We talked with our partner RPD international, who is working hard behind the scenes to bring the CUE1 to people with Parkinson’s. Through this blog, we wanted to share the extra motivation RPD has towards developing of the CUE1.
Making the CUE1 the Best it can be
Louiza is the project lead for the CUE1 from RPD International, working closely with Charco team members for over a year. This month, we talked about her own experiences with Parkinson’s. Louiza’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012, news which came as a shock to the family. One of the first things Louiza did was try to learn more about the condition. ‘Through my own research’, she recounts, ‘I started learning what it means to live with Parkinson’s, how it affects a person, and how it’s caused.’ This research had an unexpected benefit when, later, she came to work on the project with Charco, and found that she already had a good understanding of the lives of people with Parkinson’s.
Louiza joined not just with this extra knowledge, but with extra motivation to ‘make the device perfect’. ‘The CUE1 project’, she notes, ‘is exactly the kind of project that I have wanted to be a part of since graduating from university, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of the team that helps develop it.’ Through our previous rounds of user testing, Louiza was able to clearly ‘see the immediate positive effects, and how valuable they are. It is so rewarding to see the impact which the device has on people’s lives.’ Her and her father’s experiences have crystallised the project’s importance. ‘I have joined the project with a lot of motivation to help make it the best possible product it can be’, Louiza believes, ‘because at the end of the day I am designing this with my father in mind. It would mean the world to see the CUE1 on the market, and knowing that I helped to get it there.’
Who are RPD Accelerate?
Louiza is from RPD Accelerate, the branch of RPD concerned with helping small and growing businesses, including start-ups. We met with several members of their team, including Alex Millington-Jung, the Head of RPD Accelerate. To begin, Alex gives a brief overview of what RPD does. RPD is essentially ‘an end-to-end product development company’, Alex explains; ‘we go anywhere from concept to actually delivering the product to someone’s door.’ At their core, they stress the value of being ‘a partner who’s interested from start to finish, and shares the same goal: getting the product to market, and successful product development’.
RPD, Alex tells us, is uniquely placed in focusing on building something attractive and functional. ‘Working with a product development or product design house is amazing, but their remit is to make something beautiful. Our remit is to make something beautiful, but also functional, and at a price that is attainable.’ Charco has been passionate about striking this balance since our inception. We ensure to never view our developments as choices between two things, such as quality and affordability, or beauty and utility. Rather, we account for each and all of these considerations, and ensure that nothing suffers at the expense of another. Our collaboration with RPD has been built upon this shared belief, and our finished product of the CUE1 is (we hope!) clear evidence of this.
Developing Medical Technology
Louiza has a particular interest in medical technology, and was enthusiastic about working with Charco in her desire to help others. ‘I think that, by nature, all medical products are either directly or indirectly helping someone’, she observes; ‘for me, that really is the draw. I’ve been involved with four medical devices so far. With every device, you either know someone that can use it, or someone who knows someone who can use it. I think it’s that personal touch: you always have a person in mind when you’re designing something. It’s just knowing that you’re making a difference in someone’s life.’
Ben, our Technical Lead, also notes that this is a priority which has developed for the team over time: ‘the projects that we used to do, they were very fun and cool, but they weren’t as serious. Some of the work that we do now is in the medical world, and also in the sustainability sector. It feels like we’re doing all the cool engineering stuff, but we’re actually helping people. I think, for me, this has been kind of my dream job.’
Working with a Start-up
In working as part of RPD Accelerate, the team has had to become immersed in the world of start-ups, and as such have a unique insight into what it really means to be part of one. For Alex, start-ups are marked by a need to innovate. ‘For me, it’s always interesting to work with start-ups because a lot of them are spin-outs from universities or research. So they really are game-changing, which always presents challenges for the engineering team, because they have to come up with new and innovative solutions to solve these problems and meet these functions.’ The CUE1 itself started life as a university research project, during an Innovation, Design, and Engineering course across Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. We have been working with RPD ever since.
Working with a start-up also necessarily means working on a small scale. The entire collaborative team will be on personal terms, and as such the speed of feedback and communication is quicker than it would be in a large company. This holds particular attraction for Ben: ‘that kind of speed is what I like about working with start-ups. We can send something and get it approved the same day. You’ll get that turnaround straight away, and you can really push the project forward.’ This has been essential during our time developing the CUE1. A dynamic and flexible environment has meant we can deal with issues as they arise, and ensure communication flows smoothly at all times.
This back-and-forth communication is particularly important when testing prototypes of the device. This is also a different experience with smaller companies, Ben notes: ‘there’s more interactivity when testing with start-ups, where we can lean on each other. It feels like a far more collaborative approach, almost like we’re part of the client’s company.’ Louiza agrees, pointing back to our testing of the medical adhesives (used to attach the CUE1 to the body). ‘We tried on the adhesives ourselves and gave our feedback, and it felt like being part of the team. You go through the development together.’
The CUE1’s Challenges
The most interesting stages of the development process may also become the most difficult. As we progress and refine the manufactured product, the issues we encounter become more and more precise, and more challenging to resolve. This journey has undoubtedly been a learning curve, as Louiza attests; ‘I think our first challenge would be how small the device is. Designing the mechanics behind that, and then incorporating the electronics and making sure that we achieve everything that the device needs to do. Another big challenge was the way that the device, when we first started, was a little bit heavier, and so kept detaching from the adhesive pad. We had to work around that.’ Well, work around it we did; as we edge ever closer to launching, our prototypes have stood as testament to the hard work of everyone on the team, across Charco and RPD.
Bringing the CUE1 to Her Father
Louiza was recently able to return home to Cyprus and visit her family. She took a CUE1 with her, initially so that she could support the team with any new developments. After discussing the project with her father, he expressed an interest in testing the CUE1 on himself. Keeping the testing short at first, Louiza describes her father’s first impressions as ‘very positive’. Using the default settings out of necessity, they ‘not only saw an improvement in his tremor, but also in his being more relaxed when walking and moving about.’ Wearing the device for around 30 – 45 minutes, he said that throughout this time ‘he could control his overall hand movements much better’. Louiza’s mother noticed the positive effects of the device ‘straight away’; as the person most familiar with his symptoms on a daily basis, she could perceive the improvements long before even Louiza’s father could. Louiza is hoping that she will soon be able to visit again for some ‘more elaborate testing, whilst also tuning the device to find which settings work best with his symptoms’.
When asked if she has any messages she would like to share as part of this article, Louiza is candid in response. She would prefer to offer ‘a request, rather than a message, to anyone who’s reading this blog: to read and raise awareness about Parkinson’s. There are more than the symptoms that we see. As we enter May and Mental Health Awareness Week fast approaches, the need to normalise talking about the symptoms we don’t see, such as depression and anxiety, is clearer than ever.’
Thank You ?
When we opened our mug event to donate to Parkinson’s charities, the RPD team were one of the very first to get their mugs.
Thank you to the RPD team for continuously caring and supporting Charco’s journey improving quality of life for people with Parkinson’s, and for sharing your stories as part this blog.
Some of our devices are currently with people, as part of testing into long-term effectiveness. We will share these stories with you over the coming days, including feedback and comments. Together with our partners, we are close to getting the CUE1 to you. Thank you so much for your patience; we will continue to do our best to always focus on making a difference.
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