Robotics, Startups, Robots, Technology, Healthcare, Children
From personal care, socialization, and psychological help, Robot Robin helps children undergo challenging and very stressful experiences in the medical settings to cope with stress and anxiety. Robot Robin is an emotional intelligent robot that creates a friendly environment by engaging children in playful and meaningful interactions, by telling funny stories, playing interactive games with children. This makes medical procedures easier and faster.
Karen Kachikian is a Co-Founder of the very first robotic company in Armenia Exxper Technologies. He is an entrepreneur and experience, design engineer. Karen also holds a Ph.D. in Electronic Engineering from the National Polytechnical University of Armenia and the author of various publications.
Thanks for joining me for today’s episode of HyeTech minds, straight talk from arenian entrepreneurs around the globe.
I’m NARINE your host and thank you for joining me today.
Today, I’m going to sit down with Karen Kachikian, co-founder of the very first robotic company in Armenia Exxper Technologies. We will talk about Karen’s startup journey, some of the challenges he overcome on his road to success.
We also will discuss their product disrupting the patient care industry Robot Robin. It’s an emotional intelligent robot that helps children to overcome stress and anxiety while in hospital.
Karen also holds a PhD in Electronic Engineering and the author of various publications.
So let’s get right to the interview and see what Karen has to tell more about his venture and background.
Narine: Hello, Hello, Karen.
Thank you so much for finding time to join me today. I know those are difficult times for our Armenian homeland and Armenians across the globe due to the bloody war unleashed by Turkey and Azerbaijan against Christians in the region. How are you actually doing? Can you give us an update on the current situation? What is really happening?
Karen: Yes, sure.
First of all hi, and thank you for inviting. It’s a pleasure to be here. So it’s a full scale war right now. And, so all Armenian people are united, and we believe that who will win. But it is like full scale war. Azerbaijan attacks from all you know, directions on to Artsakh. Yeah. And the situation is very complicated.
Yeah, I really can hope only that this conflict would come to a positive resolution and the historic justice finally can be affirmed by the recognition of Artsakh independence.
Narine: I try a little bit to tell my listeners who you are. But I think you can do that lot better. Can you give us an introduction on who are you and what you are doing.
Karen: Sure. So I’m the founder and CEO of Exxper Technologies, the company behind Robin the Robot. So we’re creating companion robots for children who undergo challenging and very stressful experiences in the medical settings to help them to reduce their stress, to be more comfortable. Our robot engages with them in order to increase their positive emotions and ease the medical procedures.
Narine: In 2019 you and your friend founded Exxper Technologies. In this way pioneering robotics in Armenia. Can you tell us about your startup journey? How you build a team, how you came up with the idea of Exxper Technologies, and why you choose to do robotics.
Karen: Actually. We started, like, officially, we were incorporated in 2019, but like we started in 2017. So my friend Hayk and I we’ve started together university and from that year’s who always building building every time we build something together, like robotics, hardware projects. So I did my Project at the University. It was like a robot that was drawing on paper. You’re just uploading the pictures from your phone and started growing on. I thought that we can, like, create some educational products from this, like children can, you know, be a kind of educational robotics kit.
Karen: So children can build the robots and start programming it. So during that process, they learn engineering, programming and robotics. But my idea was to not have just a kind of cold device, but have some animated character behind it.
So if we named our robots Charlie first robot. Yeah, we created some kind of eyes and some kind of character. When we saw how this idea works with children connecting with the robot. They were calling the robot bite name. You know, there was some emotional connection behind. We understood that we can apply this idea to the bigger thing, which was Robin.
Narine: Oh, okay, so I’ll get to Robin.
Narine: It’s really fascinating to see that 30% off Armenian tech workers actually are women. As an Armenian woman, I feel so much pride that we have so many women who want to go to STEM education and career. This is actually larger than the 20% global average of women employed in IT sectors across the globe. So I want to ask you how many women currently are working in your team?
Karen: Yeah. So 60% of our team members are female. Yeah,
Narine: That’s that’s really great. 60% you said?
Karen: Yes. Yeah.
