Local entrepreneur's robotic arm earns Governor General's Innovation Award
Published Sunday, May 8, 2016 1:04PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 9, 2016 7:05AM EDT
A Montreal entrepreneur has won the Governor General's Innovation Award for the robotic arm he created.
As co-founder and CEO of Kinova, Charles Deguire has created a growing business helping others – and it was all inspired by his uncle.
Since he was a child, Deguire dreamed of building a robotic arm.
“The idea right from the start was to provide for the upper body the mobility that a wheelchair would do for the lower body,” he said.
His creation is called Jaco, a robotic arm that allows users to touch and grasp objects that would otherwise prove difficult or impossible.
“You have three fingers, but when you control them you don't have to think about how you grab an object, you just close your hand on the object and the fingers are going to surround the object properly,” he said.
Named after his uncle Jacques who has multiple sclerosis, Deguire’s robotic arm is set apart from others because of its size and simplicity.
“(We wanted to) make it small, make it good looking, and also making it easy to use. Our youngest user was five years old and on his first day, was able to pour water and drink it,” he explained.
Deguire created Kinova 10 years ago, and made his first sale in 2010 -- a day he'll never forget.
“It was in the Netherlands. Joey Kramer was 23 years old and with his Jaco, he was able to move out of the family home and live on his own,” he said.
More than 500 Kinova arms are now being used in 35 countries, and the company employs 60 people in Boisbriand.
Deguire said the drive to improve the product comes from their clients.
“We have a user in Germany, he wanted to drink a beer without a straw, so we developed a drinking mode,” he explained.
In Quebec, 30 people are equipped with Jaco,but access isn't easy. The available products range from about $5000 to $40,000.
But good news looms -- the company is working on a pilot project with both the CSST and SAAQ, and the government agencies have each approved a case.