Archives for category: robotics

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Those with spinal cord injuries (SCI’s) know that medicine still has a long way toward a successful solution for their injury.  Spinal cord injuries often occur as a result of trauma, such as a fall or gunshot wound. The initial physical compression and loss of blood supply to the spinal cord, followed by secondary edema and swelling cause a death of the spinal nerves which control our movement. In short, this type of injury usually takes away a person’s ability to walk and stand on their own.

SCI’s are normally classified in ASIA grades from complete (A) to normal (E), with incomplete injuries in between. Complete injuries involved complete loss of movement and sensation below the level of injury, while incomplete injuries maintain some preservation of sensation or motor control. Unfortunately, the rate of spontaneous recovery for those with complete injuries is low, while incomplete injuries have a slightly better success rate of recovery.

One project working toward a solution for spinal cord injuries by combining technology and rehabilitation is the Walk Again Project. Working toward a protocol for SCI recovery, this group has recently published research combining virtual reality and robotic assistance with variable gait training. And, it has shown promise of providing some recovery even for paralyzed individuals with complete SCI’s.

In the publication, the project demonstrates a partial return of neurological function in complete SCI’s by combining several methods of treatment. As the person controlled movement via a robotic exoskeleton with their brain using virtual reality for guidance, they also received some physical feedback from their environment. This physical feedback was applied to areas such as their feet or forearms in response to certain movements.

The results of this involved, year-long training are novel and incredible. People with previous complete loss of muscle and sensory function were able to regain some motor control, sensation, and proprioception after training. This is a novel publication by the length of the study and methods of guidance which lead those with SCI’s back toward recovery. The combination of brain machine interface, robotics, and rehabilitation provides a groundwork for future treatment options.

The effectiveness of this training may partly be explained by the idea that by forcing the body to walk and waking up the part of the brain which controls movement, the motor cortex, motor function is partially restored. Additionally, the physical movement may activate CPG’s (central pattern generators) in the spinal cord, which generate rhythmic movement. There may still be a long way to go toward medicine in SCI treatment, but this project provides solutions and hope through combined methods. Watch the video below for more insight into this amazing project:

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The bionic exoskeleton will never, ever cease to be an amazing product. It is, in every way, aligned with the evolution of man, from technology to function. We have developed as humans to walk, and not sit, and so a product that addresses the captivity of being wheelchair bound addresses the essence of what we are: bipedal creatures. The robotic exoskeleton technology has been breathtaking to observe as it evolves, from bulky and functional to increasingly light, mobile, and personalized.

The prosthetic world is undergoing a revolution, and has never seen such advances as in the last 10 years. The work behind it, the hours of labor, the intelligence of those who are painstakingly developing these products while trying to negotiate with the FDA for home and personal use may be unseen, but the finalized product’s beauty is visible. As technology advances, however, so does the cost, and many home units of motorized prosthetics are still out of financial reach for those that need it.

Phoenix by SuitX addresses these financial and functional concerns while presenting an amazing, modular, lightweight product. Weighing only 27 pounds, Phoenix allows 4 hours of continuous use between charges, and can be put on piece by piece for ease of use. Its adaptive fit also allows for a more minimalist design, which can allow for versatility and a generally more aesthetic approach.

SuitX’s mission to accept feedback from its users with constant research and development, gear the product toward versatile ambulatory use, and focus on making not only a highly functional but affordable product marks the shift toward a more approachable and attainable bionic exoskeleton for paraplegics.

Anyone that has ever observed anyone with a neurological injury that renders them paralyzed in the lower extremities understands the necessity of a device that allows them to stand and ambulate. A constant sedentary and inactive life wreaks havoc on a person’s health and is psychologically extremely difficult. For years, otherwise healthy and often young people have been given only a wheelchair as the answer to their injury, but thankfully this sentence is changing with devices such as Phoenix.

Watch the video below for a demonstration and explanation of this amazing product.

SENSARS-PRODUCT-2

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What if there was a device which allowed amputees to feel their limbs again?

