherlands which aspires to bring the innovation in the digital healthcare and well-being. See what we have discussed with Emmy Rintjema, the Activity Leader of SARA: Social And Autonomous Robotic health Assistant
Tell us a few words about your start-up
SARA is a start-up that makes the use of social robots accessible for health care. The company was founded in 2019 and works together with health care institutes to develop software for social robots. The focus of our first system is to have a robot that supports nurses in taking care of the elderly.
How did it start?
In the health care sector, and especially in the area of elderly care, there is a huge staffing shortage. Fewer people are enrolling for a career in this area. At the same time, due to a longer life expectancy and more chronical diseases, more people are in need of care. This results in a problematic workload for nurses and causes reduced quality of care for the elderly. SARA was founded by Bright Cape, a data analytics company. We realized that we could use our skills in data analytics to support the nursing homes to work smarter . This is why we initiated the project. The embodiment of our data analytics tool is the social robot SARA. SARA supports caregivers by monitoring and maintaining client well being. The robot interacts with the elderly every day and gives feedback to the nurses on how the clients were feeling. Furthermore, the robot stimulates the elderly to have a more active lifestyle and to meet with family and neighbors. SARA contains several modules for activating elderly to participate in organized activities, suggesting to talk to a relative and doing a gymnastics exercise.
What kinds of obstacles did you face in the beginning?
When you start developing a new product, you always need to make some assumptions in the beginning about what the end-user would like to see in your product. We knew we wanted to support nurses to work smarter and more efficient, and knew the potential of a social robot. However, we didn’t know yet what functionalities would be of most added value to the nurses. Luckily we established partnerships with nursing homes in the Netherlands and Finland that gave us all the insights needed for our development road map. Our team actually worked alongside the nurses for a couple of days to experience for ourselves what their work is like and how a robot could potentially contribute to the situation.
What is your start-up working on right now?
At this moment we are interactively working on new functionalities for the SARA robot. The robot can already do a range of activities with the clients, but we want to expand the system even further. We do this in collaboration with nursing homes where the robot is being tested and evaluated continuously.
Which is your strategy for the next 2 years?
In the next 2 years, we will keep working together with nursing homes to identify opportunities for the robot to support the nurses. We will do this by working intensively together with the nurses and the elderly to keep innovating and improving our system. At this moment we are still open for investors that could allow us to further commercialize our solution. Also we wish to find collaborations with other smart home automation technology. SARA can be a smart hub for all sensors that are already placed in nursing homes and create one holistic solution. This way, SARA will be perceived as a real colleague to the nurses.
What impact does your start-up have on the society/on your field of expertise?
SARA is changing the work environment of health care professionals and the lives of their clients. We are the first to create a solution that can actually be adopted by a nursing home without requiring any technical skills from the end users, as the robot can move and interact with users autonomously. Our functionalities are designed in collaboration with both elderly and health care professionals to ensure optimal user friendliness. Our product is different from the other social robots because we are not delivering a robot with a fixed set of functionalities, but rather a social entity that has profiles for every individual user that allows the robot to adapt the content to a person’s individual memories and interests. Think about, for instance, showing a client with dementia photos of their past, or telling a story about their personal history.
Talk to us about some of your most important collaborations.
As explained before, SARA was founded by Bright Cape – a company that is an expert in doing data analytics and embedding the data analytics technology in smart tools that are usable for the end-user without requiring any technical background. Our most important collaborations for developing the first version of our robot are with the Technical University of Berlin and Curamatik (Germany), who developed the initial set of social interactions for SARA start-up. Next to this, we worked with a team of two Finnish companies, Forum Virium Helsinki and GIM oy who supported our team in the initial research and pilot testing in Finland and provided their expertise on the hardware. We found those collaborations through the network of EIT-Digital, which enabled us to gather all the unique skills required for making this solution.
Tell us about something that you’ve achieved and you’re proud of.
Even though we just started pilot testing and working through the first iterations of our product, we already achieved a lot of interest from nursing homes in Europe. The amount of positive responses from both interested customers as well as interested investors is mind-blowing. It confirms that we are on the right track and that our goal is in line with the societal challenges we are facing nowadays.