Volymi smart catheter bag alert helps users go with confidence
New Innovator: Device measures urine level and removes that constant anxiety
Worldwide, each year between 250,000 and 500,000 people suffer paralysing spinal cord injuries that require urinary catheterisation. Photograph: iStock
Trips to the toilet are something most people take for granted. But for those dependent on a urinary catheter bag, the process is more complicated. There is constant anxiety about how full the bag is, and it is this problem that the founders of Volymi are aiming to solve with their smart catheter bag alert system.
“Volymi is primarily aimed at catheter bag users with limited mobility,” explains company co-founder Molly O’Mara. “It monitors the amount of urine in the bag and lets the user know when it needs attention. Many catheter users are paralysed and use a wheelchair. This means they cannot check the fullness of their bag without help. If their carer is not around to do this for them, they worry that the bag is getting too full. If it overfills they are at risk of stroke or severe infection.”
Volymi started out as a graduate student project under the broad heading of user-centred design. The topic the students were asked to address was how to improve the toileting experience for wheelchair users. The project was a collaboration between students from Trinity College and Aalto University in Finland and was part of Stanford University’s SUGAR Network for Design Innovation.
No other device with the same capabilities and level of accessibility currently exists on the market
Volymi was formally set up as a business in February of this year, and two of its four founders are currently participating in Trinity College’s Launchbox accelerator for student start-ups. The company’s Irish-based co-founders are Molly O’Mara, a mechanical and aerospace engineer with a background in robotics and high-speed scanners, and Seán McMahon, a mechanical and manufacturing engineer, who has spent the last two years as a physics researcher in Trinity. Their Aalto University-based co-founders are Aleksi Salmi, also an engineer with a background in mechatronics and computer vision, and Juha Vuorenalho, who is studying for a master’s degree in computer science focusing on human-computer interaction.
The founders say it is difficult to get a precise fix on the scale of catheter bag use, but in the US alone there are an estimated 5.6 million users. Worldwide, each year between 250,000 and 500,000 people suffer paralysing spinal cord injuries that require urinary catheterisation. “We wanted our product to be very accessible so that people of diverse mobility levels are able to use it discreetly and independently,” says McMahon. “No other device with the same capabilities and level of accessibility currently exists on the market.”
Volymi’s alert system is based around a series of sensors attached to the outside of the bag. The sensors are linked to a smartphone app and the user can opt to be alerted by a sound or a vibration when their bag is getting full. The system is reusable and can be swapped between bags. It is a non-human contact device so it does not pose an infection risk. It also analyses the user’s urine and detects any change in bladder health indicators (such as hydration levels) to flag a potential problem.
We currently have no direct competition other than existing catheter bags and some apps
This is a very early-stage company and the founders are still working on elements of the design and prototyping. They are hoping to spin-in to the Robotics & Innovation Lab at Trinity, at which point they will apply for commercialisation funding to complete development of the system and bring it to market. As this is a medical device, it will take time to complete the necessary regulatory process. So far, about €20,000 has been spent on R&D, and this has been funded by Trinity and Stanford University. Taking the project to the next stage will require investment of about €350,000.
“We currently have no direct competition other than existing catheter bags and some apps that provide minimal information about user hydration,” says O’Mara. “However, these solutions function at a much lower level than our system and do not provide the same level of convenience.”