Technological advances can make a significant difference in the lives of people with physical disabilities by allowing them to enjoy greater autonomy, while boosting their self-esteem. That is exactly what Montreal-based Kinova has set out to do: improve well-being and range of motion for people with impaired mobility, primarily in the upper body. The ingenuity of the company's young founders, Charles Deguire and Louis-Joseph Caron L'Écuyer, led them to begin developing the JACO robotic arm in 2006. The National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) has supported them since their early days, and continues to support their subsequent innovations.
Successful risk sharing
"When we founded Kinova, I was 23 years old and passionate about robotics and the need to help people with disabilities," explains Kinova co-founder Charles Deguire. "When I was younger, I had three uncles who were severely handicapped, and even then I dreamed of giving more freedom and dignity to people with impaired mobility. My dream became reality thanks to NRC-IRAP."
The two entrepreneurs needed assistance and another party with whom they could share their business risks. In 2008, they approached NRC-IRAP to begin developing a robotic arm.
"Over the past years, we worked closely with Kinova to make it possible to design the first JACO platform by funding the project and helping structure its stages of development. We also supported Kinova in adapting JACO for export," says Louis Renaud, IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor.
NRC-IRAP funding significantly contributed to accelerating the development of Kinova's products. Moreover, with this support, Kinova obtained the international CE certification and marking, and won its first million-dollar distribution contract for robotic arms in the Netherlands.
Flexible, discreet and safe, the JACO arm is considered to be the lightest and most durable robot in the world, with unparalleled energy efficiency.
The company now has products in over 25 countries, with clients including Google, iRobot, NASA and Microsoft. The Netherlands can't get enough of JACO, fire departments are examining how it can save lives, the French Commission d'énergie atomique is also interested, and over 100 universities are studying how to use JACO in operating rooms, on field reconnaissance projects, manipulating environmentally hazardous products, developing new control methods, and more.
"When we founded Kinova, I was 23 years old and passionate about robotics and the need to help people with disabilities," explains Kinova co-founder Charles Deguire. "When I was younger, I had three uncles who were severely handicapped, and even then I dreamed of giving more freedom and dignity to people with impaired mobility. My dream became reality thanks to NRC IRAP."
More recently, NRC-IRAP has been actively involved in the expansion of Kinova's robotic product portfolio to include service robotics applications.
Kinova is fast becoming a leader in designing and manufacturing innovative personal robotics solutions to make life easier for a greater number of people with reduced mobility. The company is selling the robotic arms in more countries, and hopes to contribute to the advancement of robotics research by providing access to its technological platform.