Friday, September 22, 2017
While Obamacare hangs in the balance and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel stirs the pot in a big way, technology is stepping in to potentially fill the gap in healthcare via inspiring and innovative ways. The rising trend of what is called Assistive Technology is fascinating to track. Everything from exoskeletons synced with apps that help with rehabiltation after stroke to Verily’s (formerly Google’s life sciences arm) tremor spoon already on the market for use by people with Parkinson’s disease, we are witnessing devices that were completely unheard of even just a few decades ago. An umbrella term that includes adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities, Assistive Technology advances are those that will change the future of health and well-being.
Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide. Another 360 million people globally suffer from hearing loss. Over 70 million people use a wheelchair. Thus, there are a staggering number of people who need or could benefit from assistive products to maintain or improve certain physical functions. From hearing aids to memory aids, assistive devices are in high-demand.
However, the news is that certain strides in this arena are actually being developed by companies outside of the U.S. For example, Laevo BV, an exoskeleton company based in The Netherlands, is the manufacturer of the like-named Laevo and actually introduced the first product in 2015. The Laevo is designed to prevent, reduce or relieve work-related back pain. The made-to-measure device, an exoskeleton-of-sorts once worn, is designed for various activities including repetitive heavy lifting and bending. The Laevo is customized but has interchangeable structure sets allowing various individuals on, for example, a construction team, to utilize the same device.
While some construction workers, for example, may never suffer a crippling injury, their bodies can and typically do deteriorate after years of work. With tenuous healthcare situation, many are starting to research such devices to maximize the care of one’s being. “The design of the Laevo respects the human body and lets the user stay in control of the movements, “ explains Laevo founder Boudewijn Wisse. Already sold in 15 countries around the world and is now making its debut in America.
Another offering in assistive devices is being developed out of Israel. Open Sesame is a touch-free smartphone app that is the first of its kind and is designed for quadriplegics and people with disabilities. The app uses the standard front-facing camera of any Android device, to track users’ head-movements and provide them with a means of using mobile devices completely touch-free. Complemented by voice commands, and compatibility with any Android application, the companies Open Sesame technology provides private and independent use of a smartphone or tablet. This offering is poised to hit the U.S. market soon as the product becomes more customizable no matter what the state is of one’s physical condition.
However, some critics have cautioned that such assistive devices prevent greater work toward independence thereby hindering an individual to reach one’s own true potential. Other experts have said that the supportive products might be matched inappropriately to the needs of the user or be too complex, thereby exacerbating an already challenging physical or mental state.
While such concerns will continue to be researched, this particular area of technology has no signs of slowing down soon. Indeed, this particular area of technology may face many challenges but also, potentially, many triumphs as it continues to develop.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Autonomous vehicles can add a new member to their ranks—the self-driving wheelchair. This summer, two robotic wheelchairs made headlines: one at a Singaporean hospital and another at a Japanese airport.
The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, or SMART, developed the former, first deployed in Singapore’s Changi General Hospital in September 2016, where it successfully navigated the hospital’s hallways. It is the latest in a string of autonomous vehicles made by SMART, including a golf cart, electric taxi and, most recently, a scooter that zipped more than 100 MIT visitors around on tours in 2016.
The SMART self-driving wheelchair has been in development for about a year and a half, since January 2016, says Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and a principal investigator in the SMART Future Urban Mobility research group. Today, SMART has two wheelchairs in Singapore and two wheelchairs at MIT being tested in a variety of settings, says Rus.
The robot’s computer uses data from three lidars to make a map. A localization algorithm then determines where it is in the map. The chair’s six wheels lend stability, and the chair is designed to make tight turns and fit through normal-sized doorframes. “When we visited several retirement communities, we realized that the quality of life is dependent on mobility. We want to make it really easy for people to move around,” said Rus in a recent MIT statement.
A second autonomous wheelchair recently premiered at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, designed by Panasonic and Whill, Inc., creator of the Model A Whill wheelchair, a sleek, hi-tech wheelchair now on the market in Japan and the United States.
According to a recent press release, Panasonic is planning to conduct technical trials of the WHILL NEXT this year. Like the SMART wheelchair, the WHILL NEXT uses sensors to detect nearby obstacles. It also employs automation technology developed for Panasonic’s autonomous (and adorable) hospital delivery robot, HOSPI. The wheelchair identifies its position, selects routes, and moves to a chosen destination based on a user’s input into a smartphone app. It can even be hailed with the app – the Uber of wheelchairs.
The WHILL NEXT is also able to sync up with nearby wheelchairs to travel in a column, which is useful for a family or a group, the company notes. Best of all, each wheelchair automatically returns to its home base, reducing the need for airport staff to collect the chairs.
Beyond use in hospitals and airports, the SMART team says they envision a connected autonomous mobility system, where a user could use a scooter or wheelchair indoors at an office, zip outside and pick up a golf cart to cross the parking lot, and slip into an autonomous car to drive home. Recent studies with the scooter suggest the control algorithms work indoors as well as out, according to a press release last year. “The autonomous wheelchair could be very useful in any pedestrian environmen—including hospitals and airports —and we are exploring all these possibilities,” Rus tells IEEE Spectrum.
