Research engineer develops rehab tools to help father's stroke recovery, wins James Dyson Award

Mr John Tay's Rehabit was named the national winner of the annual James Dyson Award. PHOTO: THE JAMES DYSON AWARD
Rehabit, a set of four products focused on upper-limb rehabilitation, allows patients to perform exercises correctly and safely without caregiver assistance. PHOTO: THE JAMES DYSON AWARD

SINGAPORE - After his 59-year-old father suffered a stroke in November 2021, Mr John Tay, 27, accompanied him on weekly visits for therapy and found there was little proper equipment for stroke patients for treatment.

During the rehabilitation sessions, patients practise a series of motions with equipment ranging from hospital machines to smaller items such as balls and cones, all of which require the help of a nurse. 

Tools at the rehabilitation centres were limited and hard to replicate for practice at home. Patients were told to rely on towels and plastic bags to complete these motions.

“I saw the struggles and frustrations he faced when therapy centres did not have proper equipment,” said Mr Tay.

This led the research engineer to develop Rehabit, a set of four products focused on upper-limb rehabilitation, which allows patients to perform exercises correctly and safely.

On Wednesday, Rehabit was named the national winner of the annual James Dyson Award, an international design award that supports budding design engineers at the start of their careers, according to the award’s website.

Rehabit - now used at multiple rehabilitation centres across Singapore - will progress to the next stage of the award, where Dyson engineers will select 20 entries from around the world, from which Sir James Dyson will choose an international winner and two runners-up in October.

The winner of the International James Dyson Award 2021 was a team from Singapore. 

Three National University of Singapore graduates invented a glaucoma screening device named Hopes (Home Eye Pressure E-skin Sensor), a glove that uses sensor technology and artificial intelligence to allow patients to check their eye pressure at home. 

The national winner crown comes with a $9,000 cash award, which Mr Tay is planning to reinvest into upgrading Rehabit. He also aims to explore how these tools can be adapted for other sectors of rehabilitative physical therapy.

In addition to Rehabit, two other entries - an automated vertical farming system and a device that relieves eczema patients of itch - were named the national runners-up for Singapore and would also enter the international stage of the award.

The vertical farming system, developed by four students from the Nanyang Technological University, can be mounted on building exteriors and enable people to grow their own produce at home.

The Rollerball Itch Relief device, developed by National University of Singapore graduate Koh Beining, 23, is a textured rollerball that provides eczema patients with a sensation similar to scratching but ensures that the skin is not damaged in the process.

Said Sir James: “Young design engineers have the ability to develop tangible technologies that can change lives. The James Dyson Award rewards those who have the persistence and tenacity to develop their ideas.”

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