When passion meets expertise, results can be astonishing, and an example of it is Alfons Carnicero Carmona, Co-founder & CEO of ABLE Human Motion. An Industrial Engineer, Alfons is an industry expert who, with his experience in medical devices and entrepreneurship is keen on transforming the lives of people with lower-limb disabilities. With unwavering faith in himself and his team, he is relentlessly working towards achieving a technological breakthrough that would democratize the exoskeleton technology for everyone with walking disabilities.
In a candid interview with Aspioneer, Alfons shared discusses his journey, beliefs, and vision with ABLE Human Motion.
Becoming a force for good
Alfons Carnicero: “Throughout my life, two things have always fascinated me: technology and sports. During my studies, I applied the acquired knowledge to develop technology to improve athletes’ performance. However, when I was finishing my Bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering, my father suffered a stroke, an event that changed my vital and professional interests: I decided to devote my career to create technology that improves people’s lives. Thus, after studying a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering and working in the medical device industry, in 2017, I joined the UPC Biomechanical Engineering Lab led by Josep Maria Font, Ph.D. to study the feasibility of taking a research project on robotic orthosis to the market. We spoke with more than 100 patients and clinical professionals and realized that there was an unmet clinical need with a relevant market that our product could solve: people with lower-limb impairments couldn’t benefit from efficient robotic rehabilitation because of its high cost and weight. We then contacted Alex Garcia, a colleague from the university that had expertise in turning prototypes into products, and convinced him to join this exciting adventure in October 2018 and create ABLE Human Motion: a company that aims to help many people with mobility impairments like my father through life-changing technology.”
As the company has been recognized as the Best European Robotics Startup and winner of the Toyota Startup Awards “Mobility for All” competition.
Transforming Disabilities into possibilities
Alfons Carnicero: “As a medical device start-up based in Barcelona (Spain), ABLE Human Motion is on a mission of enabling mobility, for everyone. We design, develop and will commercialize innovative exoskeleton technology to empower every person in a wheelchair by providing greater mobility and independence. Currently, we have a team of 14 curious, fearless, humble, and fun people that are crazy enough to think they can change the world. And it seems to be working, as the company has been recognized as the Best European Robotics Startup and winner of the Toyota Startup Awards “Mobility for All” competition. ABLE Human Motion has been supported by EIT Health (European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union) and the European Commission (awarded the Seal of Excellence, Horizon 2020). Together we are building a cutting-edge technology company to turn disability into ABILITY.”
Facing Up to Challenges
Alfons Carnicero: “We have found many challenges and difficulties along the way, but the important thing is to learn from mistakes and persist. For example, I cannot remember how many times investors rejected us the first time we pitched the project. But we improved the message and looked for more specialized investors who understood the peculiarities of the medical sector, especially its longer times-to-market and commercialization strategies. Once the first investors were convinced, closing the round was much easier. Another challenge has been to involve the right people and partners. Being young, it was very important for us to select a group of expert advisors with an extensive network of contacts and the ability to support us in solving the problems that arise. To move forward, it has been key to engage the best-in-class partners like Toyota Motor Europe and EIT Health, and leading clinical institutions as Institut Guttmann and Heidelberg University Hospital. This has allowed us to gain international recognition and position ABLE Human Motion among the most promising companies in the rehabilitation robotics space. Finally, a very important challenge that we have managed to overcome with absolute success is to recruit the right team. We have found a group of talented people that share our values and the passion to make the world a better place by improving the lives of people with disabilities. We are together on a mission to enable mobility for all!”
Inclusive Solutions that liberate
Alfons Carnicero: “Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a catastrophic event that thrusts 5 million people worldwide into a life challenged by disability. This generates dependency in activities of daily living; health complications associated with lack of mobility (osteoporosis, chronic pain, cardiovascular/digestive/urinary problems); high economic costs (350 k€ 1st year, 40 k€ next); and severe social/psychological consequences. Its impact is not only limited to the patient but also affects the family, clinical professionals, and society as well. Enabling people to move on their own is crucial to unleashing full human potential. Our project responds to one of society’s greatest challenges: building a world where all people can move freely, empowering all people in wheelchairs so they can walk again.”
Staying updated. Staying ahead
Alfons Carnicero: “To stay up to date with the latest trends in the industry I usually read the news at Forbes, Harvard Business Review, MassDevice, and Medtech Europe, and reports from McKinsey or KPMG, among others. Those are great sources of information that allow you to stay ahead of what's coming in the healthcare industry! More specifically in the rehabilitation robotics space, I often check the ExoskeletonReport website, which is a great site to learn the latest news on the exoskeleton world, and read scientific journal publications on some topics of interest. I am also used to follow our competitor’s websites and social channels to discover their latest advancements and upcoming launches.”
Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a catastrophic event that thrusts 5 million people worldwide into a life challenged by disability.
A passion that excites. Passion that ignites
Alfons Carnicero: “Team sports are my great passion, and especially basketball and soccer. I have played basketball all my life in my school's team, the Escolapis de Sarrià, and in the AULA, another club from Barcelona. I played in the power forward position and my specialty was shooting threes. I'm a big fan of the NBA and my favorite team is the Boston Celtics. I am also a huge soccer fan and a strong FCBarcelona supporter. I enjoy watching Barça football matches (especially in those days with Pep Guardiola as a coach, when Barça was the best team in the world). My old-time favorite players are Leo Messi and Ronaldinho. Last, I also love traveling to remote places and seeing animals in their natural habitats, although it is becoming more and more difficult to do so! I hope that the world becomes aware and, in the coming years, we remedy the destruction that we are causing to the planet and its ecosystems.”
Aiming bigger. Aiming higher
Alfons Carnicero: “2021 is expected to be a crucial year for the ABLE project, as we will be finalizing the clinical trials we are carrying out in leading neurorehabilitation hospitals in Germany (Heidelberg University Hospital) and Spain (Institut Guttmann and Asepeyo Barcelona) with 40 spinal cord injured patients, to demonstrate safety and usability of the exoskeleton in a clinical environment. With this clinical data, we will then perform a slight design modification to improve the exoskeleton based on the clinical feedback, to later start the CE certification process. We aim to start commercialization in Europe at the beginning of 2023. To sum up, we are scaling our company by understanding very well our needs at each phase and maximizing the resources available.
A legacy of changing lives
Alfons Carnicero: “Years from now, I hope that our greatest contribution to humanity has been the democratization of robotic exoskeletons as a solution to restore human mobility, so they can become more mainstream and we start seeing exoskeletons every day. I imagine walking down the street and meeting someone who wears a powered exoskeleton as if it was a pair of trousers. People walking in real-world environments, hiking in the mountains, climbing and descending stairs, walking on slopes, enjoying emotional experiences with family and friends again. See people recovering their capabilities and living happy and active lives thanks to this technology is the biggest legacy we can leave.”