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Story #74ZyroboticsAtlanta, GA

What happens with kids is, they go home, and all of a sudden, there’s a disconnect with their therapy exercises. Our system is designed for home use, so when they go home, they actually want to do their exercises. Then you don’t have this gap of not doing therapy between clinic visits.

Ayanna Howard is a professor in robotics at Georgia Tech, where she participated in the NSF I-Corps program that encourages professors to turn their research projects into companies. Howard developed a device that helps children and individuals with motor impairments use tablets and apps so that they can continue their therapy at home or anywhere. She teamed up with John Harding, a technology industry veteran, and they co-founded Zyrobotics in 2013. With the help of the Georgia Tech VentureLab program, they then brought in Dr. Johnetta MacCalla as CEO of the Atlanta-based company.

The focus of Howard’s work is children with upper mobility disorders, such as cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injuries, which prevent them from being able to easily use tablets. These children are often in therapy, but the therapy and associated learning sometimes stops when they go home, creating a disconnect. “Rehab is very expensive, and normally it’s just done in clinics, or it’s done in the hospital, and you are required to put in a lot of time in order to see any results. Our system is designed for home use, so you don’t have a gap between clinic visits,” explains MacCalla.

With the help of Zyrobotics, users can continue their therapy at home or anywhere, through a unique system that consists of accessible interfaces, smart toys, social robot coaches, and a suite of apps designed to make learning accessible. For example, their first product, TabAccess, is a Bluetooth switch interface that acts as a brain with sensors. The product converts body movements into the gestures needed to control a tablet so that people with upper mobility disorders can use various therapy and educational apps.

Zyrobotics has 10 employees, which includes three Ph.D.’s and three technology experts, “so the technology is not a challenge for us,” says MacCalla. “The challenge for us is penetration into the market. So we’re slowly figuring out what our positioning is, and how to get the word out.”

“Our role is letting people know what’s possible,” says MacCalla. “Our company looks like Atlanta. It’s 50 percent female and underrepresented minorities. It’s 20 percent people with disabilities. So kids can see that and think, ‘Hey, I can do tech stuff too.’”

 

Photos by Jessica Dimmock

  • Co-founder and CTO of Zyrobotics, Dr. Ayanna Howard, holds Zumo, a plush smart toy designed to engage children with upper mobility disabilities.

  • The team at Zyrobotics tests therapy games designed for children with disabilities.

  • Dr. Johnetta MacCalla, CEO of Zyrobotics, at work in their Atlanta offices.

  • TabAccess, a bluetooth device that is described as the “brains” of the assistive technology devices made by Zyrobotics.

  • Principal engineer, Dr. Hae Won Park, works on hardware she has designed for Zumo, a plush smart toy made by Zyrobotics.

  • Dr. Ayanna Howard, founder and CTO of Zyrobotics, in her Atlanta office.

  • Hardware that will be inserted into TabAccess, the “brain” of the devices made by Zyrobotics.

  • Principal Engineer Hae Won Park holds a prototype for a new assistive technology device nicknamed “Zyro.”

Business Details

Proprietor: Dr. Ayanna M. Howard, John V. Harding
3522 Ashford Dunwoody Blvd. Suite 105 Atlanta, GA 30319
PH: 678-952-9976 / Website
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