When we think of tech innovations, the Silicon Valley always stands out as the birthplace of tech giants such as Google and Apple. But when it comes to corporate social responsibility, it is Europe that’s leading the trend with the continent’s growing number of startups devoted to the “tech for good” sector.
A large portion of such startups focus on “deep tech,” including artificial intelligence, biotech and healthcare. According to a 2021 McKinsey report, 30 percent of Europe’s top startups belong to this category. They recruit top talent in the field, and spend years on research and development before commercializing scientific breakthroughs to bring about positive social changes.
“It’s because Europe is out of the race for tech gigantism that Europeans are free to question the values and ethics of technology the way Americans can’t,” says Sébastien Soriano, head of French regulator Arcep. Europe’s generally more progressive political culture has also prompted entrepreneurs, investors, and customers alike to seek solutions that are both commercially profitable and socially responsible.
During Europe’s largest tech startup event, VivaTech, which was held in Paris from June 15 to 18, Pandaily interviewed three European startups that specialize in areas including preventive healthcare, gesture control and vital sign monitoring, to see how they translate the ethos of “Tech for Good” into their unique product design. We also took a look at OPPO, a Chinese consumer electronics company, and the role it plays in helping these startups advance their missions.
Owlytics: Fall Detection for Seniors Based on Everyday Data
Owlytics is an Israel-based medtech startup. Since its founding in 2016, the company has positioned its product alongside the vision to provide better healthcare solutions for vulnerable groups in the society. Focusing primarily on the elderly and neurology disease patients, and based on its sophisticated AI algorithms, Owlytics’ technology is able to predict and prevent future risks, such as falls, health deterioration, and even the occurrence of dementia.
In practice, Owlytics collects data from a smart wearable on the user’s body, monitors the user’s vital signs and sends an actionable analysis to the caregiver. “The secret here is to use all this personal data we collect on a daily basis to learn about this person over time,” explains Gill Zaphrir, Owlytics CEO and Co-Founder, continuing, “The validated metrics on a medical basis and clinical basis represent meaningful risky events, which are the source of our capability to develop risk assessment models for the elderly and neurology disease patients.”
Preventive healthcare has become a global trend, with technological innovation playing a vital role. Sharing similar “Tech for good” visions, Chinese consumer brand OPPO, for example, has made preventive healthcare a key area for its business strategy in health management by developing smart wearable devices and establishing health labs. “We at OPPO believe that transition from reactive medicine to a more proactive preventive health management approach that focuses on making changes to lifestyle can have profound effects,” says Dr. Leo Zeng, Head of the OPPO Health Lab.
At this year’s VivaTech, OPPO invited Owlytics to share the ways in which consumer brands like OPPO could help overcome challenges ahead by making their technology accessible to a wider population. “We hope to get devices that harmonize our service in the way that is easy to use, elegant to wear, and streamlines with the lifestyle of the users… Another challenge is that we want to make these very smart and advanced solutions also affordable,” says Owlytics CEO Gill Zaphrir.
Leman Micro Devices: Blood Pressure Monitor Just in Hand
Similar to Owlytics, Switzerland-based Leman Micro Devices(LMD) also provides preventive healthcare solutions, but with a particular focus on vital sign monitoring.
According to the World Heart Foundation, Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the number one risk factor for death, affecting over 1.1 billion people and causing 10.4 million deaths globally every year. It is also a “silent killer,” meaning that it is usually asymptomatic. However, a study by a health economist found that a readily available blood pressure monitor would add, on average, six months to the life of a young adult.
“That’s why we think blood pressure is actually the single measurement that can affect a much bigger population. So, if people knew about it, they could have controlled it much better, and they don’t need to die that early,” says Zhao Fang, LMD’s VP of Business Development.