Yet the field faces the challenge of commercialization. Not all hi-tech wheelchairs have sold well, such as Dean Kamen’s stair-climbing iBot, whose $25,000 price tag was one reason the device was discontinued in 2009. But hopefully the next generation of wheelchairs won’t be as expensive, says Rus. “The system consists of an off-the-shelf wheelchair augmented with an autonomy package. We hope the price point of the autonomy package can come down to make the system affordable.”
Paradromics, a California-based startup, is designing a high-speed brain-computer interface that might have broad implications in the field of prosthetics.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
From the high-tech to the low-tech, 2017 has revealed innovative wheelchair accessories and assistive technologies that help wheelchair users gain independence. We’ve rounded up the top 8 tech accessories recommended for tech-savvy quadriplegics and wheelchair users that add functionality to a power chair and look pretty cool.
tecla-e is a cloud-connected assistive device giving people with upper-body mobility impairments the ability to fully access smart devices and technology that can be used anywhere you go. Users can send and receive emails and text messages, browse the web, watch videos, launch and use apps, read books, change the TV channel or turn the heat up, make (or hang up) phone calls at any time using accessibility switches they are familiar with like buttons, joysticks, and sip-and-puff controllers or their wheelchair driving controls.
tecla-e is for anyone who cannot easily use a smartphone, tablet computer or household technology independently. This includes those with limited upper-body mobility resulting from spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, ALS, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, brain injuries, or stroke.
The Tecla Phone Mount is the solution for mounting your handset on your bed, wheelchair, working table or wherever else you may need it in order to access a smartphone hands-free. If you have limited upper-body mobility, and want to keep you iPhone or Android in place while controlling your powerchair or mobility aid, the Tecla Phone Mount will keep your phone secure. The mounting plate comes with an industrial-grade Dual-Lock fastener and it is recommended to attach the fastener to a hard case or shell, rather than your phone. There is also a holster that is designed to fit the OtterBox Defender Holster, which is one of the most durable cases on the market.
The QuadStick is a mouth operated game controller for Quadriplegics and is available in two models, the original QuadStick and the QuadStick FPS. The goals of the QuadStick are to "provide an inexpensive, self contained tool that allows the disabled gamer to play video games at a high level and participate as an equal in the social communities that form around them."
The device appears to the game console as a PS3 compatible Gamepad, Mouse, Keyboard and Flash drive. The QuadStick is compatible with the PS3, Android, and many PC games that use a joystick, mouse or keyboard.
The Flexible Mounting Arm Kit comes with a flexible arm with Super Clamp and ball and socket RAM Mount adapter. The mount works well for tables as well as the tubing on a wheelchair.
The Quokka is an innovative practical carrying bag designed for people in wheelchairs. Where putting your bag on your lap is uncomfortable, and hanging it on the back of a wheelchair is not safe, the Quokka uses an easy snap and click system with an adapter that attaches to the side of the wheelchair. It also features a magnetic snaps and ringed zippers for easy open and closing. Its style and functionality make Quokka the most innovative wheelchair bag of 2017.
21st Century Scientific Lighting Packages feature a 24 volt 20 watt 1900lm CREE headlamp with a weather-sealed aluminum housing. Each package has a switch box that can be mounted on round tubing and cables that will support one or two headlamps and taillights. Not only do headlights make it easier for power chair users to see their path when travelling at night, but make it easier for others to see them too. These particular headlights are nearly as bright as the headlights of a car, making users feel safe travelling independently after the sun goes down.
JACO is an assistive robotic arm with a three-fingered hand that helps people with disabilities independently perform many activities of daily living through the use of the technology. The arm has been designed to accomplish many tasks of daily life such as drinking from a glass, eating a hot meal, opening doors, pushing buttons (e.g. elevators), picking up objects and more. Kinova Robotics has won multiple awards for JACO, including Startup Canada Global Entrepreneurship Award in 2016.
The Fleximug provides hands-free drinking, designed for quadriplegics resulting from multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, stroke, and spinal injuries as well as wheelchair users seeking assistive solutions for daily activities. Its purpose is to provide independence to wheelchair users who rely on a caregiver or family member to eat and drink. Fleximug's patented air vent makes it easy to use and is suitable for individuals who can move their head freely to one side, and who have good lip control and suction.
The ADA Lap Wheelchair Tray and Accessory System is designed to assist wheelchair users in daily tasks and activities. The products offers the highest convenience and ease of use than any wheelchair tray and multi-accessory mount on the market.
No nuts or bolts are required to setup the base unit, making it easy to setup. The base is sturdy, adjustable and convenient for access to a variety of wheelchair accessories, including the Lap Wheelchair Tray. The system offers several attachments to the base unit that serve different purposes such as a fishing rod for fishing, a camera mount for taking photos and an umbrella to keep dry hands-free, making it highly functional for all your needs.