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  • Nicholas Mellor

Driving innovation through collaborative university research

Updated: May 7

Imagine a world where everyone has access to the assistive technology (AT) they need to improve their lives. Unfortunately, the reality is that only a fraction of the 2.5 billion people globally who need AT have access to it, with the situation being worse in low-income countries where only 10% of people have the AT they need. This is where ATscale comes in, a global partnership for AT with a mission to transform people's lives by enabling an additional 500 million people to get the life-changing AT they need.

To achieve this, there needs to be a massive innovation in both the products and systems needed to deliver and support such technology for so many people. That's where universities come in! Collaborative university research is essential for driving innovation in the prosthetics industry. By bringing together experts from different disciplines such as engineering, material science, and biomechanics, new approaches to old challenges can be explored. Better still is when it is possible to bring amputees themselves into the design process or enable them to be a source of ideas for development.

One example of someone who has done that, has been quadruple amputee Alex Lewis who is credited in being part of a wide range of innovations involving start ups and university spin-outs. Take the example of Koalaa, which licensed the soft prosthetics technology of Mitt Wearables incubated in Imperial College's Advanced Hackspace which became a focal point for variety of student led projects in this field.

Collaborative innovation in prosthetics can take many forms, from sponsoring research projects at universities to developing joint research projects with industry partners. By working with universities, prosthetics companies can access the latest research findings and developments, helping them to develop new materials, manufacturing techniques, and devices. Virtual meetings can help connect up different universities helping them to share their insights and expertise. In the workshop below, Alex Lewis shared his experience along with presenters from Bristol and Southampton Universities in the UK, with medical centres across Ukraine.

Moreover, university collaboration fosters a culture of innovation within prosthetics companies. By working with academics and researchers, companies gain new perspectives and approaches to problem-solving and can learn from the latest research findings and developments. This helps to drive innovation within the company, leading to the development of new and more accessible or advanced prosthetic devices.

Another example is the partnership between Ottobock and the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, which has led to the development of a joint research centre focused on the design and development of advanced prosthetic devices.

Of course, there are some challenges associated with university collaborations. Companies may be more interested in maximizing profits from new development, while universities may be more focused on accessibility. To address these issues, initiatives such as the Rockefeller Foundation have supported more creative management of intellectual property and public-private partnerships to enable profitable new product development and broader market access.

In conclusion, collaborative university research is can play a powerful role in or creating an innovative ecosystem in the prosthetics industry. It enables companies to access the latest research findings and developments, reduces risk, lowers costs, and fosters a culture of innovation.

Stories like that of Alex Lewis - quadruple amputee, designer and adviser to university groups are important sources of inspiration for universities - as well as amputees who wish to play a more direct role in designing a better future. Collaborative innovation in prosthetics is critical in developing more advanced assistive technology as it is for at more accessible prosthetic devices for the millions of people who need them. Let's work together to drive innovation and transform lives through AT.

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