Narine: So you came to the market with a very fascinating product – an emotional intelligence robot called Robin. Can you tell us what Robot Robin is about? How does it work and what exact unique problems are you trying to solve with your product?
Karen: So, first of all, the problem is that children undergo very challenging, stressful experiences in medical settings. There being variety of negative factors, like painful procedures, isolation, loneliness, high levels of stress. So all of these factors result in health outcomes.
In their experience of medical settings so the hospitals try to provide social emotional support to children. They have especially designed child life programs, like child support programs.
Karen: But unfortunately, there is a big gap between human resource supply and demand. So there are not that many people that can take care of the Children.
So we’ve created a solution, which is Robin. So Robin is a 6-7 years robot that lives in a hospital and loves to make friends. And we’ve created a special behavior for Robin, which is kind of peer to peer, like friendly interactions with children. So there is no like a doctor- patient relationship or teacher-student relationship. So, Robin interacts with children as a peer. As a kid, you know. And this makes for a very magical experience. And, Robyn helps to solve the loneliness issue, so children don’t feel isolated and lonely in a hospital.
This also helps to increase health outcomes, you know the recovery time. The stress level directly impacts the recovery time. And even Robin makes the medical procedure faster. Because while medical procedure Robin interacts with the child and explains medical procedure, you know, a very fun and entertaining way.
Narine: O, really. That’s cool.
Karen: Yes, Robin can show animated versions of medical equipment, medical tools and explain what they do. So this way, Robin reduces fears related to the medical procedures. So as a result, children become more cooperating with doctors, and less stress. And this way, during our studies, Robin was able to reduce the preparation time for the medical procedures up to 40%
So, Robin becomes a tool in the hands of medical staff to very easily engage with children, because Robin is something from their world. For the children, it’s much easier to interact with Robin rather than an adult in the mask.
Narine: that’s true. Yes. So this way
Karen: Yeah, so this way Robin becomes, you know, buddy who is always there. Who is always there.
Narine: Oh, I like that buddy, who is always there. So you said you have done a study. Can you tell us a little bit, open the scopes what type of study you’ve done that shows that Robin really helps to reduce stress among kids in hospital.
Karen: So we conducted a study, Wigmore Clinic, and also in North Marash Cardiac Clinic.120 Children participated from age 4 to 12 years old. So we used validated psychological instruments to measure Robin’s effectiveness. We collected behavioral data, procedural data, the data on the emotional states and feelings. So the study showed that Robin increased the joyfulness level of children by 26% and also reduced the level of stress by 33%. So children were much, you know, cooperating with the doctors. Their positive emotions increased.
And, we even had a case where a child hadn’t eaten for two days. And after interacting with Robin for 20 minutes, Robin told her like I need to recharge my battery. And the kid said “No, no, I want to play more. Can you stay? And Robin told her I will come back if you recharge yourself too. And she started eating to meet Robin again. But no one can convince her before. So we see some magical, you know, uh, connection of children and how Robin really helps them during their challenging times.
Narine: Well, you want to say that Robin can create emotional connections with children. How does t actually work?
Karen: So by saying emotional connection, I mean that they see a buddy in Robin. So just imagine the experience off a child. They’re far away from the their homes. Right? So there, in an unfamiliar environment, they’re undergoing painful, scary, sometimes painful procedures. And we reshape that experience by integrating Robin So they have a buddy with them. And, yeah, this helps a lot.
Narine: This 2020 has been a rough year for all of us. And it’s a tough and unique situation because we have never experienced a global pandemic. .
Covid not only took many lives; it also impacted on the increase of anxiety, depression, drug abuse due to the social isolation and stress among many.
If it’s tough for adults, I can imagine how tough would that be this pandemic for children. They are already vulnerable to being hospitalized and going through medical treatments. So now adding this global pandemic to what these hospitalized kids are going through – no vistations, no family members, gatherings. That might be very tough.
Have you ever used Robin to help kids to go through stress and anxiety while they’re in hospitals due to COVID?