The loss of a limb or damage of the nerves that travel through our bodies can greatly diminish the human experience. The sensory system dictates how we respond to our environment, transmitting signals to and from our brains so we can move and feel. Pain, pressure, and temperature response are just some of the functions of the somatosensory system connected to our skin, allowing us to experience the world. In addition, our nerves have a motor component, sending signals from the brain to our muscles, telling them to work so we can move and perform tasks.

Nerves function much like electrical wires, transmitting signals between the brain and areas of stimulus, like an electrical wire between a socket and device. It is this electrical current which causes signals to be transmitted. After an amputation, the nerve is severed, not only disrupting the flow of a nerve signal, but also sometimes leaving amputees with a cruel phantom limb pain, as if the limb was still there. For those with limbs still intact who suffer from nerve damage, the physical limb remains, but its function is diminished without the motor and sensory signals being transmitted.

SENSY by Sensars is almost unbelievable in the amazing feat that it has sought to achieve, allowing amputees and those with nerve damage to feel again. Artificial sensors are implanted to connect to intact nerves, stimulating response in the brain as if there was an intact nerve in a limb. The sensors are connect to wires simulating an actual nerve, and those wires are implanted and connected to actual nerves within the body. Between the artificial sensors  and the residual nerve is an implantable neurostimulator which is bidirectional, sending and receiving signals from both the intact nerve and the artificial sensors.

The versatility of SENSY is also amazing. The company has a multi-functional product which targets both amputees and those with intact limbs who have nerve damage. There are 3 options, but the flow of information is essentially the same. A sensor (either from artificial skin, glove/sock, or “pacemaker”) sends a signal to a controller which is able to activate that signal to an implantable neurostimulator, which causes an electrical signal to communicate with the intact nerve. Once that communication is made, the connection is made between the artificial and biological part of the nervous system, and feeling is processed in the brain.

For amputees, Sensar has sought to decrease phantom limb pain and increase sensory feedback through sensors with a neuroprosthetic device which includes artificial skin. As we know, skin is very sensitive, and in this case will contain sensors which will prompt the prosthetic device to send signal through the artificial nervous system.

For those with intact limbs. the company is designing socks and gloves for those with upper and lower limb nerve damage. These socks and gloves contain sensors within the fabric which act essentially as sensitized skin, also sending signals to an implanted device which communicates with the intact nerves.

Finally, for those with an amputation but without prosthesis, the company has created an implantable pacemaker, essentially an excitable device like a sensor which also sends a signal to the nerve.

Go to the website to read about the full and brilliant description of this product, and watch the video for a visualization of how the artificial sensors are able to communicate with an intact nerve.Still in the prototype phase and not yet available for sale, SENSY will truly impact people’s lives once it is on the market.

 

 

The human ability to grasp objects is an amazing feature of our bodies which we seamlessly integrate into our daily lives. Google is conducting research on how to replicate this feature, and as expected, replicating what we do easily is not so simple.

This post will not highlight a specific product but I would like to review a few important terms and concepts, as so much of robotics is currently shifting toward replicating what we can do with our hands.

Stereognosis: When you reach into your bag and look for your wallet, how do you determine, in seconds, that it is your wallet without having to look at it? Now, when you look for a coin in the wallet, how do you know that you are about to pull out a dime versus a penny? The concept of being able to recognize 3D objects with the sensory feedback from our hands is stereognosis. We know what we are holding without having to use visual cues. It’s phenomenal, and extremely difficult to reproduce due to the involved sensory and neural feedback that is required.

Weight anticipation:  Anticipation of forces is a very important concept in lifting and grasping. You may go through the same motion of lifting a heavy suitcase or a light grocery bag, but the amount of force that you recruit will be very different. Without much effort, we size objects up before we lift them and our brains tell our muscles to recruit the appropriate amount of force to move something. It is how we conserve energy; you don’t need the full force of your bicep to lift a light pencil. It is also how we move efficiently and save our body from injury.

