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Fourier Intelligence continues global expansion

The unicorn relocates its HQ to the Silicon Valley of the East, while also opening new divisions in Europe and Australia

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Rehabilitation robotics leader Fourier Intelligence is further increasing its prominence on a global scale through its expansion into Europe and Australia, while also relocating its headquarters into the hugely sought-after ‘Silicon Valley of the East’. 

The unicorn is establishing new Fourier divisions in Zurich in Switzerland and Melbourne in Australia and is the latest step in the company’s ongoing and significant expansion. 

This will add to its existing businesses in Singapore and Malaysia, with its invitation to become part of the globally-esteemed Zhangjiang Science City giving it premium headquarters in Shanghai with the potential to expand its current workforce of almost 400 people, having grown from less than 30 three years ago. 

Indeed, by 2025, Zhangjiang Science City has earmarked Fourier as the flagship tenant of the next phase of development of its AI Robotic Valley – which would see its robotics industry worth $10.8 billion – and would see huge expansion by Fourier; a feat the business is confident it can accomplish. 

A pioneer in the global rehab tech market, Fourier already has presence in 54 countries around the world, with more than 10 million usage hours for its portfolio of over 20 AI-powered rehabilitation robots. 100 more products are currently in development.

Recently, the business – established only six years ago – became the first rehab tech company in the world to secure financial backing from a major player in the international investment market when it gained C+ funding from Saudi Aramco, a coup described as being of “humongous” significance to Fourier and its ambitious plans. 

And already delivering on its ambitions, Fourier believes its new headquarters – which it moved into in July after being asked by local government to stay following an exhibition of its products in China – help to send out their statement of intent globally. 

“This is known as the Silicon Valley of the East. I am an engineer and look up to the work of Silicon Valley and the jobs, innovation and companies that have come from there, we want to help emulate that here,” says Zen Koh, co-founder of Fourier Intelligence.

“We are a young company but we hope to encourage other companies like us to be a success and to help drive forward advancements in technology for China. We are proud of how we always rise to the challenges and it’s about time we show China and the world what we’ve got. 

“Zhangjiang Science City and its plans for Robotic Valley are very important. Shanghai is one of the most advanced cities in China but they are acutely aware they need to be more than the factory of the world. People want better jobs and a better life. By building an environment which attracts ambitious startups, budding entrepreneurs and established businesses, they are creating an environment for growth and ambition. 

“Moving here is huge for us, and I hope this will be the chance for Fourier to truly change the world of rehabilitation – but at the very least, I hope people learn from our experience. There are some very positive and encouraging signals from the rehab community across the world.”

Fourier’s further expansion into Zurich and Melbourne – supported by some of the leading scientists and R&D leaders to help advance its research and product development even further – adds to its ten subsidiaries and joint research laboratories around the world, with the potential for further businesses in Chicago, Madrid and London set to be explored in the future. 

Its Swiss business is hoped to be established by the end of this year, with its Australian division set for mid-2022. Fourier’s rapidly growing global presence places it in a hugely influential position, but one in which they are keen to work collaboratively. 

“In becoming a truly global business which makes a positive impact on patients’ lives, we are very, very open to working with the entire global rehab community. We welcome the world to work with us and collaborate with us,” says Zen. 

“We want to compete and collaborate with the best companies out there and in a positive way that can benefit the whole community. We believe that through collaborating and networking with other companies, sharing ideas and positively engaging, we can all get to the next level.”

But as well as growing Fourier’s presence and its capability to create life-changing robotics for patients, Zen is also committed to supporting the next generation of talent. 

“We want to encourage young people and talented engineers to join our industry. That is why Silicon Valley is successful, they attract people to come and be part of changing the world and the way we live,” says Zen, who has worked in the advancement of rehab robotics for over 20 years. 

“Our ambition when we started was to be a global company and we truly believe that using technology will make human lives better – in continuing to do that, we need to work with the best talent in the world to help us develop something that is truly global. 

“This is a fun industry and a cool career, but also the chance to make a positive impact on humankind.” 

One partnership through which Fourier is truly having a positive impact is with Yongchi Rehabilitation Hospital in China, one of the most advanced rehab centres in the country, which has the biggest Fourier RehabHub™ solution with over 30 devices available for use by its patients. With the help of Fourier’s technology, Yongchi has progressed from traditional rehabilitation to intelligent robotic therapy. 

