Opening up world for the disabled

CORK company Safe Care Technologies is preparing for the launch of a product that will allow people with disabilities to use smart technology to control lights, open doors, and turn appliances on and off.

Expected to be market-ready by the autumn, Imperium is believed to be the first off-the-shelf product of its type.

“It is an integrated hardware and software solution which makes assisted living technology easier to integrate and more affordable,” says Safe Care Technologies CEO Conor Quigley.

“It uses a range of sensors to control lights, entertainment and to open and close windows, doors, and curtains.”

Smart technology is already being used for this purpose but, according to Mr Quigley, it requires adaptation of the technology and is expensive.

“Buying a base unit for this purpose costs in the region of €3,000, but Imperium will go on the market for approximately €1,000,” he says.

Safe Care plans to start by launching Imperium in Ireland and the UK, but in the long-term is looking at the US and Europe.

The company is targeting the assisted living market and expects its product to be used by both disabled and elderly people.

Given that the percentage of people over 65 is increasing in the developed world, Mr Quigley says the market is huge.

“In the UK, the government is investing in assisted living as it is seen as a way of allowing people to stay in their homes, and in the US the market for assisted living technology is now worth US $33bn [€25.5bn].”

Back in 2005 Mr Quigley and Safe Care’s other co-founder Rob Gill started out by setting up a company called Future Homes, which installed smart home technology in individual houses and housing developments

“In 2009, we were approached by a solicitor who wanted us to use smart technology to adapt a home for a person with a disability,” says Mr Quigley.

“We thought it would be a question of finding the technology and installing it, but we couldn’t find anything suitable.”

The main problem was finding and adapting controls that people with either physical or cognitive disabilities could use.

Future Homes solved the problem by developing software which connected controls such as tablets or joysticks with sensors.

“We loaded the software on tablets which can be used by people in wheelchairs and also used eye-gaze technology which allows people to control lights and doors by focusing on them,” says Mr Quigley.

Future Homes created the software and researched the market in 2011.

While exploring the possibility of setting up a new company for this purpose, Mr Quigley signed up for the New Frontiers Programme at the Rubicon Centre at CIT and also got support from Enterprise Ireland.

During 2011, he made contact with a UK company providing communications technology for assisted living which was interested in teaming up with a company that was providing environmental controls.

By 2012, Mr Quigley and Mr Gill decided there was scope for the new venture and registered Safe Care in April.

Mr Gill has continued to run Future Homes, while Mr Quigley manages Safe Care.

Both companies are located in the Carrigaline Industrial Estate, where Safe Care now employs a staff of four, including Mr Quigley.

Using the new software, Safe Care completed its first project in Glasgow in mid-2012, adapting a house for use by a teenager with cerebral palsy.

Since then, the company has installed the system in six locations, including a Cork school for Enable Ireland, as well as a Rehab apartment complex in Limerick.

The company also adapted a house in Birmingham so that a five-year-old can point a wheelchair at doors and push a button to open them.

In identifying a market for the installation of the technology, Safe Care realised that the market for a boxed product, which included hardware as well as software, would be much greater.

“It can be sold to consumers who can use local IT specialists to install it,’’ says Mr Quigley

The company started work on developing the hardware for Imperium last year and the integrated system is now at prototype stage. It is expected to be ready for testing in the next six weeks.

“We plan to launch it in the third quarter of the year,’’ says Mr Quigley, adding that the next step is to secure a manufacturing company.

The launch of Imperium, which means ‘right to command’ in Latin, is set to move the company to a whole new level.

To date, Safe Care has been funded by the founders, and by Enterprise Ireland which provided Competitive Start Funding. Mr Quigley says the company has sufficient funding to launch Imperium but will at a later stage be looking for private investment.

“We are targeting a turnover of €1.5m in the next three to five years. We aim to take on additional staff at the end of this year and to increase the workforce to 15 over the next two years.”


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