Esper Bionics is a New York-based human augmentation startup that is developing robotic limbs and controllers for people with limb differences. Unlike other vendors building standalone prostheses, the company is creating a whole ecosystem by using the first-of-its-kind data collection architecture, as well as artificial intelligence and Internet-of-Things technologies.
Its first products are Esper Hand, an AI-powered robotic hand prosthesis that moves intuitively and can be tailored to each user's habits and lifestyle; Esper Control, a non-invasive brain-computer interface; and Esper Platform, a cloud-based solution to gradually improve and personalise the control of Esper Hand and other devices.
This past June, Esper Hand won an Award: Best of the Best 2022 in Product Design from Red Dot, one of the biggest design competitions in the world, for its minimalistic anatomical design. In September, the hand became a finalist in the Products category in Fast Company’s 2022 Innovation by Design Awards.
“Our current goal is to build the biggest connected community of users of large wearables in the world as a foundation for the introduction of electronic implants,” says Believantseva. “This goes back to Esper Bionics’ vision that electronics inside the human body are the most important technology to be developed within the next three decades. We believe that it will give humans extra abilities, eliminate many diseases, and help people live longer and more fulfilling lives in a diverse world.
“We have started by upgrading the prosthetics industry as it’s the core of this community of users of large wearables.”
Personalising and upgrading the control of prostheses with algorithms
What led Believantseva to co-found a human augmentation startup was the desire to develop technologies to unleash human potential. The second thing was her understanding that the prosthetic industry, which is now quite low–tech, will become the birthplace of a huge technology stack necessary for the introduction of electronic implants.
“I believe that electronic implants will help billions of people live more fulfilling and longer lives,” she says.
Esper Hand is the only prosthesis on the market that “learns” the behaviour of its wearer and moves intuitively to meet the needs of this particular user. It is also up to three times faster in control than other hand prostheses. This is possible thanks to the use of the first-of-its-kind data collection architecture and advanced muscle activity detection.
“Here’s how it works in short: Esper Hand collects data (from those users who have given us their consent) about every grip the user chooses in this or that situation. With a certain regularity, the hand then sends this data to our cloud-based Esper Platform. There, mathematical and machine learning algorithms process this data to build new control algorithms for the hand. After that, these new control algorithms are used to update and customise Esper Hand. Thanks to these regular updates, the hand becomes a personalised gadget with fast adaptive control,” explains Believantseva.
The company developed Esper Hand in close collaboration with its users and prosthetists. Their feedback and ideas have guided them since the beginning.
“Unlike my previous prosthesis, Esper Hand is fully functional. It makes me feel independent and confident. With it, I can do whatever I want with no assistance whatsoever,” - Nika.
“I've become much more open and confident. I no longer feel like a person with disabilities,” - Roman
“Esper Hand made my daily activities much easier and gave me autonomy. For me, it is two things in one: a very useful gadget and a fashion accessory,” - Olena
“One of the biggest life-changing qualities of Esper Hand is that it gave me back my confidence and the ability to do many things on my own without asking anyone for help,” - Vlada.
The next 12 months holds a lot for Esper Bionics.
“Our primary focus for the next year is the US market,” says Believantseva. “Currently, several prosthetic clinics in the New York metropolitan area are beta-testing Esper Hand. Within the next 12 months, we are planning to go beyond this area and expand our partnerships with prosthetic clinics across the US. We also seek to install our first 100 hand prostheses in the upcoming year.
“In terms of product development, we are planning to focus on improving the technology behind Esper Control. We’ll also be tweaking the hand’s functionality and adding extra features such as wrist joints, colour choice, and gloves for the prosthesis, etc.”
Advice for healthcare technology startup founders
Believantseva has some advice for startup founders which she wants to share:
Don’t do it alone
“You will need someone who can share your vision, passion, and beliefs. On a separate note, I think it’s best when one of the founders is good at technology, while the other one is good at all the business stuff.”
Make it simple from the beginning
“If you have a chance to go to the market quickly, then you should do it. This way, you can upgrade your idea or product as you go but you already will be on the market. Therefore, you’ll be able to show numbers to your current or future investors.
“This is extremely important in the medtech space where obtaining all the certifications and meeting all the regulations can take years. That’s why it is important to launch the first basic version of your product even with simplified certification as soon as possible.”
Prepare yourself for a marathon, not a sprint
“Building a successful startup takes a lot of time. As a startup founder, you will surely have ups and downs - and the secret here is to keep going.”