The Future Is Now: Jeremiah Robison of Cionic On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Find something you care deeply about: Building a startup is difficult and you’ll have a lot of ups and downs. However, if you’re passionate and believe in your mission, you can power through. This is especially true when you’re in a space as complex as the human body.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremiah Robison.
Jeremiah Robison is the Founder and CEO of Cionic, a company changing the lives of people with mobility differences by helping them move more independently. Since founding Cionic in 2018, Robison is steadfastly working to develop the company’s first offering, the lower leg Neural Sleeve™, via software development, product design, and individual trials. In 2017, Jeremiah and his wife Jacquie founded WAWOS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit “committed to supporting and celebrating children with Cerebral Palsy and related neuromuscular delays through the application of design and technology.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My daughter has cerebral palsy and I know firsthand the frustrating lack of solutions to help her live an independent life. I thought, “We have reusable rockets and self-driving cars, but people with these disabilities have limited options?” That is why, at Cionic, we believe that if we can build the technology, we can change the lives of people with mobility differences and the lives of their loved ones by helping them move with greater confidence and independence.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 2011, I was CTO of Slide, a social networking company. At this time, we had our own server clusters because it was before hosted solutions were around. We were up against a wall of people who demanded our product, so I ordered $500,000 worth of memory to put in our server. However, it wasn’t going to come in time. The memory was supposed to come on a Friday, so I drove about an hour to get it. Driving back in rush hour with several months of payroll in my trunk, I just kept thinking “please don’t get in an accident, please don’t get in an accident.” Nowadays when you need to scale your servers, you just click a button, but back then, it wasn’t so easy.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Predicting movement intent. Our neural clothing uses surface EMG to measure the electrical signal being sent from the brain to the muscles that elicit movement. We have built models on top of this signal that can predict what movement the user intends to perform fractions of a second before they do it. This interface between the brain and machine enables more precise and natural augmentation of movement.
Programmable stimulation array. With our wearable stimulation array we can programmably steer stimulation current to different muscles, eliciting a wide range of precise movements not possible with current fixed electrode systems.
Combining these two technologies into a discreet garment that can analyze, predict, and augment human movement in realtime is the real breakthrough that we hope can improve mobility for individuals living with stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
How do you think this might change the world?
We talk about how disability means not being able to do something. However, technology has always bridged this gap for people. We’re in what I call “the information age,” which is all about how you can access information. I like to think about how information can bridge the gap so much that disability isn’t even a word anymore because this technology will be accessible to everyone. Augmentation will be normalized as a human function and that’s how Cionic’s technology can change the world.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
In late 2019, we had our first sensing+stimulation prototype running on body. Sofia was on break from school and we had her in the office testing out gait stimulation. I remember the holiday music playing in the background as we tested stimulation parameters on each individual muscle while she walked on the treadmill. Late in the day we tried for a “moonshot” stimulating all four major muscle groups of her left leg in coordination with her gait cycle. It was incredible, like watching a wholly different person. Her crouch gait was gone, and she was walking smoothly and confidently. Analyzing the before and after, her gait improved an amazing 70 percent. It’s this synthesis of a million things that have to go right, but when it does, it’s so transformative.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
For us, it begins with picking a disorder that a large population suffers with, which is why we often work with stroke patients. In addition to showing that our technology works, we also need to make it a price point where everyone can afford it and/or get reimbursed by insurance companies. To do this, we begin with the data to show the efficacy, which will help us receive advocacy from clinicians. From here, we need to get the product to the users themselves and work through regulatory clearance and then reimbursement. It will take some time, but it’s worth the wait.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We haven’t been trying to publicize it yet. The reason being that we want concrete data before publicizing our technology. We don’t want to provide false hope, which is why we want the technology itself to leave us room to improve before we offer a product to the world.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Both my mother and father. Growing up, I was constantly in my mom’s physical therapy clinic and with my dad who at the time built supercomputers. My mom worked with people who suffered from spinal injuries and my dad worked in the hardware space. At an early age, I became interested in their work and wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without them. I live every day trying to live up to the example they provided me and think I’m doing them proud.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Ever since we received our daughter’s diagnosis, I’ve wanted to help give back to other families who have children with cerebral palsy, or have it themselves. In 2018, my wife and I founded WAWOS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that makes walker capes for children with CP and funds recreational activities for children with disabilities. Our goal is that every person who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy or another disability that requires them to use a walker, wheelchair or crutches, that one of our capes will accompany them, so they know that they are a superhero.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- Find something you care deeply about: Building a startup is difficult and you’ll have a lot of ups and downs. However, if you’re passionate and believe in your mission, you can power through. This is especially true when you’re in a space as complex as the human body.
- Embrace regulations from the beginning: Many technology companies have tried to delay or skirt regulation. The FDA is not trying to stifle innovation, they are there to make sure that innovation gets to customers safely. Embrace the relationship with your regulators, set up your processes early, and make it part of your culture. It is nearly impossible to bolt it on later.
- Building wearables is hard: Electronics don’t like to be bent or get wet and don’t live seamlessly within clothing. You need to think about solving these challenges first. How do you design a product for manufacturing knowing that the clothing will live on the human body first? I’ve had many products in the past that I was proud of, however, I wasn’t prepared for all the scenarios that came my way. This is why we have a lot of product letdowns within the wearable space.
- Surround yourself with people you want to spend all day with: I’ve been lucky to bring people with me from past jobs that I knew worked well with me. Knowing this from the start is important in creating a successful company.
- Find a partner in your life who can balance you out: When I met my wife, I was in the office three or more nights a week. These all nighters were long, and she had a lot of people say, “Why would you date someone like that?” Even with people making these comments, she had the same work ethic as me and was always supportive. Having this support and encouragement was great and I wouldn’t have been able to make these commitments without a life partner like her.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Stay humble, stay working.” I like this quote because I know a lot of people whose success went to their head. When this happens, you’re not doing the work for the right reasons. You need to keep your humility because once you lose it, it prevents you from really doing something extraordinary.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
At some point in the future, every item of clothing we wear will be embedded with technology that’s intelligent and assistive. It goes beyond Siri. This technology will have to fundamentally change how healthcare and our machinery is run. I know that solving these real world problems for individuals in the most need is the best start toward working on the augmented human. Cionic is the best bet you can make. We aren’t invasive, we are scalable and have a platform that other entities can build on top of.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
The Future Is Now: Jeremiah Robison of Cionic On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.