The ALS Association and Prize4Life announce the ALS Assistive Technology Challenge

After the tremendous success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, ALS organizations are in a position to foster the creation of much needed solutions for people with ALS. One such solution is assistive technology for communication, which for people with ALS who struggle with communication or are completely unable to communicate, has the potential to be not just assistive but transformative.

In April 2015, The ALS Association and Prize4Life organized a workshop for representatives of people with ALS and experts in the field of ALS technology to discuss how to foster the development of technologies for people with ALS. This workshop set the stage for the establishment of the ALS Assistive Technology Challenge.

The ALS Assistive Technology Challenge aims to address the most immediate need of ALS patients and accelerate the development of tools that enable communication. These tools should be:

  • Effective and innovative beyond currently available
  • Easy to use and adaptive to the diverse and changing needs of individuals with ALS, including those with no limb movement or speech capabilities. Solutions should as much as possible accommodate all disease stages and be continuously usable as the disease progresses. Solutions will be tested on patients in all stages. Software solutions should be adaptable to diverse platforms.
  • Cost effective with regards to development and affordable for ALS patients (either directly through price or through a reasonable path to becoming integrated into standard care and reimbursement by international insurance organizations).
  • Accessible to patients as much as possible (i.e., can be used in a wide range of places and situations, portable and easy to manipulate).
  • Scalable within a reasonable timeline (including regulatory requirements from FDA, FCC and UL).

Preference will be given to solutions that are developed with interfaces in multiple languages.

To best foster the development of such technology, the ALS Assistive Technology Challenge Program is built as a two stage grant:

Phase I: The ALS Association and Prize4Life will solicit grant proposals for the development of communication solutions for ALS according to the guidelines above. Each grant will be for the amount of $50,000. Proposals will be considered by the challenge

committee, composed of technology leaders and patient representatives. Up to four proposals will be selected to receive funding for development of technologies for 9-10 months.

Phase II- At the end of Phase I, prototypes developed by the teams will be comparatively assessed by an expert panel of:

  • Technology experts to assess the technology
  • A group of Testers (patients and caregivers) for testing final solutions
  • Clinicians and communication experts to assess adaptability
  • Industry and insurance representative to assess market integration

At the end of the Phase II final assessment event, the best performing team as judged by the challenge committee will receive the second phase of funding ($400,000) to further the development of their technological solutions. Prototypes that haven’t received funding in Phase I would also be allowed to participate at this stage.

In that stage we will also look at several parameters regarding patient satisfaction, such as ease of use, user experience and design, effect on battery life, and reliability of use. Testing in patients is highly valuable and encouraged. The organizers will try to assist interested teams in connecting to relevant patients for testing.

Target Audience

The target audience for this grant includes teams currently in the assistive technology field as well as communities that possess the necessary skill set but are not currently working with people with ALS. The rapid growth in technological solutions for communication (e.g., touchscreens and hand-free devices) demonstrates that there is a vast technological potential in both industry and academia that can be tapped to better the lives of people with ALS.


October 8, 2015: Solicitation phase begins (submission through The ALS Association’s submission mechanism).

November 9, 2015: Deadline for abstract proposals for Phase I.

December 14, 2015: The Challenge Committee will issue requests for full proposals to the groups with the most promising proposals.

January 15, 2016: Deadline for full proposals for Phase I (submission through ALSA’s submission mechanism).

March 1, 2016: Announcement of Phase I Winners

March – October 2016– Phase I duration. On October 31, 2016 participants will have to produce 3 functional prototypes.

November 2016: The ALS Assistive Technology Final Event: Prototypes will be tested by the testers and assessed by the judging panel. At the end of the event, Phase II winners will be declared.