Karen: So recently we deployed Robin in U. C L A. Metal Children’s hospitals in LA. So we deployed Robin to help them to cope with Covid. Because Vocid19 adds a new layer of problems when visitations have been strictly limited in the hospitals. There is a risk of spreading the virus.
The medical staff avoids interacting with patients, like pediatric patients. So, especially now there is a big need for companionship because. There is a huge level of isolation.
So Robin is made of eco-friendly bio plastic, which also can be very easily sterilized. And, by using Robin, they can provide social emotional support to children without any human direct contact. So this way reduces the virus spread. And on the children’s side, so they can no longer be isolated, even during Covid19.
Narine: Wow that’s really cool.
And I think it’s very important at least to support those kids to go through stress and anxiety. In July, Robin was deployed to United States Hospitals, Children and ABC Kids Dental Group in Los Angeles and U. C L A. Metal Children’s hospitals. Do you have any ongoing partnership and initiative to deploy Robin other hospitals and medical facilities across the United States?
Karen:Yes. So our goal is to deploy Robin in major hospitals in California hospitals and clinics in California in upcoming years. So, currently, we’re working with around thirty medical settings on discussing possible cooperation. And very soon we will deploy Robin in other places, too.
Narine: You should come to the East Coast. Boston. Yeah, we’re
Karen: Yeah, we’re thinking. So, we’re also thinking of deploying Robin there.
Narine:So in terms of your market expansion, internation, what are the key challenges for you, as a startup founder?
Karen: So, uh, I think the hardware companies have the most, like challenging market expansion experience, because when you have a hardware product, you need to provide, maintenance and support it. And this requires direct, you know, interaction with products. So in our case we provide fully support and maintenance services to our customers. We also have technicians where we deploy Robin. So I think some main challenges are connected with having some technical support where we deploy Robin? Where we deploy Robin in that area. Yeah, so this is more logistical, and some human resources challenges. But we’re solving it. So this is not something that stops us.
Narine: Ok, do you have any other plans to target other industries besides healthcare?
Karen: So, yes. So Robin’s potential is not only limited in child care. There are huge opportunities in elderly care industry, um, in the educational sector and also with special needs. This kind of the interactions that we design and the experience. Because we have a team of psychologists designed for all actions.
Narine: So you’re working with psychologists?
Karen: Yes. In our team will have four psychologists. By the way, we recently hired two more people who joined us to work on the user experience and user research and content design. So what we create can be easily scaled to the other industries, too. There is a huge problem of loneliness among elderly people. And loneliness also creates huge financial problems. You know, the probability of having a heart attack is much higher among lonely people. So these are official statistics. Just imagine a companion in an elderly prison who reminds you to take pills, who reminds you to do yoga and just provided meaningful interactions that they need so much. I think
Narine: I think elderly people are a huge demographic in the US and Robin can be a valuable tool for them to cope with loneliness or social isolation. That’s really awesome.
Narine: So it seems in Armenia you have the STEAM fever. More and more young people want to go to STEM education and careers. And robotics are a trending interest among many. 25% of Armenian schools already have robotic clubs. I know the government intends to increase that number up to 50% in upcoming years. Besides the government support for expanding robotics in the country, what do you think, what should be done to foster tech talents in robotics and bring more startups in this field?
Karen: I think we need more comprehensive education in schools. It’s not only about STEM education. So this is maths, physics. And, we need to have more, you know, so we don’t need to do just a project. We need to really dive deep and understand the physics behind it. And only having that comprehensive education, we can have very qualified professionals in the future.
So I think the university also plays a huge role here. And, I think there is already cooperation with the companies in the industry. Like, for example, Synopsis has its educational department in Polytechnical University. So there are a lot of other companies like Microsoft that do this kind of programs at universities. And I think this is really, really helpful and it creates huge value for the students because they get the experience that, like from those companies, and they have the opportunity to start working at that companies from university years.
I personally have started working with Synopsis when I was in my first year of my Bachelor program. So I started working there and I got huge experience. So already when I finished my master program, I had already four or five years of experience working with top, you know, semiconductor companies. So I think this kind of cooperation between the industry and universities can benefit a lot.
