Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) has launched the National Center for Assistive Health Technologies, IIT Madras (NCAHT-IITM), an initiative of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), to boost Research and Development in Assistive Technologies.
The launch event was held today (17th June 2023) at IIT Madras Research Park in the presence of Chief Guest Dr. Rajiv Bahl, Secretary to Government of India, Department of Health Research, and Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Prof. V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, President, IIT Madras Research Park, and IIT Madras Incubation Cell, and Prof. Sujatha Srinivasan, Head, TTK Center for Rehabilitation Research and Device Development (R2D2), IIT Madras, among other dignitaries.
The TTK Center for Rehabilitation Research and Device Development (R2D2) is implementing this initiative at IIT Madras. NCAHT-IITM will be a showcase centre that enables R&D in Assistive Technologies. It envisages user empowerment by showing the possibilities through technology, minimising unconscious bias in the minds of engineers/Assistive Technology developers, policymakers, general public and paving the way for better AT solutions and policies.
Addressing the inaugural event, Chief Guest Dr. Rajiv Bahl, Secretary to Government of India, Department of Health Research, and Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said, “The National Centre for Assistive Health Technology is dedicated to advancing research, development, and innovation in assistive technologies. It holds an immense potential to transform the lives of individuals with functional impairments bridging the gap between users, developers, and policymakers. It will foster an ecosystem for promotion of innovation, inclusivity, and accessibility.”
Further, Dr. Rajiv Bahl added, “The NCAHT-IITM will become a platform for user-developer interactions, facilitating the exchange of ideas, collaborations, and design of new assistive technologies. Together, let us continue pushing the boundaries of healthcare innovation for better Assistive Technologies.”
Sharing his view on NCAHT-IITM, Dr. Ravinder Singh, Senior Scientist and Program Officer for Disability, Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology at ICMR headquarters, said, “This is a centre where researchers, academicians, and innovators could co-create the ATs. NCAHT will have linkages with manufacturing and provisioning through different platforms like health, social justice, insurance, and civil society. The NCAHT-IITM is also designed to support other South-East Asian countries through teaching, trainings and evidence generation.”
Co-developed with IIT Madras Research Park’s ‘10X Assistive Technology Program,’ NCAHT-IITM is designed to foster increased social inclusion and serves as an immersive experience centre, underscoring the transformative power of assistive devices for users, policymakers, rehabilitation professionals, and innovators.
NCAHT-IITM will demonstrate the real-life challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and the elderly through various experience zones. Additionally, NCAHT-IITM features an Innovation Hub for User-centric Design, a Wheelchair Skills Lab, an Open Innovation Portal, a Policy Research Desk, and a Dissemination Center, all aimed at cultivating an assistive technology ecosystem that complements the research, design, and development efforts at R2D2.
Presiding over the Event, V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, said, “IIT Madras is committed to inclusive education, addressing both academic and social needs of people with physical challenges. The experiential nature of this centre will help take these efforts to the next level in terms of mobility and accessibility to resources.”
The NCAHT-IITM will act as a platform for user-developer and user-policymaker interactions and, at the same time, serve as a training resource for AT and rehab professionals and NGOs. NCAHT-IITM primarily focuses on mobility impairments while the NCAHTs at IIT Delhi, AIIMS Delhi, and NISH Trivandrum will focus on other disabilities.
Speaking on the occasion, Ashok Jhunjhunwala, President, IIT Madras Research Park, and IIT Madras Incubation Cell, said, “This centre aligns with the IIT Madras Research Park’s 10X Assistive Technology Program to help startups develop devices, have users experience them and give feedback to improve the devices, and finally commercialize the technologies.”
During the event, a new program developed in partnership with The Ganga Foundation was launched for wheelchair users the world over—a set of self-training video modules for wheelchair users to empower them to train/upskill themselves in wheelchair use and enhance their independence. These modules – categorized into beginner, intermediate and advanced – cover a range of topics, from wheelchair selection to negotiating stairs and difficult terrains. Regardless of location, users can access these modules at their convenience and learn at their own pace. This collaboration combines technology and expertise to create inclusive solutions and improve the lives of wheelchair users, in addition to complementing the physical wheelchair skills program at NCAHT-IITM.
Sujatha Srinivasan, Head, R2D2-IIT Madras, and NCAHT-IITM, said, “NCAHT-IITM will help strengthen the assistive technology ecosystem we have created at R2D2. Together, we aim to change the assistive technology landscape in India and beyond. Through the NCAHT experience zones, we want to show that disability can be imposed by the environment, but the right assistive technologies and training can help us function effectively and live life to the fullest. We are fortunate that several partners have come on board already to support and realise the center’s vision.”
The TTK Center for Rehabilitation Research and Device Development (R2D2) at IIT Madras is involved in research related to human movement and the design and development of rehabilitation and assistive devices for people with movement impairments. R2D2 engineers affordable products for rehabilitation needs in India and beyond, work with clinical specialists, NGOs, and hospitals, among others, to field-test the designs, and fosters a research environment to evaluate assistive device designs from biomechanical and functional standpoints.