ALYN sets up tech center to invent new ways to help special needs kids

ALYN sets up tech center to invent new ways to help special needs kids

Facility will allow entrepreneurs to work on assistive technologies with experts and patients at Jerusalem rehab hospital

ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem develops techologies to help children overcome physical limitations (Courtesy)
ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem develops techologies to help children overcome physical limitations (Courtesy)

ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility, is setting up a tech innovation center to develop in-house products and technologies that will improve the independent function and quality of life of children with special needs.

The center will allow entrepreneurs and developers share a state-of-the-art work space with their target audience — the children undergoing rehabilitation at ALYN. The groundbreaking ceremony is to be held on Tuesday, attended by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat,

ALYN diagnoses and treats children with a wide range of congenital and acquired conditions, from birth to adolescence. The hospital has over 80 years of experience in pediatric rehabilitation and its staff often develops in-house personalized, innovative solutions for patients.

The new innovation initiative has already raised some NIS 6 million ($1.7 million) from the National Insurance Institute, the Jerusalem Development Authority and private contributors.

ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem develops techologies to help children overcome physical limitations (Courtesy)
ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem develops techologies to help children overcome physical limitations (Courtesy)

“There is a need for a one-stop shop for such developments because for assistive technologies, entrepreneurs need to be close to experts in their field, physical therapists, and especially they need access to their target audience,” said Danna Hochstein Mann, the director of ALYNnovation, part of the program that will focus on creating technologies that have applications for a global audience.

In recent years, the assistive technology sector has been increasingly prominent in the Israeli high-tech field. The innovation center will bring together, for the first time under one roof, all the elements required for innovation in this field, Mann said: knowledge and experience from experts, cooperation for clinical research, the opportunity for product testing with the target audience in a controlled and safe environment, and a physical work space with a state-of-the-art laboratory for prototyping and initial manufacturing.

Mann, who joined ALYN five months ago, spent over 10 years as a venture capital fund executive, and is a former VP of business development at Jerusalem Venture Partners JVP and a senior partner at OurCrowd.

“The field of assistive technologies is growing in Israel but it has been grassroots initiatives until now,” said Mann. “You need an establishment to give a true boost to any new technologies. We are that establishment now.”

In its efforts to help the children it treats, ALYN has already been doing on-site development for equipment to be used by its patients, through its 25-year-old biomechanical lab. This lab will be now upgraded and become an active part of the innovation center, providing services to all children with special needs. At the same time, the lab will be open to assistive technology entrepreneurs, with the ALYN staff sharing their expertise and guiding the product development process.

ALYN's Wheels of Hope project (Courtesy)
ALYN’s Wheels of Hope project (Courtesy)

The new center will be approximately 500 square meters, some 5,400 sq ft, and have a view of the Ein Karem neighborhood and the Jerusalem mountains.

In addition, ALYN has worked over the years with individual entrepreneurs for special projects such as the Wheelchairs of Hope, project, already in use by children worldwide — an affordable and durable 3D-printed wheelchair accessible to children in developing countries. An additional example is Chair Call, an app that allows a person to remote-control a motorized wheelchair. From now on, these entrepreneurs will be able to work in-house and with ALYN experts and patients.

The innovation center will operate two programs: The PELE program will focus on finding personalized solutions for children with special needs. “This program will focus on finding solutions for children with unique problems that have no off-the-shelf solutions in the market because there are not enough children with that condition,” said Mann. “The projects under PELE will be case driven.”

The PELE program will run in collaboration with the National Insurance Institute (NII) and the Cross-Lab Network (XLN) project of the Reut Institute. The hospital is already working with developers from Intel, the Israel Aerospace Industries, Cisco, Young Entrepreneurs Israel, Jerusalem College of Technology (Lev), Hadassah Academic College, and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, among others, to find solutions for their patients.

A child using ALYN's hand support development (Courtesy)
A child using ALYN’s hand support development (Courtesy)

The second innovation track, ALYNovation, is for entrepreneurs and inventors developing assistive technology products and solutions, for children, intended for the international market. This program is offered in collaboration with the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage along with the NII.

From Zion will go forth assistive technology

Ninety 3 million children worldwide, including about 100,000 children in Israel, suffer from severe physical limitations hindering their daily life, according to data provided by ALYN. Technological developments assist children with special needs to overcome their limitations and take an active part in society, yet many children are left without help as the solution or technology is out of their financial reach.

“These children deserve to have technology that is lifechanging for them,” said Mann. The aim is to develop both low-tech but lifechanging tools, she said, and true technology products, using a combination of sensors, artificial intelligence and big data.

Although the hospital has already raised some of the funds it needs to get started, “it is a project in motion,” said Mann, and more money and financial and technology partners are needed, she said.

“The knowledge accumulated at ALYN Hospital is tremendous, and the new space will allow us to provide access to it: first to the children of Jerusalem and Israel, and then to children worldwide, ‘for out of Zion shall go forth the law,'” said hospital director Dr. Maurit Beeri.

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