Abilitare: Game-changing Assistive Tech Fueled by Desire to Change Lives
As a person with a disability, it's not that I want people to get paralyzed, right? I just know that research is frequently motivated by personal experience. Research into Parkinson's disease got a huge advance when Michael J. Fox revealed that he had the illness. It's human nature to work harder on things that touch you on a personal level.
So when I began my interview with Mohit Patil, the co-founder of Abilitare, whose products allow people with disabilities to control their screens hands-free, I asked for his story of personal connection with the paralysis community. What I got was far, far better.
Passion for Improved Outcomes Meets Passion for Technology
"I come from a family of doctors in India," Mohit begins. I have already met Mohit and his partner, Parth Shan, at the Abilities Expo in Dallas. Their booth, where people could try gaming and texting without the use of hands, was filled with attendees trying out the new technology. The two young men were excited to show their award-winning inventions to the people for whom they had developed the technology.
"My family taught me that if you are in a position to help, it is your responsibility to do so," Mohit begins quietly. "I did my research for 5 years in neurological disorders and communication through computer interfaces. The technology is exciting, but we want to solve people's quality of life issues first. That's what is most important; to see our work and technology impact people's lives and improve quality of life." Mohit pauses, thinks, and emphasizes, "Most important."
Growing up, Mohit didn't see much support for people with disabilities. "There is just not enough support to fight this social injustice. A person can have every capability but may be stopped by some simple physical disability. If I'm in a position to change that, then there is no question that it is what I should do."
Mohit and Parth are not your average tech geeks. Although they lived only a few hours away from each other in India, they didn't meet until college in the USA. When Mohit speaks about their work, it is always with an eye to the end user. How can their inventions improve a person's quality of life? I ask where his passion comes from.
"There's a gratitude that you create or satisfaction that you get when your work actually helps someone to do something that actually matters." Mohit replies, sitting at his desk in Gainesville, Florida. "We have found that this is actually quite rare in the technological field—to do something that matters so much to one individual—so I think that's where the drive comes from."
Tech Duo's American Dream Paves Way for Disabled People to Achieve Theirs
The decision to come to the US was a foregone conclusion for Mohit and Parth. "America is a place of opportunities, where you can make contributions that are not ignored." He smiles wryly, "You can do your work and take it forward to the level where people can actually benefit. It is a land of immigrants, where there are opportunities to actually showcase your talent. It is the American Dream, in a way."
2019 brought their personal American Dreams together. Roommates in college, Mohit had been working on brain control features while Parth worked on Smart ICU. 2020 saw the first version of the Abilitare Head Mouse.
Mohit grins. He is the storyteller, but it is obvious that Parth is firmly focused on the community. "Parth always says we don't know if we are doing the right thing unless the people who are going to use it tells us if it is going to work."
The first six people chosen to try out the Abili Mouse were vital to creating the best possible product. How did Mohit and Parth find their test subjects?
"I saw a student sitting in the yard at school, having lunch with his wife." Mohit recalls a bit sheepishly. "I think at first he thought maybe I was trying to sell him books or something, but then he saw that I had something that could help." The student turned out to also be in Engineering and had gotten his PHD by using a mouth stick to control his computer.
"It is very motivating," says Mohit, "because they have accomplished so much by just finding one way or another. People have faced so many barriers and are still just kicking ass! That has stopped us from giving up if we ever wanted to."
So how did Parth's six people like the prototype?
"When those six people said 'Yes, I tried it and I would really love one of my own,' we knew we were on the right track," Mohit stated.
Abili Mouse Gains Notoriety Through High-Profile Competitions
"We were running out of money, but luckily at this time many of the competitions we'd entered began to notice us," said Mohit.
- Over 200 Founders Attend PS27 Leadership Day and Startup Abilitare Takes Home $10K
- Abilitare won the Collegiate Competition at the EarlyStage21 Capital Conference
- BrainForce (which became Abilitare) wins $25,000 in 2021 Big Idea Competition
- BrainForce secures third place at 2021 Launch Your Venture
"These competitions had all these people competing, and we won!" Mohit relates joyfully. "I think part of the reason we won is because we were doing this for a purpose—to help people live better lives. We used the $25,000 to send out new prototypes to our original 6 people and they found a bunch more people who were asking to try them too."
What was some of the feedback they got?
"We found that most people prefer that others don't know they are using anything special," Mohit said. "They said 'don't make us look stand out in the crowd more than we do—we want our head mouse to look just like a part of what anyone would be wearing.' You may need someone to turn the battery on, or to put the mouse on your head, but then you can use it up to 15 hours by yourself on that one battery charge."
Technology Must Serve the Need Before the Luxury
And why aren't these smart, dynamic graduates working for Apple or Amazon, pulling in the big bucks? Mohit shakes his head.
"In two decades, assistive technology hasn't been that innovative. The innovation that you see in general technology for the general population—like more features on a car."
His voice is troubled. "It is way ahead of what innovation for disabled technology looks like. It's kind of sad. That is unacceptable, because we should solve the problems first. Technology should always serve the need before luxury; the necessity before luxury."
Abili Mouse is 40% OFF through Abilities Expo Los Angeles
The Abili Mouse is available for purchase now on www.abilitare.com and offers discounts for students and charitable causes. In particular, they are offering a 40% discount off of all products from now through the Los Angeles Abilities Expo in March, 2022!
Mohit and Parth are excited to see everyone at the Abilities Expo in LA, and they have a personal message for the people whom they are working to serve:
"Thanks a lot for never giving up. That keeps us going, keeps the innovation coming. You should know that you are motivation for a lot of able-bodied people out there."Pre-Register for Abilities Expo Today...It's Free!