By Tom Snee 4/18/16

A University of Iowa spinout company that invented a device allowing physically impaired patients to communicate with health care providers expects to launch its product this summer after receiving significant investor interest during clinical trials.

Voxello’s device, called the “noddle,” helps patients communicate with nurses and caregivers with the push of a button. The firm points to studies that show as many as one-third of patients in hospital intensive care units are unable to push a standard call switch to summon a nurse, and many cannot speak due to paralysis or ventilation. These hurdles make it difficult for health care providers to know exactly what is wrong and find a way to help the patient.


With the noddle, patients who are unable to speak or are otherwise physically impaired can access nurse call systems, environmental controls, and communication apps on iPads and speech-generating devices. Photo courtesy of the UI Office of Research and Economic Development.

With the noddle, patients who are unable to speak or are otherwise physically impaired can access nurse call systems, environmental controls, and communication apps on iPads and speech-generating devices. The noddle can be used with a touch or simply a click of the tongue. It is built for a hospital environment and has both wired and wireless capabilities.

The noddle—which is derived from “noodle,” a slang term for the brain, and “nod,” a simple method of communication—is currently in clinical trials at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. It’s in the process of receiving federal regulatory approval to go to market.

Voxello was founded in 2013 through the university’s Iowa Medical Innovations Group (IMIG), which brings together students from the colleges of medicine, business, law, and engineering to develop solutions to medical problems identified by clinical staff and faculty. The noddle’s student team consisted of Vince Hahn from the Tippie College of Business and Zihan Zhu, Blake Martinson, and Ben Berkowitz from the College of Engineering. Richard Hurtig, professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, served as the mentor for the product and is now Voxello’s president and chief science officer.

CEO Rives Bird says the company is marching toward closing out its $1.2 million first round of financing offered to external investors, with more than $300,000 secured.

“We’re very, very close to being on the market,” Bird says. “Everything is hitting just right for us right now.”

The group has received capital awards from the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research program and from the non-profit Innovation Iowa Corp. and received gap funding from the UI Office of Research and Economic Development. They’ve also presented at numerous forums and showcases that provide access to equity capital for emerging, privately held companies seeking venture funds.

“We couldn’t be happier with where Voxello is heading and how our team is performing,” Bird says. “Everything is happening as a result of our outstanding team efforts.”