Canada's GestureTek Health aims to expand its video-gesture-control-based physiotherapy solutions to new markets

Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: GestureTek Health

The Toronto, Canada-based GestureTek Health is looking to bring its Interactive Rehabilitation Exercise (IREX) system and other physiotherapy solutions to new markets as part of its efforts to grow back up following the conclusion of the Covid pandemic. The company is a global frontrunner in developing and applying video gesture control technology, especially for healthcare and rehabilitation.

In an interview with DIGITIMES Asia, CEO and co-founder of GestureTek Vincent John Vincent stated that the company is looking to recover after being forced to downsize to a small group of core employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of its efforts to grow back, it's utilizing this opportunity to expand into previously untapped markets. Through a partnership with the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei (CTOT)'s CTA program, the firm aims to learn about and expand into the Taiwanese market. They're also seeking local distributors to help promote their products in Taiwan.

Restarting in a post-pandemic world

GestureTek Health began as a division within GestureTek Systems Inc. According to the company's official website, the company was one of the first to invent video-gesture control technology and was part of the origins of VR. Over the years, the company has expanded to several sectors such as healthcare, digital signage/displays, educational tools, consumer console games, and mobile devices, and owns over 65 patents.

At its peak, GestureTek had 81 employees across four key product divisions: mobile, consumer, digital signage, and health. Its customers include Microsoft's Xbox Live and Kinect, Sony's PlayStation Eye Toy, and others resulting in their technology being applied to over 100 million devices.

The health division was created in the mid-1990s when the company started developing applications specific to health, disability, and rehabilitation and selling its solutions to hospitals. In 2010, GestureTek's board decided to sell the company to Qualcomm. However, it turned out that Qualcomm only wanted the consumer and mobile divisions. This meant the health and digital signage divisions were the only ones left after the sale went through.

Starting in 2012, Vincent began to buy the company back from all his co-investors and co-shareholders, and in 2015, he officially rolled out the new company as GestureTek Health. The new company was growing smoothly when, like so many other companies, it ran into issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vincent highlighted that they were hit particularly hard by COVID-19 because GestureTek Health's applications are highly focused on people using them in public settings such as hospitals, museums, science centers, shopping malls, and more. The worldwide social distancing meant that "everywhere we were selling to disappeared in 2020/2021," stated Vincent.

In response to the drop in sales, the company had to dramatically downsize to a point where it currently only has eight employees. However, a lot of associates and former employees were being hired back on board. With the world recovering from the pandemic, the company has taken on some new investors, is undergoing a grow-back process, and is also taking the opportunity to reach into new markets such as Taiwan.

The effectiveness of video-gesture-based physiotherapy

When asked what makes their solutions effective in physiotherapy, Vincent highlighted several factors, including motivation, the ability to design sessions to fit patients' needs, and data collection/analysis.

He pointed out that one of the issues physicians have approached them with is the issue of motivation. When a patient is in physical rehabilitation, they are either in pain or forced to do exercises they don't want and need to be motivated. This is so common that physiotherapists have mentioned that "half of their job is motivating people."

The IREX was able to help with motivation through a gamified rehabilitation system. One of the unique features of the IREX is that it puts the user's image on the screen. The ability to see that it's yourself, not an avatar, who's moving around and controlling the movement is an incredibly motivating factor.

A gamified system also helps patients visualize their progress. Patients can now clearly see that they can reach a bit higher this time, and their score is going up. They're being rewarded for doing well in the game/rehabilitation exercise. In other words, the system can create an "immersion of engagement" and make patients forget they're doing repeated exercises. They're simply enjoying themselves playing a video game.

According to Vincent, as a result, "people are literally lining up outside the door waiting to do their exercises." They are also willing to do exercises for two to three times longer, which helps build the brain's neuroplasticity and muscle memory, a major factor in rehabilitation.

GestureTek Health's solutions not only help with one half of a physiotherapist's job (motivating people), but they also help with the other half, which is understanding and getting people to do the right time exercises at the right time. The system offers clinicians 25 different applications and allows them to change the range of motion and the speed of movement, and set up a regimen or a session that caters to a patient at a particular time of their recovery.

These sessions are then paired with games to help immerse the patient. For example, there's a game where the player attempts to block balls coming from many directions. The clinician can set up the system so that the balls are coming in a way that makes the patient move in the direction required for their rehabilitation. The height can also be set within a range of motion to ensure the patient doesn't overwork themselves.

Finally, the systems provide clinicians with video bio-metric data that are quantitative. Traditional rehabilitation without add-ons can only provide qualitative data, where the clinician can get a sense of how much progress is being made but does not have any numbers to support the claims. With this system, the clinicians get printouts of quantitative data like how much longer a patient did their sessions, how high they reached…etc. With this data, clinicians can more accurately adjust what and how much they will change for future sessions.

A diverse product line lineup

A big part of GestureTek's business is providing interactive projection systems for hospitals and healthcare facilities. They're deployed in waiting rooms, wards, hall foyers, and sensory rooms. These systems are displayed on floors, walls, and tables that can react to people's hand movements and body gestures.

When asked how the company can provide so many different products and solutions, he provided several reasons. First, they've been developing video gesture technology for decades, as seen with their 65-plus patents. Secondly, the company focuses on software and solving the issues brought to them by clinicians. While they will produce their own hardware if they can't find a suitable option on the market, they are more than willing to use off-the-shelf hardware and products for their solutions. Finally, all their products have the same technology and are simply different applications with minor changes.

The next step

Regarding the company's future plans, Vincent stated that besides the evident objective of growing the company back, they are also working on the next generation of various technologies. For instance, the company's IREX system shifted from a 2D camera to a 3D depth camera, eliminating the need for a green screen and any concerns about lighting.

Future iterations aim to utilize 3D depth information for more immersive exercises. Advancements in 3D camera resolution will enhance the system's ability to track finer movements, such as hand motions, thus opening up new possibilities for exercises and interactions. Overall, the company is working on integrating new capabilities that come with new hardware.

Photo: GestureTek Health co-founder and CEO Vincent John Vincent. Credit: GestureTek Health

Photo: GestureTek Health co-founder and CEO Vincent John Vincent.
Credit: GestureTek Health