A project that allows disabled seniors to live more independently has resulted in the company behind the core technology – Novalte – moving from Ontario to Halifax to take advantage of the opportunities and older demographic the province offers.
The Maritimes has the oldest population in North America, on a par with Japan. Novalte has developed technology that interacts with smart devices to allow disabled people to control their environments in ways that include operating a TV and lights and changing the angle of a bed.
Novalte is part of a project at Northwood where seniors are using the company’s Emitto device. Emitto can be operated by a user’s voice, accessible switches, a smartphone or a system like Google Home. The device can interface with old beds as though they are smart devices and can be adapted and monitored remotely.
“Our system has been designed to work off existing infrastructures...It allows a low-cost hospital bed to be controlled by an individual’s voice or an accessible switch for less than $1,000,” said Michael Cullen, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
He said the technology allows healthcare workers to focus on care, saving time.
“Our system saves 45 minutes a day per heavy-care client, which equates to approximately $5,000 a year in staff interactions that can be allocated to more meaningful duties,” he said.
“This is massive as it’s common knowledge that staff are stretched thin.”
He said clients are not kept waiting for someone to answer a call bell.
“One client was stuck watching Oprah all day; he hates Oprah and was very frustrated.”
Cullen, who is Irish and an electronics engineer, worked in the Assistive Technology field in Ontario for more than a decade. He became interested in this work when he was having a coffee in Toronto and saw a man struggling to walk after suffering a stroke.
“I’d just bought an iPhone as I kept getting lost in Toronto, I knew there was enough technology in that phone to help the guy walk,” he said.
His research revealed that, despite all the innovations in technology, the level of technical support for people with disabilities was several decades out of date. He began work, hacking technologies together to devise solutions for specific clients. He helped kids with physical disabilities, aging adults and those with acquired disabilities.
An early victory was helping a young man with muscular dystrophy keep his independence with a wheelchair.
“He was in his early teens, his mobility was reduced, his option was to spend his life in bed. I designed a drive system for him…now he is studying law at York university."
Cullen first visited Halifax after being contacted by John Hamblin, the head of Startup Halifax. Hamblin was researching how voice-activated devices could improve seniors’ lives and had already run a pilot project with the help of Google and its Google Home voice-activated device.
Wanting to develop the research, Hamblin was put in touch with Novalte by a contact at Google.
Now, Cullen has moved to Halifax. He says the environment here is more startup-friendly than in Ontario and he will take advantage of regional programs and organizations that will help his company grow, employ staff, and develop sales in the U.S. and internationally.
He has already posted ads for a thermal engineer, a technician, a firmware engineer and a business development person. By the end of the year, he plans to hire another six people.
Hamblin is excited about the progress of the project and the involvement and support of Northwood staff and others in the health and innovation ecosystems.
He hopes the system will be used internationally: studies show that 92 percent of North Americans want to age in their home communities and 85 percent want to stay in their own homes.
“It’s hugely beneficial and a great project for Nova Scotia,” he said.