Gesture-control wearable inspired by a stroke survivor puts the power switch on your wrist

Imagine being able to turn off the alarm clock, start the coffee pot or flip a light switch with a simple arm movement. That’s the vision Playtabase has for the new wearable it’s developed with people who have limited mobility in mind. Called Reemo, the device is a wrist-worn band that interprets movements into gestures […]

Imagine being able to turn off the alarm clock, start the coffee pot or flip a light switch with a simple arm movement.

That’s the vision Playtabase has for the new wearable it’s developed with people who have limited mobility in mind.

Called Reemo, the device is a wrist-worn band that interprets movements into gestures and communicates the corresponding commands to a software system via Bluetooth. The software then communicates with the electronic devices that have been linked to it through receivers.

Playtabase was one of three winners of the AgePower Tech Search initiative, a competition sponsored by senior housing nonprofit Ecumen and business growth engine MOJO Minnesota. For winning, the startup will get to work with MOJO on its business strategy and run a six-month pilot with Ecumen customers.

Founder Muhammad Abdurrahman, who recently completed his PhD at the University of Minnesota, said this will give the team a unique opportunity to test its device on people who wouldn’t typically be attracted to such a high-tech product. Ultimately, he thinks that’s one thing that will be helpful in differentiating it from other gesture control technologies under development and on the market.

“(The pilot) offers us a chance, in a relatively controlled environment, to bring this technology to people with limited mobility and figure out what gestures they can most easily do and what’s most comfortable for them,” Abdurrahman said.

That group of people, after all, is who Abdurrahman started the company for in the first place. In 2011, his father had a series of debilitating strokes that left him unable to use the left side of his body. For the younger Abdurrahman, watching his father struggle to perform tasks even in his own home was a compelling enough reason to start looking for a solution.

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“I was looking for ways to help him feel less trapped, and most of them weren’t optimal or were just completely ridiculous,” he said. “I looked at voice recognition too, and that wasn’t optimal because even language capabilities can be impacted by stroke.”

Abdurrahman and a few peers from U of M began brainstorming around gesture control. If the controlling device were wearable, they reasoned, the user wouldn’t have to worry about losing track of it like a remote or manipulating it like a smartphone.

They set up the company and filed for patents in 2012. Momentum really began building when they entered into the University of Minnesota Biz Pitch Contest and tied for first, then advanced to the final round of the Minnesota Cup, a statewide entrepreneurial contest. Meanwhile they also received a grant from U of M’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Abdurrahman said.

Now they have gone through several prototypes of the system and are working on refining it while also keeping an eye out for potential partnerships to help move commercialization along. Abdurrahman said the goal is to have a product that’s comparable in price to wearables on the market now, which typically range from $100 to $200, and fulfills the company’s mission of providing “fun solutions to reinvent your world.”

[Image credit: Playtabase]