Photo courtesy of UI Office of Research and Economic Development

Device aids patients in nonverbal communication


By Jenna Larson

The Noddle, a device created at the University of Iowa, enters the medical market with its ability to increase nonverbal communication between patients and their health-care providers.

“The Noddle is a smart switch that we designed in my lab to basically make it possible for patients who have very, very limited ability to move, who might be able to produce a small little gesture,” said Richard Hurtig, the creator of the Noddle and CSO & president of Voxello, a Coralville-based company that owns the Noddle.

This device contains sensors that detect certain gestures from the patients to communicate with their nurse or doctor, Hurtig said. Typically, he said, these are patients who are unable to push the normal call button.

“The Noddle is connected to a tablet that has speech generating software on it that we developed, and that’s called Noddle Chat,” Hurtig said. “The patient can navigate on the tablet to select the specific things that they want to say or ask their doctors and nurses.”

Its creation was part of a program through the UI Research Foundation that linked students in biomedical engineering, law, and business on a project in a medical domain, he said.

After seeing the Noddle, the foundation encouraged Hurtig and his team to file a patent and form a company, he said.

“At the end of that year, it was clear that if we were going to really be able to take the Noddle to market, we would need to have some professional leadership,” he said. That’s when Rives Bird was hired as the CEO of Voxello, Hurtig said.

Bird said there were many regulations that needed to be dealt with before the Noddle could be on the market. Doing business financial plans and raising capital needed to be done as well.

“My role was to come in and take this from a project at the lab and figure out how to get through all of the regulatory hurdles and get the investment dollars that we needed and prepare to scale the business appropriately,” Bird said.

Now, the Noddle is doing clinical trials, and the UI Hospitals & Clinics is setting up clinical trials at other hospitals around the country, Hurtig said. The company will do a soft launch in Philadelphia and Chicago through the end of 2017, he said.

After the soft launches, Voxello will work with the designated hospitals to learn what the key issues are and what will make the Noddle most effective, said Richard Wieland, a member of the Voxello Board of Directors. Once that is understood, the Noddle will be able to go across the country.

As the Noddle’s market expands through time and finances, Voxello will develop other items that the company would like to have in the future, Weiland said.

“The real purpose of this is that there are a large portion of patients in hospitals who because of what brought them to the hospitals are unable to effectively communicate with their doctors and nurses,” Hurtig said. “Our goal is to improve the quality of care that they have.”

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