Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Nimaya: Robots That Are Transforming Therapy For The Autistic

BY Aaryaa Padhyegurjar

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In Sanskrit, Nimaya means ‘to create a change,’ which is exactly what this Chennai based startup, Nimaya Innovations, is doing. Founded in 2018, the company has made it its mission to help autistic children become more independent using IoT based robots

Children with autism and multiple disabilities are more attracted to robots and robot-like features. That’s because robots tend to have a routine. For any task, robots will do the same thing repeatedly, a million times over, using the exact same method. Children respond to that well. This is what Dr Ramya Moorthy, Founder of Nimaya Innovations, realised as she went to about 75 special-needs schools and worked with teachers, special educators, and special organisations.

Joystick skill training unit (Credit: Nimaya Innovations)
Joystick skill training unit (Credit: Nimaya Innovations)

As a part of her PhD, Dr Moorthy designed about five different robots that can assist children in developing daily life skills and their associated psychomotor and cognitive skills. “During my research, I found a lot of studies that have been done on facial expression, social interaction, and communication. But one of the biggest areas that has not been concentrated upon is psychomotor skills,” says Dr Moorthy.

Dr Ramya S Moorthy, Founder of Nimaya Innovations
Dr Ramya S Moorthy, Founder of Nimaya Innovations
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The company uses unique methods like ‘active learning’ and Suprayoga methodology. Unlike traditional therapy, Nimaya’s robots provide children with audio-visual feedback, which enables them to learn an activity quickly and also retain it for a longer period of time. Most importantly, children are able to generalise an activity to everyday life. Suppose a teacher shows children an apple and says, “This is red.” Until the children see an apple again, they won’t be able to relate the colour red to a red ball or a red chair. But when it comes to Nimaya’s robots, generalisation automatically happens due to the way the robots are designed.

These robots are made after a lot of ergonomic planning and disability-conscious planning. “We need to look into the line of sight, colour combination, depth perception, and peripheral vision. All of these factors have to be taken into consideration too,” explains Dr Moorthy. The most interesting thing is that Nimaya’s robots are to be used along with a therapist, and not as a standalone product. This is because, for a child with autism or with multiple disabilities, one of the biggest challenges is social interaction. “We were always clear that we would never take the human out of the equation,” she says.

The devices are completely IoT based, and each system is interconnected. “When I went around talking to therapists, special educators, and counselors, I realised that they don’t have a lot of assessments. The reason is that they are not able to handle the amount of data that comes with it,” recalls Dr Moorthy. With Nimaya’s robots, the amount of data the therapist has to enter is just literally four touches! The rest of it will be automatically handled by the system. The data then goes through different sets of algorithms and gives the output graph.

During the Covid pandemic, Nimaya Innovations pivoted to an app called Gita. Gita stands for Growth and Intelligence Tracking Application. It is a multi-lingual application that helps parents track the milestones of children from birth until five years. It assesses a child’s growth in five different ways—psychomotor skills, social interaction, communication, self-awareness, and understanding. The best part is that it is a completely free app.

Apart from the app, the company runs its flagship products in two models. Any special school can subscribe to the devices and return the systems back later. The second model is where schools can directly buy the devices. Also, these products can be ordered from anywhere in India!

Nimaya Innovations will be going for investments in the near future. Speaking of the hiring trends, Dr Moorthy says, “Soon, we will be looking to expand our marketing team and sales team.” The company has won the ‘Best Innovation of the Year’ award from the Telangana government. Apart from that, Nimaya Innovations has earned a lot of accolades and grants so far. And surely many more are likely to come in the future!


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