Myomo Follows “Path of Perseverance,” Rolls Out Next-Gen Robotic Arm System for Stroke Patients

A rehab-robotics startup out of MIT is getting a second lease on life. And if the company succeeds in reaching the masses with its latest effort, a lot of stroke patients might just feel the same way.

Myomo, a Cambridge, MA-based rehabilitation and medical tech firm, announced this week it has rolled out version 2.0 of its powered robotic elbow brace that helps people with neurological impairments move their arms. The idea is simple, and it seems to work: stroke patients can wear the sleeve-like device to regain some range of movement and to strengthen their muscles over time. The technology works by picking up electrical signals on the skin when a patient is trying to move a partially paralyzed limb; the robotic system then provides a small amount of force to help the person extend or bend their elbow, to do things like pick up a plate or hold onto a walker. (More on what’s new with the system below.)

This is a classic story of a new technology that has been hard to sell—and the ups and downs of a young company that has taken its lumps but has lived to fight another day. Xconomy first wrote about Myomo in 2007, when the startup received FDA approval to market its first product, and again in 2009, when the firm pulled back and focused on research and development after slow sales. Myomo went down to four employees at the end of 2008, but is now back up to 12 full-timers.

“This is the path of perseverance,” says Myomo CEO and co-founder Steve Kelly. “We’re on track to ship more units this year than in the entire history of the company.”

Why should Myomo fare any better this time around? Let’s start with the latest incarnation of its product. Kelly and executive vice president Ela Lewis say the previous version was more of a “clinical product,” whereas the new version is more of a true “assistive device” that patients can use at home. The current product is streamlined and more portable. It has two electrode sensors (for biceps and triceps) instead of one. It includes wireless networking that connects to a mobile phone via an Android app that lets patients track their progress—range of motion, how many movements they’ve done, and so on. And it will include a structured program for clinical and home use, complete with video-game mechanics … Next Page »

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