Innovative and cute robots: LuxAI’s Visionary Journey To Help Children With Autism

At the intersection of health and technology, LuxAI is one of the most successful startups launched in Luxembourg and a personal tale of strong vision, hard work, resilience and determination. Combining interdisciplinary research, artificial intelligence and robotics, therapy, healthcare and teaching, LuxAI started out in 2016 as a spin-off of SnT /University of Luxembourg and received continued support from the local startup, innovation and research communities.

Seven years after building a functional prototype of the QTrobot, in record time and with a limited budget, co-founder & COO of LuxAI Aida Nazari smiles while looking back at her entrepreneurial journey. She recalls the long hours and hard work, the enthusiasm, naivety and obstacles alike, especially when it comes to “the sweet discussion of funding”.

Quitting not an option

At the first Silicon Luxembourg Startup Apéro of 2023, Nazari argued that despite having to knock on many doors and the personal sacrifices that were made, the social impact of the project was very important to her and to her business partner and CEO Pouyan Ziafati.

Confident that their project would help many people, they continued to develop their idea and pursued all the opportunities available, including taking a bank loan, to generate the support they needed for their research-oriented product.

“When you invest so much in a project, you want to do everything in your power to see it succeed,” admits Nazari, arguing that many traditional investors were not ready to fund a product that would take some time to go to the market.

Three markets addressed

Focusing on three main applications, QTrobots are today used by research labs and universities worldwide to develop research on Human-AI interaction, for teaching students with special needs and autism in schools and dedicated centres, as well as to support parents of autistic children with at-home education, and with the development of children’s social, emotional and communication skills.

“Our products are currently available in more than 20 countries,” says Nazari, adding that QTrobots have been shipped to the United States, Canada, China, Japan and the Middle East.

“It’s becoming a quite well-known product and it’s opening its space in the market,” she adds.

Office expansion plans

Having sold hundreds of robots around the world, the interdisciplinary team of 12 is currently in the process of expanding the company’s presence.

“We are planning to open an office in the United Kingdom and we are also opening an office in the US to facilitate sales, support and development in these regions,” explains Nazari.

The co-founder, who was a general practitioner and clinician before coming to Luxembourg, explains that people with the autism spectrum disorder and especially autistic children have unique needs and require an individualistic approach in their therapy protocol.

“Early intervention in a very intensive way is the only thing you can do to make a difference in the lives of these children,” she adds.

Medical device certification

While the next step for the startup is to market the robots as devices to assist and support education, in the long run the goal is to classify them as medical devices and consider them part of digital therapeutics – evidence-based, clinically evaluated software used to prevent, manage or treat a disease or disorder.

“The robot would make an assessment of the children, evaluate where they stand and then propose content and activities that are tailor-made to their needs. This also allows for a data-driven approach to support decision-making on the therapy to enhance its efficiency,” says Nazari.

Wide-scale clinical trial

In the coming months, LuxAI will be running a wide-scale clinical trial in several European countries to evaluate the AI model and demonstrate that the robots bring significant improvement, from a medical perspective, in the education of children.

“The clinical trial is the first of this kind for autistic children to bring evidence to governments and health reimbursement commissioners to demonstrate that a robot and technology for autism can significantly improve the quality of the outcome without necessarily increasing the cost,” adds Nazari. The story of LuxAI and QTrobots continues to evolve, helping more people, offering sessions in additional languages, supporting the cognitive development of autistic children and new social robot applications.

This article was originally published on Silicon Luxembourg in February 2023.

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