The RehabHub™ concept was launched by Fourier in 2020, and is now widely used in neurorehabilitation, elderly care and community-based rehabilitation settings. The comprehensive rehabilitation solution is equipped with highly efficient, interconnected, and cost-effective robots that deliver functional training, assisting clinicians in providing treatments and enabling effective and consistent rehab to patients.

Zen believes the RehabHub™ model, against a backdrop of its proven success in Yongchi, can be replicated around the world, to help bring its technology to more people who need it. 

“Robotics are helping humans to do rehab better, but for many it is something they can’t afford. But through the creation of this state-of-the-art RehabHub™, this is enabling robotics for all, not just the rich people,” says Zen, who is also an ambassador of the International Industry Society in Advanced Rehabilitation Technology (IISART). 

“We had a launch and patients were so excited they flocked to the clinic, it was a phenomenal success. This could be a very successful model which could be replicated and shared with the world. 

“Of course people are sceptical about what they outcome will be when they have invested so much money, but when the financial model is right, it can work very well. Yongchi is not in one of the bigger cities in China, but they have adopted this model where they don’t charge high fees and have made it accessible. 

“We are working to fine tune the clinical and financial model so that robotics can make a difference to people’s lives without burning a hole in their pocket, and we hope this will be used around the world.” 

MND

New AI model helps discover causes of MND

Using the RefMap tool, the number of known risk genes for MND has risen from around 15 to 690

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A new machine learning model has been developed for the discovery of genetic risk factors in diseases such as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) using artificial intelligence (AI).

The tool, named RefMap, has already been used by the research team to discover 690 risk genes for MND, the vast majority of which are new discoveries.

One of the genes highlighted as a new MND gene, called KANK1, has been shown by the team to produce neurotoxicity in human neurons very similar to that observed in the brains of patients. 

Although at an early stage, this discovery has been hailed as potentially a new target for the design of new drugs. It could also pave the way for new targeted therapeutics and genetic testing for MND.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield and the Stanford University School of Medicine have led the research. 

“This new tool will help us to understand and profile the genetic basis of MND,” said Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock, from the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute.

“Using this model we have already seen a dramatic increase in the number of risk genes for MND, from approximately 15 to 690.

“Each new risk gene discovered is a potential target for the development of new treatments for MND and could also pave the way for genetic testing for families to work out their risk of disease.”

The 690 genes identified by RefMap led to a five-fold increase in discovered heritability, a measure which describes how much of the disease is due to a variation in genetic factors.

“RefMap identifies risk genes by integrating genetic and epigenetic data. It is a generic tool and we are applying it to more diseases in the lab,” Dr Sai Zhang, instructor of genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine said.

Dr Michael Snyder, professor and chair of the department of genetics at the  Stanford School of Medicine and also the corresponding author of this work, added: “By doing machine learning for genome analysis, we are discovering more hidden genes for human complex diseases such as MND, which will eventually power personalised treatment and intervention.”

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Brain injury

Can VR help with sight problems after brain injury?

The development of new immersive game-based technology could help with visual neglect, researchers believe

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Research is underway to discover the role virtual reality (VR) could play in the rehabilitation of sight after traumatic brain injury. 

TBI can have significant impact on vision, causing impaired visual attention – also known as visual neglect – even when there is no injury to the eye. 

Individuals with visual neglect lose the ability to explore the full extent of their surroundings and have difficulty reading, locating personal belongings, finding their way to destinations, and many other daily activities. 

Visual neglect is caused by disconnected neural networks and has been studied extensively in stroke but remains largely unexplored in other types of brain injury.

Now, Kessler Foundation is embarking on a two-year study, A Virtual Reality (VR) Exercise for Restoring Functional Vision after Head Trauma, to look into how technology can assist. 

The project uses immersive VR technology developed with the armed services and provided by Virtualware, an award-winning VR technology company based in Spain. 

The to-be-developed treatment is an intensive, game-like rehabilitation program leveraging a combination of VR and eye-tracking technologies to implement an oculomotor exercise protocol based on smooth eye pursuit.

Dr Peii Chen, senior research scientist in the Center for Stroke Rehabilitation Research at Kessler Foundation, said: “Our study will fill this knowledge gap by exploring visual neglect in TBI and developing a new treatment modality.”

