Alvin Cheung, The Co-Founder Of Robotics Company HandyRehab, On Becoming The Iron Man Of Rehabilitation
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.
Watching his family deal with the fallout of his uncle’s stroke 14 years ago, Alvin Cheung could not have predicted it would be an event that would shape his own future career. “I remember seeing him suffer through the disease and watching his parents having to take care of him. It was really upsetting,” Cheung says. “So, when I started working, I decided I wanted to do something to make life easier for people like him and their carers.”
One business degree later, in 2015, Cheung teamed up with robotics researcher Newman Ho to develop a wireless robotic hand to help patients with hand-function disabilities perform simple, everyday tasks able-bodied people take for granted, such as picking up small objects or turning a doorknob. “HandyRehab’s mission is to be the Iron Man of rehab—starting with this hand functioning robot and eventually helping other parts of the body. We want to help patients to do things they otherwise couldn’t do,” Cheung says.
Here, Cheung introduces his work in his own words.
We want to make rehabilitation look cooler. A lot of the time, products look like a huge, industrial piece of metal, so a lot of the patients—particularly elderly patients—don’t like wearing it after they’ve had a stroke. Some refuse to use the technology even though it’s really useful.
Robotics for rehabilitation is not new: this idea has been around for more than four decades. But most of the robotics options on the market are huge in size and expensive because they’re only targeting hospitals. If the golden recovery period for a stroke patient is two years and the average patient is discharged from the hospital and can only access two to three months of intensive rehabilitation, there is a huge gap between products and the market because people can’t get access to the technology they need. That’s why we want to make robotic products that are affordable, portable and easy to use.
We want to make rehabilitation look cooler. A lot of the time, products look like a huge, industrial piece of metal, so a lot of the patients—particularly elderly patients—don’t like wearing it after they’ve had a stroke. Some refuse to use the technology even though it’s really useful. With our product, we want to make this kind of rehabilitation technology look cooler, remove the stigma of using it and create more acceptance towards this new technology.
After the pandemic hit, many hospitals had to cut non-emergency services, leaving a lot of stroke patients without rehabilitation options. Hospitals asked if we could help develop products that would work for at-home rehabilitation. We were originally going to launch the home edition in a couple of years time, but now we are moving faster and we’ll be launching our at-home product in the first quarter of 2021 for about US$2,000.
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One time, a patient, who was recovering from a car crash, was trying on our products at a rehab centre. Using our robotic glove, she grabbed hold of her phone and moved her arm, lifting up her elbow and shoulder. It was a normal sight for me, but after the demo session, her physiotherapist told me that he had been training with her for a long time and had never seen her move like that. At that point, I realised how impactful our technology can be for our patients and how incredible it is that we can impact even a little bit of their lives.
See other honourees from the Wellness category of the Gen.T List 2020