Could you describe what it is you do ?
It is now easy to produce data, interfaces and uses, including in the medical sector. But which of these are really compatible with a personal and liberating approach to care ? Which will help to create the space and the time for discussions between care staff and patients ? These are the questions that have guided our research and development, making our digital solution stand out. Psychiatry is experiencing a serious crisis at the moment, but is in a position where it can reinvent itself.
The concept behind Ullo is to develop new approaches to care. Whether it’s non-medicinal methods or digital therapy, the aim is to expand the range of tools available to care personnel, with a particular focus on cognitive or neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. More specifically, we have adopted a capability-driven approach, similar to that developed by the philosopher Cynthia Fleury. Our care protocols involve patients, enabling them to come up with their own strategies for their personal and social lives. This involves exploring people’s individual circumstances in order to find the foundations on which to build a treatment pathway.
A person suffering from memory problems may find it increasingly difficult to access memories from their past, but they will still be capable of telling stories, provided they are given the appropriate stimulation. By focusing on this unaffected ability we are able to get patients to work on their speech and to build narratives, through which they can generate social interactions.
We mostly work with institutions that take in both dependent elderly individuals and young people suffering from disorders or dealing with post-traumatic shock.
What are the technological challenges facing your sector ?
We operate at a point where multiple fields converge, most notably human-machine interaction, brain-computer interfaces and physiological computing. We recently incorporated results from neuroscience studies on social interactions, thus adding a collective dimension to the care methods that we develop.
We find ourselves at a critical juncture for health culture and policy, and so our objective is to make the technology and services that we have developed as widely available as possible.
There are challenges in the design process, in that the places in which we operate are both living facilities and care facilities. In care homes, Gardens must respect the fact that these are care environments. It is important not to create any cognitive or organisational pollution for professionals.
But the main challenge today remains data and information. From what you might call a moral perspective, the information used in exchanges with patients must be of good quality in order to avoid disrupting attentional processes or executive functions. We are currently capable of collecting thousands of data, whether physiological, behavioural, cognitive, or psychosocial. But we have to be aware of the relevance and the value of this information. What information can we extract from it that will enable us to better understand disease progression, or perhaps to anticipate it or provide better support ?
What’s next for the start-up ?
Our aim is for every care home in France to have a Garden (an innovative multisensorial system - Ed.) and for all child psychiatry centres to be able to use Flower (a mobile relaxation guide - Ed.) in order to progress in the building of care relationships.
We also have to adapt our economic models to accommodate the diverse range of facilities, in addition to establishing more channels of communication with our markets and our clients.
At the same time, because of our own insatiable curiosity, we will also be allocating resources to help come up with more collective approaches, centred around relationships and communities. As any professional will tell you, treatment is primarily about healthy, beneficial relationships. What’s more, collective experience is a powerful motivating tool, helping us to exceed our individual capacities.
Lastly, a number of studies agree on the importance of “physiological and cognitive entanglement”. Taking things a step further, we can adopt an approach that sees the individual as an abstraction, and where the real is formed of relationships. Consequently, future evolutions in medicine and health could very well take place at the point where the neuroscience of social interactions, information geometry and distributed human-machine interfaces all converge.
What did you do in your career before ?
Prior to studying mathematics and robotics at Inria Sophia-Antipolis, I had studied for a degree in philosophy.
From the outset, I felt this was a suitable environment for the expression of these two components of my career and my identity. I was fortunate enough to carry out my research as part of an LSI (large-scale initiative) involving multiple Inria project teams and external partners. A wide range of sectors were represented, some of which didn’t really fit with each other, which was particularly interesting. The target for this community of engineers was to harness science and technology in order to give vulnerable individuals greater autonomy and dignity.
During my postdoctoral research, I met Jérémy Frey, a PhD student with the Potioc* project team at Inria Bordeaux-Sud-Ouest. That was a real game-changer.
Going to visit Potioc* was like travelling to a different universe: their scientists were more focused on what is good, fair and beautiful than what is true. They operate at the cutting edge in a number of fields - nowhere else would you find a PhD student turning Japanese Zen gardens into a medium for viewing brain activity in augmented reality, the goal being to use digital in order to promote mindfulness.
What prompted you to launch this start-up ? What support did Inria provide ?
Feedback from professionals on daily anecdotes and being able to attend use sessions gave us confidence in our value proposition. There was also a shared sense of energy and a real team spirit, despite the often harsh environment we operate in.
Support from Inria really paved the way for us. This is an institute that preaches active research. When we started out as PhD students, they helped us to acquire technological skills, placing a particular emphasis on the strength of engineers. Inria is also a mark of quality. There was always someone on the phone to answer our questions, and personnel were constantly on-hand, whether it was the Transfer, Innovation and Partnerships department, the Communication Department or investor partners. We were also able to draw on a talent pool, allowing us to recruit extremely highly qualified personnel as we continued our development.
Before she was put in charge of Inria’s Startup Studio, we were fortunate enough to be advised by Sophie Pellat, who helped us to bring our vision and our mission to life. Everything was already there virtually, but in terms of the spark that led to converting our project into a company, we owe that to people like Sophie.
* Potioc is a joint project-team of Inria, CNRS, the university of Bordeaux and Bordeaux INP within the LaBRI (UMR 5800) and the Inria Bordeaux Sud-Ouest research centre.