In robots, this anticipation is difficult due to the limited experience, vision, and the possibly simple neural network of a robot.

Grasp: The human ability to use our fingers to pick something up is complicated and involved. Our precision, ability to use tactile cues, the involved sensation and neural network connected to our skin, and our quick ability to adapt and respond to objects means that a seemingly simple task is actually very difficult for a robot to replicate.

Robotics is currently in a very exciting time, with the applications for robotics growing. And as we use more products to enhance our work and daily activities, we find that we are the models and gold standard for the products being created.

 

 

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One of the most exciting aspects of current robotics is the amenability and exchange of ideas that can occur with a single product. Both the remarkable ideas and communities that are created are very exciting.  I discussed this previously, specifically for open source 3D printing in prosthetics for the 3-D Heals community.

But, what if an intelligent arm could be programmed to carry out a wide array of tasks? KATIA from Carbon Robotics is designed for just this, to be to a functional, affordable robot with an open platform to allow versatility. The company has 3D printing and a camera as functions in mind, but is opening up its creator space to the community to give the intelligent arm more functions.

KATIA is, according to the site, ‘Kickass, Trainable, and Intelligent.’ The trainability is a very unique feature, as it appears that once the arm is guided through a motion, it can recall the same motion with ease. Designed with motion sensors and attachments in mind, the possibilities of KATIA are great, with possibly huge implications for those needing extra assistance in daily tasks.

Go to the site for updates with this project, and contribute ideas if you are a developer that would like to take part of its growth.

More details in the video below:

 

 

 

 

 

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Anyone that has ever seen the effects of a stroke knows that they can be physically devastating. Within a day, a physically functional person can lose strength to an entire side of their body and face; leaving them dependent on caretakers or suddenly forced to spend a long period in the hospital. Though a stroke is an injury to the brain, whichever part of the brain it affects means that part of the body’s command center has been injured. In effect this severs the signal to the body, leaving muscles without direction.

Due to disuse after a stroke, the muscles will atrophy and fail to function properly, aligning with the common knowledge of “use it or lose it.”

However, if there is something to intervene early, and assist with rehabilitation and movement, it could possibly accelerate the recovery process.

The Rapael Smart Glove by Neofect is a brilliant way to engage stroke patients in movement and monitor progress. By assigning tasks to the user and simultaneously assisting them with the appropriate movements, the Smart Glove retrains the body in proper movement patterns. Through a mathematical analysis, these ‘task-training games’ are also adjusted for the user’s stroke level, ranging from mild to severe.

Though still in the prototype phase, the product is a brilliant solution to assist with the challenges of retraining stroke patients. Oftentimes, though a person wants to carry out a certain movement, they are unable. A product such as this assists with carrying out the planned movement, helping to bridge the injured signal between the mind and body. The system assists with 3 vital movements in upper body mobility: rotation of the forearm, upward and downward bending of the wrist, and opening and closing the hand.

 

 

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While we don’t normally consider them much until they are injured, our hands are extremely complex and multifunctional, allowing us to carry out the numerous tasks of our day. Truly then, the evolving nature of bionic hands is amazing, getting closer and closer to mimicking the real thing. Saarland University is developing a bionic hand with bundles of smart wires that mimic the bundles of muscle fibers that comprise our muscles. In addition, these bionic hands have sensors built into the wires, much like our our own muscles, which have a ‘shape memory’ and can make precise movements similar to our own hands. This is a huge step toward solving the mechanical problem in prosthetics of trying to match the fine motor movements of a regular anatomical hand.

Though there is no official site for this product yet, the university outlined some of the amazing features of their project in a press release. The combined ‘shape memory’ and bundling of the smart wires also allows heat to be dissipated faster throughout the muscle-like complex, and as heat is energy this allows faster and more precise movements in the hand. The built in sensors in the smart wires also have a position sense, much like the receptors in our own hands that detect a change in position. This is how we know what position our hand is in without having to look at it. These small, but important features are the reason why this project, when it moves forward from the prototype phase, will provide great benefit for its users.