Narine: I think you’re right. Hands on experience is really very important critical to improve your tech skills and expand this tech workforce.
So what it takes to start a startup in emerging markets like Armenia. For example, in the United States, we have more opportunities and the bigger market. What are the main challenges in setbacks, you can say, as a startup founder in an emerging market?
Karen: So, I think the main challenges are the lack of funding, because most of the top VCs are located in the US. So there are a lot of funding opportunities. And in Armenia, like we have only four or five like VCs and angel investment networks. And, I think every startup founder when they just started, they do like U. S. Trip fundraising trip. They traveled to the US and try to raise some money for their startup.
And, I think having that ecosystem, like more like the development of that ecosystem here in Armenia will help a lot. Because having more VCs here means having more accelerators or incubators to help startups to faster, develop their idea, validate their product and go farther.
Narine: I mean, that’s a really good idea to have more VCs in Armenia on the ground to help startups instead of just flying to the United States. I know, there are huge ties between Silicon Valley and Armenia, and it’s very helpful for Armenian ecosystem startup ecosystem to expand.
Karen: Yeah, and it’s, like, very hard because, you know, a person who was born in Yerevan or another region. So for someone who hasn’t interacted with that kind of culture of Silicon Valley. They need to be very fast in learning. So you are fitting with that culture. Sure. You know you understand the process. So, this is also challenging. I think only people who learn really fast and can be very flexible, so those people are actually, uh, getting success.
Narine: So where is the one thing you would like to change in Armenia that you think can help expand the technology and innovation ecosystem in a country to attract more foreign entrepreneurs? Investors specifically from the diaspora.
Karen: There are a lot of places in the legal area to improve – investments and IPO. Because, like a year ago, the Government has started improvement in IPO and protection structures. I think there should also be trust from the investors. For example, if a company incorporated in the USA, you know where to invest. They invest in the company where the questions are regulated according to the US laws. They are safe. I think our Government should also create a sense of safety when people invest in Armenia.
Narine: That’s a really good point to create more credibility and trust between investors and companies. And I know the Armenian Government has done a lot to stimulate the startup ecosystem through different programs. Specifically, the visa program is very important. The other day I was reading a report, that in 2019, Armenia actually will be recognized 10th, if I’m not mistaken, an open country to do business.
Karen: Yes, and I think people in here have a lot of house resources that founders can use here in Yerevan. In armenia, there are a Hero House, FAST foundation,
Narine: Neruzh program
Karen: Yes, so my point is if a person is really looking for some experience, knowledge and resources, they can find it right here.
The main factor is their motivation. Are they really motivated? They really want to create some new things, new products. They really want to start a company. That person will always find how to do it. It does not matter where it is – in Armenia, in Russia. First thing is motivation, will.
Narine: Well, I know the motivation is always a driving force behind all successful projects.
Karen: Yes, so actually you can do the same thing in 5 years, 2 months, the only factor, you know is motivation. You can not sleep and spend 20 hours a day working on a product. ANother person can spend only 2 hours a day and do it in 5 years. So, the person who’s more motivated will win.
Narine: Very well said.
It’s really a pleasure talking to you Karen. I think we should do another episode on how young founders motivation. I like it. I
want to thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me today, I really appreciate it.I hope to have you back on my show, to talk more about Robot Robin and Exxper’s new initiatives.
Well, as you can see robotics technologies have transformed the healthcare system introducing new technology solutions for hospitals to help patients easy their treatment procedures.
From personal care, socialization, and psychological help, this Armenian startup Exxper Technology helps children in hospitals to cope with stress and anxiety, supports their mental health and offers new technological ways of patient care.
Their emotionally intelligent robot called Robin creates a friendly environment by engaging children in playful and meaningful interactions by telling funny stories, playing interactive games with children. This makes medical procedures easier and faster
If you would like to learn more about Exxper Technologies and Robin, go to their website at https://www.expper.tech/
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I’m wishing you safe weekend and hope you’ll join me on the next episode
I’m Narine your host and thanks for listening to HyeTech Minds.