Venture Center
Dee Dee Labs

Dee Dee Labs: Developing bionic arms to help amputees

Dee Dee Labs is working on a non-invasive multi-grasp myoelectric prosthetic arm for those whose arms have been amputated. The bionic arm technology platform uses intelligent hardware and algorithms to restore anatomical function to the amputated arm. The primary focus is on next-generation assistive devices starting with upper limb prosthesis.

 Pratik Bhalerao, an Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering graduate from Amravati University in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, was interested in robotics and hardware. He was keen to work in companies in that space. However, when he graduated in 2010 there were not many companies in that field. He got an opportunity to work in a start-up founded by IIT Bombay alumni that was doing something in robotics for school students. He got a chance to work on R&D and product development. Being keen on a research oriented career, he quit that company and joined another start-up that was into robotics and which was incubated at Venture Center. This was his first brush with Venture Center.

 Stints in other companies followed, including one in a multinational company that was into data storage devices. It was then that the founder of the second start-up he worked at pitched the idea of a venture that planned to build advanced bionic prosthetics. He joined the start-up, DeeDee Labs and became its co-founder. The inspiration for starting DeeDee Labs came after co-founder Subhojit Basu attended a lecture by a French national whose right hand had been amputated and who talked about how he had developed a 3D printed electronic prosthetic hand. Dee Dee labs was set up in 2016 and shortly thereafter Subhojit Basu, who founded the company, quit DeeDee and Bhalerao took over as the Co-founder and CEO of the venture.

 With the preliminary ground data, DeeDee Labs applied for Government grants, the first of which was a pre-proof of concept grant from DST’s NSTEDB hosted at Venture Center. The initial electromyography (EMG) sensors were developed and a pre-proof of concept was demonstrated using a robotic arm. An EEG sensor was also built. This was followed by the Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIG) funds from BIRAC, with Venture Center as their BIG partner. This money helped the company in developing the proof-of-concept, building the hardware, a mechanical prototype and developing the software to make a working prototype of a bionic hand. Thanks to this, DeeDee Labs was able to showcase its work to other funding agencies and was able to get both seed funds (NIDHI Seed Support Scheme) and CSR funds hosted at Venture Center to continue with product development and was all set to launch the product in 2020 when the Covid pandemic hit. It was a big struggle for the subsequent two years, says Bhalerao. They were able to use the CSR funds to rectify the design and hardware of the product and did the first commercial delivery in September 2023.

 Thanks to Venture Center’s Tinkering Lab, they were able to develop the product. For product development, they needed facilities such as digital oscilloscopes, multimeters, soldering stations, measuring equipment and signal analysers. That was one aspect of the tinkering lab facility pertaining to electronics equipment. For the mechanical aspect, they needed CAD software, simulation software, rapid prototyping equipment such as 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters, PCB manufacturing equipment and grinder-cutters.

According to Bhalerao, they have tried the bionic arm on a number of volunteers and made the first sale in September. “We are talking to a few customers. Our approach is to deliver directly to end users who have asked about the product through social media platforms. One of the channels of delivery is through hospitals and trauma care centres, but the primary customers are prosthetists,” says Bhalerao.