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Connect With Loro.

A group of curious, driven and talented engineers and entrepreneurs from Harvard University are imagining a new kind of future for people who rely on an electric wheelchair for mobility.

What began as a collective desire to help people living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has progressed into an industry-acclaimed smart device designed to assist with all types of communication for wheelchair users and others with disabilities.

Called Loro, the device features a 360-degree camera, flashlight, laser pointer and audio system mounted on a pole. Working with an application (app), it allows users to better see and interact with people around them.

Loro's creators say they want the device, named after the Spanish word for parrot, to be a friend to its users.

"We called the product Loro because we want it to be a companion as an assistant to help anyone with basically all the daily activities, including communication, navigation and controlling smart-home devices," says David Hojah, Loro's chief technology officer and one of four co-founders.

See & Speak

When Hojah and his team first began developing Loro, they were focused on what they referred to as a "simple solution."

By working with a mentor with ALS and speaking with patients and caregivers, the team observed a number of opportunities for assistive technology. But they settled on developing a 360-degree smart camera.

"What we want Loro to do is speak and listen and interact with its surroundings," says Johae Song, Loro's chief executive officer and co-founder. "Loro can listen to people, so they can be translated into text, so people who are hearing impaired can actually understand people through the text."

Loro can also become a voice for someone who can't speak by translating words from a keyboard into audio. And its latest version integrates artificial intelligence that allows for facial recognition, which increases a user's independence and freedom and can improve communication with family and caregivers.

"The freedom is really important when navigating the wheelchair outdoors," Song says, referencing a prevailing fear among wheelchair users related to obstacles and not knowing who or what is approaching from behind. "Loro can see who is approaching. So, we're trying to see better. When Loro sees a friend, it can follow a specific person, too."

Veteran Input

Loro can be attached to any wheelchair. Song and Hojah say the device can be mounted in less than one minute.

The entire device is about the size of an adult hand, according to its developers. It will be wireless, and it connects to an app, which is available across all platforms.

Loro has already won a number of awards at tech conferences and has been tested by more than 50 users so far, including one who called it a "game-changer."

People helping to test Loro have had varying conditions, including multiple sclerosis, ALS, cerebral palsy and spinal-cord injuries (SCI). The developers are hoping to receive input from the veteran community, too.

They're eager to receive feedback and gain insights from veterans with SCI to learn how evolving technology may be able to assist with future iterations of the product.

"We're looking for people for user-testing and especially people from the veterans' community," Hojah says.

They're also looking for funding, as is a symptom of most new technology. The team hopes to launch a pilot program soon and then take the device to manufacturing. Loro's founders hope to launch, officially, this fall.

They've already begun working with insurance companies to request reimbursement coverage, and their business plan calls for corporate partnerships and partnerships with health care providers and wheelchair companies, as well as direct-to-consumer channels.

Looking Ahead

As those details are worked out, the team continues to learn from user feedback and find ways to leverage current technology with the technology they've fostered, all from a mutual desire to help.

"It was just a total surprise to me. I didn't know this was going to happen, but it doesn't mean I don't trust in my product," Song says of the global success. "I really like the product, and that's why I want to push myself to make this happen and give this device to everyone."

As someone who has now helped launch three companies rooted in innovative technology, Hojah was less surprised at the success of Loro but no less passionate.

"I was always working with innovators ... especially anything related to medical robotics or drones," he says. "So, I'm really excited about Loro. And I'm working on it fulltime, even double full-time, to make this a reality."

For more information, including a chance to be a Loro pilot user, visit loro.xyz.

Lisa Van Loo is an award-winning public relations professional and freelance writer living in Gilbert, Ariz.

Caption: Loro can be mounted to any power wheelchair.

Caption: Loro features a 360-degree smart camera and works with an application, allowing users to better see and interact with people around them.

Caption: Loro's audio system can translate text to spoken words, or vice versa.

Caption: Loro's facial recognition allows users to see who's approaching or follow a specific person.

Caption: More than 50 people have tested Loro's capabilities so far, and the developers are seeking veterans to give feedback, too.
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Title Annotation:innovations
Author:Va Loo, Lisa
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Date:May 1, 2019
Words:864
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