The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Zyrobotics a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant that continues the startup’s work in developing an accessible educational platform for children with special needs.
Launched in September 2013 by Ayanna Howard, the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Chair professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the company is commercializing assistive technology that enables children with limited mobility to operate tablet computers, smartphones, toys, gaming apps, and interactive robots.
“We are extremely excited about the opportunities that this NSF SBIR grant provides,” said Howard, who is the company’s chief technology officer. “It helps Zyrobotics to continue to evolve as a leader in inclusive smart mobile technologies by enhancing our ability to develop accessible learning systems that engage and empower children with special needs and enhance their quality of life.”
Specifically, the Phase II project aims to focus on the development of an accessible educational platform that combines mobile interfaces and adaptive educational tablet applications (apps) to support the requirements of children with special needs. While tablet devices have given those children an interactive experience that has revolutionized their learning, in its proposal, Zyrobotics notes that while some tablet devices are intuitive in use and easy for lots of kids, those with disabilities are largely overlooked due to difficulties in effecting pinch-and-swipe gestures.
“This project thus addresses a direct need in our society by providing an integrated educational experience, focused on math education that addresses the diverse needs of children, while providing a solution for variations found in their disabilities,” the company wrote in its grant proposal. “This SBIR Phase II project addresses an unmet need by developing an innovative solution to enable children with motor disabilities access to mobile devices and apps that could engage them fully into the educational system.”
In this next phase, Howard and her team plan to design accessible math apps geared to children with or without disabilities in kindergarten through 12th grade. The company also plans to design another set of apps that adapt educational content and provide feedback to parents and teachers based on real-time analytics.
The company says it sees ample market opportunity for its products both domestically and abroad. Here in the United States, children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, and Zyrobotics sees its products as addressing that need from both a commercial and societal standpoint. Worldwide, more than 93 million children live with a disability.
When founded, the company went through Georgia Tech’s VentureLab startup incubator, ranked No. 2 in North America. VentureLab, a unit of Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), works with Georgia Tech faculty, students, and staff to help them validate and commercialize their research and ideas into viable companies.
Zyrobotics is now part of Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a sister startup incubator program that serves all of Georgia. Zyrobotics, with the help of ATDC’s SBIR program, was able to receive its Phase I award in 2015, laying the groundwork for the Phase II grant.
“Zyrobotics is a wonderful Georgia Tech startup, based on the fine research in Dr. Howard’s lab, and enhanced by a very successful journey through the NSF I-Corps program,” said Keith McGreggor, VentureLab’s director. “This is a great example of how the research done in the classroom and lab, followed by idea validation, can lead to real breakthroughs that are designed to have a lasting impact on the lives touched by the technologies that Dr. Howard has created.”