Archives for posts with tag: wearable technology

VR and no VR treatments compared using fMRI

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What if we could minimize the amount of deleterious painkillers and risky anesthetic procedures simply by providing someone with a distraction? Many people have at some time experienced how distraction can minimize pain, and now virtual reality products are emerging for practical use in healthcare.

Pain is a major reason people seek medical treatment, and one of the main factors that we want to minimize during medical procedures. Like most ‘feelings’ it is also an incredibly difficult concept to objectively measure, and is almost entirely subjective based on the individual. Previous experience, sensitivity, and psycho-social factors all play into our perception of what we perceive as an unpleasant, protective response.

Though it is difficult to tell someone that the pain they are experiencing is ‘all in their head,’ this is the most basic explanation of what is behind the sensation. The way that our brain interprets the signals we receive dictates what we feel.

Firsthand is a virtual reality company which is using the individual interpretation of pain experience to create a product which provides an alternate treatment to manage pain levels. With animation playing for a subject undergoing a medical procedure, early trials have shown a decrease in reported pain for those using the Firsthand virtual reality masks. Subjects wearing the mask can engage in a game such as ‘SnowWorld,’throwing snowballs at objects while they virtually navigate an icy terrain.

A great aspect of Firsthand’s trial is the ability to specify parameters used during the VR experience: a wide field of view above 60 degrees, visual flow, and engaging interaction.This provides a framework toward future use, with the hope that VR can become standardized for pain control.

Numerous studies in medicine and dentistry have begun to turn toward virtual reality as an analgesic. In one study, subjects undergoing a burn wound debridement reported significantly decreased pain when using VR as a distraction. Burn wound debridements are incredibly painful, and it is amazing that numerous subjects would report decreased pain during this procedure without medication.

For those dealing with chronic pain whose only medical option is often medication after failing numerous other treatments, Firsthand could offer some hope to help break the pain cycle. And for those undergoing medical procedures, Firsthand could provide an alternate experience to minimize the recovery and side effects of anesthesia and strong pain medications.

Watch the video below for more insight of how virtual reality can provide an alternative to painkillers for those dealing with chronic pain:

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Grip Glove

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The Wyss Institute at Harvard has many amazing projects, one of which currently is the soft robotic glove. Certain neurological diseases leave many patients with so much weakness and lack of motor control in the hands that they become limited in performing simple daily tasks such as grasping, holding, and lifting objects. These are activities that we often do mindlessly throughout the day, such as brushing our teeth, and as our need for fine motor tasks is so constant that we often do not give this much consideration.

Diseases such as muscular dystrophy, ALS, and incomplete spinal cord injuries can limit the neurological input to the muscles of the hand, decreasing a person’s strength and function. A disease that causes a lack of strength and progressive loss of motor control in the hands leaves its subjects essentially disabled, unable to hold even a cup without dropping it.

The soft robotic glove was developed with these kinds of diseases in mind, and fortunately also kept in mind was the ease of use and comfort for its user. A soft robotic is more flexible and able to mimic natural human movement much better than bulky and rigid external hardware. The motors in the Soft Robotic Glove rather mimic the grasping and fine motor tasks of a healthy hand/wrist complex, allowing more natural motion and improved grip. Much research was put into this project for actuators and sensors that mimic human force, pressure and grip to help clients restore some natural function of their hands.

Still in the development phase and not yet for sale on the market, please watch the video below for more information and insight on this amazing product.

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Each development in the exoskeleton industry seems more amazing and unbelievable, pushing users into a new frontier of possibility for motion. HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) by Cyberdyne, coined as “The world’s first cyborg-type robot,” is a thought-driven exoskeleton which provides gait assistance for its users, among other functions. Designed for both industrial use and motor relearning after neurological injury, HAL provides strength and facilitates feedback for those that need extra power with gait.

Cyberdyne explains HAL’s function from thought to movement in 7 steps. The process is initiated when the user thinks about the movement. In relearning movement after an injury, to include this thought component to the movement process is vital. In an uninjured person every voluntary movement begins in the motor cortex with thought, where the movement signal is ultimately sent to a muscle to produce movement. The way that HAL replicates this process is by attaching sensors on the wearer’s skin which receive these bio-electric signals (BES) from the brain. Upon receiving these signals, the body begins to move, causing the device to move as well, thereby assisting and adding power to human motion.

We are getting closer and closer to a device that will free those with spinal cord injuries, and other neurological injuries, from the restraint of a wheelchair. HAL is an amazing, well executed device.

Please visit the site for more information and sales inquiries. HAL has multiple variations of its product, including lumbar support for lifting and a cleaning robot.

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It is the exoskeleton which ignited my love for robotics, a device which both mirrors and enhances human function without replacing it. As with most technology, as the robotic exoskeleton develops it is moving away from bulky and functional to sleek and precise.

One such example of this development is the Cyclone Rope Piston by Rise Robotics. Rise Robotics has created an actuator (motor) which, paired with cables efficiently transfers power to the user. Just as a particular movement, such as holding something while bending and straightening the arm, is easier if a muscle is able to work throughout the entire range of motion, this motor helps generate power throughout the entire movement of the user. The development of such a motor potentially makes an exoskeleton much more functionally strong by generating more efficient power throughout the entire range of movement of the user.

The Cyclone Rope Piston allows for a lightweight wearable robot to assist with either strenuous activity for an able-bodied person, or movement assistance for rehabilitative purposes. This product is still in the funding phase.

For a more detailed explanation of the impressive and innovative mechanics of this system, I would recommend watching the extremely well made video below:

Silver nanowire sensors hold promise for prosthetics, robotics

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As wearable technology progresses, monitoring activity using these devices will require more accuracy as the user interacts with the environment. From fitness trackers to prosthetics, a wearable robotic device is extremely useful if its user is able to interact and gain feedback from its use. At North Carolina State University, researchers developed a silver-based nanowire sensor to monitor changes in pressure, finger touch, strain, and bioelectronic changes. As described in the study, the sensor involves a material placed between two conductors. The silver wires are the conductors, while the material in the middle is Ecoflex silicone and serves as the electric insulator. These sensors are moveable, stretchable, and respond to pressure changes in real time, within 40 milliseconds. Between these two layers an electric charge is stored, and as the sensor is stretched or deformed in any way, this change is interpreted as energy and measured.

The movements which these sensors are able to detect are walking, running, and jumping from squatting. For use in robotics devices such as exoskeletons and prosthetics, this information will become invaluable as the user will need this information in order to interact with the environment for safety and feedback purposes. The sensors can be used to ‘feel’ the environment, as well as to monitor movement and activity. For those with robotic prosthetic devices, these sensors can be used to provide important feedback to retrain the body and provide kinesthetic feedback.

One of the unique attributes of these sensors is their ability to deform and change shape with movement, as they can stretch up to 150% of their original shape.