Archives for posts with tag: robotics

Why do we seek external advice for our health? In part, we expect providers to know more than us. This is partially through the experience of treating other patients that have had similar struggles, and also by having the background knowledge and mental data storage to make decisions that will guide us toward our goals. So, what if there was an external system that could help guide the decisions that providers make to improve our health?

Artificial intelligence is going to change the way that clinicians diagnose and treat, for the better. Any human work has the risk of error and knowledge can be variable between practitioners. Patients oftentimes don’t expect to find their providers searching their conditions or related questions on Google, but the truth is that this is common practice. Seeing a condition for the first time, with a client expecting you to provide guidance for them and keep them safe is difficult and sometimes external resources are necessary. In my first years of practice, Google Scholar and the search engine became my close alliances while I navigated many new diagnoses and patient questions.

IBM Watson seeks to provide an external network of both data and experience. It is growing to become an amazing resource for answering questions, compiling data, and helping drive logical decisions in medicine. A large cloud of data storage that learns as it compiles more data, this promises to be a close resource for clinicians by making our decisions more precise and valuable for patients. Watson’s storage allows for a diverse amount of data storage, including personal data along with genomic and clinical research. When searching for information, it will be extremely valuable and efficient to have all this information stored in one known resource.

Quality care is a combination of data and experience. Both are extremely valuable, and the combination is what makes medical decisions supreme. Without research we are unable to learn as a society and defend the decisions that we make. And it is through experience, working with thousands of people, that we begin to see patterns and apply them to our practice. People often ask, ‘have you seen this before?’ It comforts them when the answer is yes, and this is because experience gives us the power of efficiency. With a resource such as IBM Watson, providers will have the benefits of current research and data to pair with our experience.

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In the past, having a neurological injury which left someone with quadriplegia was a life sentence. With research and developing technology has emerged new hope for people left with minimal use of their arms and legs after an event such as severe stroke or spinal cord injury. Current applications are combining the use of virtual reality and electrical signals from the brain to increase people’s function and potential through brain-computer interface (BCI).

In light of the upcoming Cybathlon as well as BCI Meeting 2016, I would like to highlight a company creating much opportunity through research and development. g.tec is a biomedical engineering company that both creates products and conducts research for BCI. While many of the company’s products are inspiring and impressive, it is their BCI research system which is brilliant.

In a BCI system, a person is able to control a target by thinking, and thus using the electrical signals from their brain which are converted into electrical signals which a computer can detect and use to perform tasks. This task can either be something on a computer screen such as a game or computer application, or a robotic device which is able to pick up these signals and move in response. Much like our bodies can use our brain as the command center to tell us to pick up a pen using our left hand, a BCI system can potentially do the same, replacing a biological hand with a robotic limb.

In order for someone to control a target with their brain, there must be multiple working components. A person wears a cap with electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes, and can use motor imagery to plan a task. The electrical signals in the brain which occur while the person is planning this activity are picked up up by the EEG electrodes, amplified, and converted to electrical signals which the computer system uses to carry out the task. It is an incredibly complex and amazing feat to connect biological and computer systems seamlessly to carry out a task.

As the g.tec website elaborates, the electrical conversion from human brain to computer leads to a number of amazing applications. There is, for example, a motor rehabilitation system where a system is controlled by thought directing virtual hand activity, allowing users to control a prosthesis, wheelchair, or virtual reality environment with their mind. In essence, a person can think that they are using their right hand to spell out a word, and the computer spells out this word in response.

Another application of BCI which g.tec is working toward researching is motor rehabilitation through virtual limbs. In this system, a user imagines a limb moving, and is able to visualize this limb in virtual form on a screen. In essence, this system would allow someone with left sided paralysis after a stroke to visualize moving their left arm on a screen. This is incredibly valuable for recovery from a neurological event such as stroke, where decreased activity in the brain of controlling a limb can lead to permanent difficulty of extremity control. “Use it or lose it” unfortunately can prove to be an accurate description of limb use after a debilitating stroke.

While this technology is still emerging and by no means has reached its full potential, g.tec presents us with a diverse platform for research and development of products which will have a huge impact on those who are affected by stroke and other neurological injuries. Anyone who has observed someone with such an injury understands the frustration, disappointment, and loss of independence that such an event brings.

The BCI research system is just one of many groundbreaking products that g.tec is developing. Their site outlines many more products which perform a variety of functions, from cortical mapping to assisting people with communication limitations.

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Research, often underappreciated, is the foundation of medical decisions and the determining factor for whether devices and medications pass on to us as a population. Before we even hear about many of the amazing medical devices that are available to us, they undergo intense research to prove their safety and efficacy, and have to pass through national regulations to be distributed to the general population.

Research is the basis of the trends and decisions that we make in healthcare. In physical therapy, research is the basis of the treatments we provide. It makes for valuable, efficient treatment. Research proves the effectiveness of exercise for treating back pain, and provides the justification for why we prescribe specific exercises.

In the case of brain injury, this research is vital because subjects are not always able to describe their progress and limitations as they go through the healing process. A brain injury, especially when traumatic, leaves someone relearning to do the activities that we spent our childhood years developing: walking, talking, eating, expressing what they want and understanding commands. Time is very valuable during recovery, and it is important to begin effective treatment immediately before the results from the injury become chronic. With good research, there is more likelihood that effective treatment can be provided at an appropriate time.

KINARM Labs is a robotic platform developed for neuroscientists to conduct basic and clinical research for brain injury in the realm of cognitive, sensory, and motor deficits. This is novel and fantastic as it provides an option for both companies developing products and clinical research to learn more about their subjects. It is quite an amazing and involved research option for neuroscientists, with a multitude of research options to explore for researchers. There are two basic categories of available research platform: an Exoskeleton Lab and a hand-held bimanual End-Point Lab.

The Exoskeleton Lab helps to evaluate sensorimotor performance and voluntary motor control after a brain injury. This lab allows researchers to observe aspects of controlled movement such as joint motion. As the site states, this is a huge asset in the development of neuroprosthetics, where devices optimize the use of intact neural systems to help regain motor control of areas that have been injured.

The End-Point Lab is a graspable, hand-held robotics research platform which has sensors which helps to evaluate components important for upper limb control and coordination, visual research, and virtual reality as it relates to brain injury. One of the many great aspects of this lab is that it is bimanual, and thus the performance of an affected side can be compared to the unaffected side after injury.

It is difficult to fully describe all the aspects of this amazing platform. Go to their site to learn more. As healthcare technology expands its options and devices, it is vital for companies to remember that devices and programs available for clients must be based on research and knowledge.

Additionally, see the diagram below for a platform comparison:

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.