Smooth eye pursuit exercise is an evidence-based treatment that improves patients’ ability to move their eyes toward the neglected side of space and voluntarily pay attention to the entire workspace relevant to a given task.

This ability is fundamental to spatial explorations that are required in learning, reading, and way finding. 

Dr Peii Chen

Conventionally, smooth eye pursuit exercise for treating visual neglect requires intensive and close supervision from therapists. VR technology combined with eye tracking can reduce therapist burden. 

Research participants will experience a VR session of smooth eye pursuit exercise and share their feedback. 

The study will reveal the feasibility and benefits of applying new technologies to rehabilitative treatment activities.

Research participants will also undergo functional and structural neuroimaging studies of the brain. 

The study outcomes will broaden the understanding of spatial processing and visual cognition as functions of brain connectivity and advance the development of treatments targeting head trauma-related visual dysfunction.

“Knowledge gained from this clinical study will advance patient care by identifying the neural basis of visual neglect due to TBI at rest and during smooth pursuit eye exercise,” said Dr Chen. 

“Reaching our goals will lead to improved visual health and quality of life for civilians, as well as active-duty military and veterans with trauma-related visual dysfunction.”

Dr Chen has been awarded a $376,109 grant from the US Department of Defense, US Army Medical Research & Development Command, Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), Vision Research Program.

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Tech

Care provider to develop sector-leading VR training

Newcross Healthcare is sharing its in-house expertise for the benefit of the wider healthcare sector

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A care provider is building on its experience of using virtual reality (VR) for in-house training to create the first programme of its kind for healthcare, which is set to be rolled out across the sector. 

Newcross Healthcare first began to adopt VR around three years ago, but over the past year has upskilled its in-house learning and development team to create its own bespoke content to deliver new and engaging staff training. 

The team has created a number of programmes and ‘virtual shifts’ to enable staff to learn more about the Newcross business and its continuing staff development to deliver the best possible client care. 

Now, Newcross plans to take its expertise in VR to a new level, by expanding into learning and training through the creation of an ‘extended reality’ programme. 

The pioneering new training – which will be a first for the healthcare sector – will enable the recreation of emergency situations, including life-saving first aid, to help staff develop their skills, confidence and ability to remain calm for when confronted with such an event in real life. 

The system – which Newcross hope to deliver within the next six to nine months – will be used in-house initially, but can also be used by clients and other care groups to use VR training to help raise standards and innovation throughout the health and social care sector.

“Our experiences of creating these environments has now enabled us to to define what how we want to use this in a learning environment,” says Mark Story, head of learning and development at Newcross. 

“We want to use technology – it might be VR, immersive, 360 videos, augmented reality – to allow people to experience stress environments so they can get over the initial shock factor and be able to think clearly for when it happens in real life.

“Our focus initially will be on those topics for learning that people might feel shocked by when they first when they first come in or, by their nature, they’re stressful things. 

“If you’re training someone in basic life support or in seizures, for example, you can only really go so far. But by being able to recreate that environment, for if and when it happens to them, they will be more prepared. 

“It also has a role to play in keeping people’s skills fresh and up to date. With something like CPR, you hope that you never have to use it, but this could provide the opportunity to keep the skills at a simmer, as opposed to letting them go cold.

“That will be for internal staff for healthcare staff, nurses and carers, and shortly after that it will be made available for external healthcare professionals. Our ambition is to offer this learning to anybody that wants to access it.

Having invested in the development of its own in-house capability, Newcross is now able to deliver something new for the sector, building on the training currently available and creating a cost-effective new option for the marketplace. 

“There is other training out there, but what we found is that it’s either immersive, so gives a bit of an immersion into the situation, or it’s something that has a simulation and assessment of a physical activity, or it’s something that is kind of broadly virtual reality. 

“There doesn’t seem to be anything in there that brings these three pieces together, which immerses you, assesses you and and keeps you in that virtual reality environment. 

“So we think we can we think we can bring those things together in a new way for for healthcare. 

“What we’re creating isn’t entirely new, and certainly exists in high-end learning activities, like training pilots, for example, or training surgeons. We know these sorts of learning interventions do work but we’re looking to create them for the mass market, to get thousands of people engaged as opposed to a small number. 

“We want it to be democratised, to be cheap enough for us to develop and offer out to anybody who needs it. That’s what we’re working towards.”

 

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