New robotic devices promise mobility for the handicapped
By Mike Hanlon
June 4, 2004
The recent news that Swiss and Spanish scientists have developed a successful prototype of a mind-controlled wheelchair is yet another indication of broad range of work being done around the planet to develop mobility solutions for the disabled and aged market. Most importantly, the new system adds a critical dimension to the work being done - machine control via the mind. In a system which might best be described as augmented or assisted telepathy, the new system is reported to use electrodes embedded in a skullcap to monitor the brain patterns of the user, interpret them via sophisticated software algorithms, and control the wheelchair via a wireless link.
Like most modern household robotic devices (such as the Dyson Robot Vacuum Cleaner and Husqvarna's Robot Lawn Mower ), the wheelchair monitors the immediate environment and ensure there are no collisions.
Coupled with work recently reported at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology and Independence Technology (a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary), the news suggests that within a few years there will be a wide range of devices enabling the most severely handicapped people to achieve independent mobility.
The aging world population is seen as an affluent target market for carer and helper robotic applications.Gizmo 4 featured an article on exoskeletons - wearable robots capable of adding speed. Strength and intelligent movement to the wearer.
The Power Assist Suit was developed at Kanagawa to aid nurses in lifting immobile patients. Electronic sensors monitor the user's muscles and trigger the hydraulically operated suit to boost strength by more than 50%.
The aging world population is seen as an affluent target market for carer and helper robotic applications.Independence Technology's initial offering, the iBOT, is already in the marketplace.Independence Technology uses the latest technologies to develop cutting-edge products and services to help people with disabilities live their lives with greater freedom, and enrolled the help of Segway inventor Dean Kamen in developing the iBOT Mobility system.
Designed to give disabled people maximum autonomy, the iBOT is a four-wheeled wheel-chair which can rise vertically to eye-level and balance on two wheels, use four wheels to cross rough terrain and can go up and down stairs. The iBOT functions are made possible by gyroscopes that are programmed to create balancing capabilities based on an individual's centre of gravity.
The gyroscopes, in effect, emulate the principle by which humans are able to stand, balance themselves and navigate around and through various environments and terrain.