Evagoras Xydas, prior to founding and heading IREROBOT, spent most of his career in academia, as a university lecturer, including a two-year stint in Astana, Kazakhstan. He finished his PhD in 2011 in robotics, specialising in rehabilitation robotics, working with robots and haptic interfaces which allow people to touch virtual objects, by giving them physical qualities. During his academic career, Mr Xydas was driven to start IREROBOT out of a personal desire to have as creative a career as possible in the field he enjoyed the most, science. IREROBOT’s predominant focus is to develop products and technologies with the potential to have a positive impact on both society and the environment. Following his research in subjects relevant to tactility (touch) and movement, he spotted an opportunity to assist deaf people through his knowledge of technology which can provide greater depth to the sounds they hear.
During his initial research, Mr Xydas found that roughly half a billion people in the world have varying degrees of hearing issues, with 10 million of those being young adults in high income markets alone. With that in mind, IREROBOT’s objective is to give deaf people a holistic experience in their hearing using tactility, not as a replacement for conventional assistive technologies that depend on sound exclusively, but alongside them. The device in question comes into contact with the skin and converts sounds into vibrations, replicating each sound’s distinctive characteristics and qualities. The development of the device is currently at TRL-5, having completed their proof-of-concept phase and various testing having taken place already. Some of the initial research needed to develop their product, demonstrating that certain vibrations on the skin are received as sounds from the nervous system, was published in one of the top international psychology journals.
They are currently in the process of setting up various experiments that will build upon their initial research, however, the publication of this research depends on whether or not they will be able to obtain the necessary intellectual property and ensure there is no conflict with existing technologies. Mr Xydas’ team consists of another three people, two of which have degrees in mechanical engineering and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering. Along with this product, they have various other ongoing projects such as their project for a device which aims to reduce the development of disabilities for workers in factories. Some of the movements and activities associated with such jobs, including heavy lifting, will affect their physical health negatively. The project is still in its early stages but aims to give workers the necessary support by reducing the strain on their bodies.
During its early stages, IREROBOT was a resident team at ARIS, a Cypriot accelerator set up by Deloitte, for a year, where they benefited from networking opportunities, as well as helping them move away from the academic mould and nearer to the market and business side of things. Additionally, they received training which assisted them in better understanding how to run a business as well as to better define their market direction. Since 2018 they have secured funding from both national and EU programmes, including from the Research and Innovation Foundation and the Ministry of Energy, Commerce and Industry, totalling at about €180,000 in 2021. The funding they have received so far has been used to employ staff, purchase equipment which will be used for the testing, manufacturing and qualification of their products’ commercialisation and patenting.
At the moment, the majority of IREROBOT’s income comes from its consulting and training work, as well as being subcontracted from other organisations to help them develop their proof of concept. They have also assisted companies in innovating and improving various aspects of their business, such as automation. For Mr Xydas, IREROBOT has two strategies which it can pursue. First, they can sell their product to a larger company which is already in the market, either through licencing or exiting completely. Second, they can cooperate with a larger company and act as the Original Equipment Manufacturer, which is currently their preferred option.
The next stages IREROBOT will have to go through are the most challenging, according to Mr Xydas, where their product will have to meet specific requirements and obtain the relevant certifications, such as CE, since their device is considered a class 1 medical device. Although they haven’t extensively explored other uses for their technology, Mr Xydas believes that their technology can have multiple applications in various industries, such as the emerging metaverse.
The assistive technology market, which includes devices aimed at both elderly and disabled people, was valued at $23.3bn in 2020, expected to grow to $32bn by the middle of the decade. The growth of the market, according to ReportLinker, a Frech market intelligence platform, is primarily driven by an ageing population, rising health care costs as well as technological innovation taking place in the market. The two sectors in which IREROBOT is currently focused on, hearing and mobility, have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6% and 6.4% respectively in the projected period, ending in 2026. Regionally, China is expected to be the fastest growing market, with a CAGR of 8.1%, however, the US remains the largest market, valued at $12.5bn, followed by markets such as Canada, Japan and Europe, with a projected CAGR of roughly 5%. More specific to IREROBOT’s hearing aid project, the global market for hearing aids had an estimated value of roughly $6.5bn and expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.4% to reach a valuation of $11bn by 2028 according to Fortune Business Insights.