It is with this commitment that LMD spent ten years on R&D before reaching the point where their sensors and algorithms could generate medically accurate blood pressure results. “We have gone through three iterations of personal health management products, including the first generation of solutions for managing activity, the second generation for monitoring heart rate, and finally, we have moved on to the core solution that lies in the medically accurate blood pressure measurement,” says Zhao Fang. Unlike other blood measurement products, LMD’s technology provides the world’s first cuffless and calibration-free blood pressure measurement method.
“Tech for good is not just a slogan for us. Personal health solutions are still exclusive to certain people. That’s why we have made the sensor small enough to be built into every mobile device. That’s why we want to do mass production, and we want to work with consumer brands that can help us reach as wide a population as possible,” says Zhao Fang, adding that as one of the most popular consumer brands in the world, OPPO can provide a large customer base for LMD to reach a wider audience.
Crunchfish: Gesture Control Unlocks the Potential for More Applications
As a company focused on neural nets-based gesture interaction, Crunchfish has taken a slightly different approach towards “Tech for Good” – to improve interaction between human and machine.
As we have now entered an age in which everything in our life has been digitized, Crunchfish’s technology brings about a wide range of usecases in various real-life scenarios. Currently, the company provides software technology that enables hands and body tracking, which could make a huge difference in AR/VR experiences as well as in assisted driving. For instance, the technology can be used in the “driver and occupant monitoring systems” that more and more vehicles are equipped with, whereby a camera sensor keeps track on factors that will affect the safety of driving – is the driver sleepy? Is the driver holding a mobile phone in their hand? Are there any children in the car?
In the near future, when AR/VR gesture control is needed to enable display interaction, users can expect more applications of gesture control, such as sign language translation, enhanced gaming experience, and so on.
While gesture control executed in powerful computers is nothing new, Crunchfish’s biggest differentiator lies in providing outstanding performance on limited hardware resources and the fact that everything is done in-house, which yields a high level of accuracy and speed. That includes, among others, independently built data rigs for collecting data through 3D scanning of hands and body, and Crunchfish’s own tools for annotation. “Basically, if you want to train the algorithm with deep learning, you need specially designed neural networks, a lot of training data… millions of images of hands, as well as all the dots on the hands that mark the fingertips, the joints and so on. This will be extremely time-consuming if done manually, but we have built a unique tool that does this automatically,” explains Joakim Nydemark, CEO of Crunchfish.
Over the past 10 years, Crunchfish’s gesture control has evolved rapidly. So far, Crunchfish’s technology has been integrated into over 50 million OPPO devices providing the image-analysis based “selfie control,” which allows users to take selfies using hand gestures. Today, Crunchfish provides even more advanced neural nets-based hands and body tracking that enable more accurate touchless interaction. But challenges still remain.
“What we still are facing is the lack of device volume in several customer product areas. So, for instance, if you look at augmented reality (AR) glasses, the volume in that space globally is very low compared with smartphones. We would benefit from getting more volume, more hardware out there from our customers and partners to make this scale,” says Joakim Nydemark. “We were really early on with our hand tracking technology when we started 10 years ago, and now I can see that hardware, applications and usecases are maturing to adapt to gesture interaction.”
In that regard, Crunchfish highlighted OPPO’s role in helping unlock the potential of gesture interaction via AR and VR devices, such as the OPPO Air Glasses.
Large Companies’ Role in Tech for Good
“Tech for Good” has become a clearly perceived trend among tech companies around the world. Time and time again in human history, we question the “morals” of disruptive technology, but technology is not intrinsically good or bad – it’s all about how we use it. It is people, and companies like Owlytics, LMD, and Crunchfish that choose to use technology in the most virtuous ways to generate positive social changes.
This year, OPPO is initiating an OPPO Research Institute Innovation Accelerator program, which aims at empowering technology professionals and entrepreneurs to bring innovative solutions to existing social issues. The program is currently seeking proposals from entrepreneurs and startup teams across the globe to work on innovative solutions in the two areas of Accessible Technology and Digital Health.