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20 jun

Robots Aiding with Disabilities, Improving Lives

RobertCordrayThe aim of technology has always been to improve the lives of people, and that is no less true of people with disabilities. That’s why so much work has gone into the application of robotic replacements or assistants for various types of disability in order to make common tasks easier and give more freedom to whole segments of the population.

But there are, of course, many different ways that robotics can be used to address the needs of people with disabilities. Here are only a few of them.

Bionic Eyes

Perhaps one of the greatest dreams of the biomedical engineering field is the ability to make eyes that can replace non-functioning organic ones. Fortunately, researchers at a number of different companies around the world have developed ways to start returning sight to those who have lost it or never had any to begin with.

Among them, the most advanced bionic eyes come from Second Sight Medical Products: the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis system. The Argus II system implants 60 electrodes into the retina, connecting them to special glasses that contain a powerful set of miniature cameras. The cameras broadcast information to the electrodes, which stimulate the retina to mimic the way natural light would. It doesn’t yet perfectly replace sight, but it does produce partial sight in most users.

Stride Assistants

There is often a misconception that there is a clean, easy line between being able to walk and not, but there is a full spectrum of disability in moving and standing. In many cases movement can be severely impaired by strokes and similar afflictions, making it necessary to employ a robotic mobility resource in order to regain a certain freedom of motion.

That’s why the Honda corporation invented the Stride Management Assist, a set of battery powered legs that can help support and mimic natural leg movement in people who have lost previously present motion. The SMA uses the angle of hip movement and matches the timing of leg motion so as to create a remarkably natural stride.

Another Japanese company, Cyberdene, took the concept even further by creating a full body exoskeleton, the HAL 5, which can be worn on all parts of the body and uses various biosignals detectable on the skin in order to predict the motion of the wearer and adjust its own motion to match and support them. The HAL 5 can help the wearer lift and carry up to five times the amount of weight they previously could, including body weight they couldn’t support before.

Secondary Manipulation Devices

Not all robotic assistants are directly attached to or implanted in people with disabilities. Rather, many of them are secondary devices that are attached to wheelchairs or other items that make the user able to accomplish tasks they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, like driving.

For example, a number of different companies have developed robotic arms that attach to wheelchairs and electric walking assistants in order to help people reach tall places that they cannot climb to or retrieve items that would otherwise be out of their reach with the medical device in the way.

Similarly, the National Institute of Health just began research on a robotically enhanced cane for the visually impaired. The cane can more accurately detect potential obstacles far in advance of a standard one, relaying the information to the user via a series of intuitive signals. The NIH is hoping that this can be employed even in large crowds to present a safe method of moving about for the visually impaired.

These are only a few of the ways that robotic assistants are being employed to help people with disabilities gain some or all of the freedom they previously lacked. As the technology continues to improve, more and more of these devices will be available on the market, improving the lives of millions of people around the globe.

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Posted by Robert Cordray on June 20th, 2014 in Global/Social Change, Health | 0 comments Read related posts in ,

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