Israeli robots and apps aim to make aging easier

Israeli robots and apps aim to make aging easier

Israel is poised to lead the global boom in the digital health sector for the elderly, experts say

The MIXiii show in Tel Aviv last week (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The MIXiii show in Tel Aviv last week (Photo credit: Courtesy)

‘Grow old along with me,” crooned John Lennon. “The best is yet to be.” But in reality growing old can be a painful, lonely journey.

Now, however, digital and robotic technologies being developed around the world bring the hope of making aging if not actually fun, then at least a lot easier, allowing elderly citizens to stay at home longer instead of being moved into an old age home and enabling families and caregivers track the health and whereabouts of their loved ones even from a distance.

In this sector, which is seeing a global boost, Israel is in a good place to take the lead, according to Benny Zeevi, managing general partner of Tel Aviv Venture Partners. Zeevi will be co-chairing Israel’s international life science conference and exhibition MIXiii BIOMED that will run Tuesday through Thursday in Tel Aviv.

“Aging is happening everywhere,” he said. “And 65-year-olds today are still active and independent and want to enjoy quality of life. Providing them with the services they need to do this is a huge opportunity for technology and healthcare companies and also for governments and municipalities.

“Because Israel is strong in digital technologies and digital health, it is in a good position to tackle challenges on this front as well, putting together its knowledge of sensors, artificial intelligence and big data, and channeling these into life sciences for the elderly. The idea is for technology to help keep you active and secure while you are alone at home.”

Elderly residents of a nursing home (illustrative photo; credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Elderly residents of a nursing home (illustrative photo; credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

According to the United Nation’s 2015 World Population Aging Report, “virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older persons in their population.” And this increasing share of older persons in the population is set to become “one of the most significant social transformations of the twenty-first century,” impacting nearly all sectors of society, including labor and financial markets, demand for goods and services, health and family structure.

From 2015 to 2030 the number of people in the world aged 60 years or over is projected to grow by 56 percent, from 901 million to 1.4 billion, and by 2050 the global population of older persons is projected to more than double its size in 2015, reaching nearly 2.1 billion, according to data from World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, also of the United Nations.

Benny Zeevi, managing general partner of Tel Aviv Venture Partners (Courtesy)
Benny Zeevi, managing general partner of Tel Aviv Venture Partners (Courtesy)

Technologies can offer a full range of solutions for the elderly, said Zeevi. Examples include better care at hospitals, better health monitoring at home, and keeping them out of hospitals longer, as well as increasing social engagement and thus reducing loneliness and developing apps that keep track of medications and physical activity.

Israel’s unique capabilities in information, communication, mobile, and cyber technologies, together with more than 25 years of expertise in implementing health IT, electronic medical records, and business analytics, offer Israel the opportunity to become a truly influential player in the global digital health arena, says a new report by Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization that connects Israeli technology firms with investors.

According to the report, the number of digital health companies in Israel has risen substantially in recent years, reaching a total of approximately 385 companies. The Personal Health Tools subsector has “skyrocketed,” becoming the most prominent subsector with 174 companies (45% of the sector).

This subsector includes companies that provide end users with software-based tools to track, manage, and even treat their own health conditions. The second largest subsector is Health Analytics with 85 companies. These companies play an important role in the ability to predict, prevent, diagnose and treat medical conditions.

Kytera's Wristband (Courtesy)
Kytera’s Wristband (Courtesy)

Israeli startup Kytera, for example, has developed a remote monitoring system for seniors who live at home. The technology — made up of a wristband and sensors — makes use of advanced machine learning algorithms and sensing technology. The system learns the routine of the person in question and can detect deviations from routine and distress situations in real time. When such an event occurs, an alert is sent to the smartphones of family members indicating that the person in question is lying motionless in the hallway, for example.

Netanya-based Intensix has developed analytic software that helps healthcare providers predict patient deterioration, in real time, by identifying patterns in physiological data — like a slight upward trend in temperature or a subtle change in blood pressure, that if detected and deciphered early enough can help save lives. The software employs data analytics and machine-learning algorithms, using data available from inside critical care units.

AbiliSense has created a technology based on sensors that interpret and categorize sounds, such as the sound of a baby crying or a weather emergency or the sound of a smoke detector, and transforms them into alerts delivered to smartphones or tablets of the elderly person, who may be hard of hearing, and other family members or emergency services.

Robots will also play a big part in making aging easier, said Prof. Tamar Flash of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who will be speaking at the MIXiii conference on the subject. The surge in interest in the development of robotics technologies globally, coupled with the growing needs of an aging population, makes fertile ground for the matching of the two, using a whole array of tools including virtual reality, sensors and artificial intelligence.

And in this field too, she said, “Israel is certainly on the leading edge of developments.”

Intuition Robotics, for example, has developed ElliQ, an artificial-intelligence based robot companion that it says will keep older adults active and engaged with family members by helping to make technology use easier.

Intuition Robotics' artificial intelligence based robot ElliQ (Courtesy)
Intuition Robotics’ artificial intelligence based robot ElliQ (Courtesy)

And UPnRIDE Robotics Ltd. has developed a device that helps people paralyzed from their neck down to stand and be mobile.

A meeting place for healthcare professionals

MIXiii BIOMED, held for its 16th consecutive year, is the largest meeting place for healthcare professionals from Israel and their international colleagues and partners. It presents an opportunity for global participants to experience Israel’s life science innovation and its biomedical industry at its best. Previous conferences hosted over 6,000 industry players, scientists, engineers and investors including more than 1,000 attendees from over 45 countries. Hundreds of Israeli life science companies will present and exhibit their products, services and technologies, allowing for hands-on experience.

There are some 1,350 life sciences companies active in Israel, and 612 of them were created in the years between 2007 and 2016, according to a new report on Israel’s Life Sciences sector released ahead of the conference by by IATI – Israel Advanced Technology Industries, an umbrella organization of an umbrella organization of high-tech firms, VCs, startups and multinationals operating in Israel.

Some $823 million worth of investments flowed into the sector in 2016, or 20% of all investments in Israeli high-tech, the report said. Over the last decade, Israeli life sciences companies raised more than $6.7 billion on NASDAQ, with $5 billion raised since 2013. More than half of the Israeli health IT and digital health companies were established in the last five years, with an average of 38 per year, the report said.

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