The wheel may be one of mankind’s greatest inventions, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life for the wheelchair-bound that much of the modern world is built for the upright – from deli counter-tops and store shelves to stairs and escalators. When Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer was left paralyzed after a car accident in 1997 he set about creating “robotic trousers” to replace a wheelchair. The fruits of his labor are now set to help others with his ReWalk robotic exoskelton set to go on sale from the start of 2011.
Festo, the automation company that designed the bionic penguin
and its robotic stablemates – AirRay, AquaRay, AirJelly and AquaJelly – has found another natural model in its latest application of biomimicry
– the elephant's trunk.
We've covered a number of amazing exoskeletons
here on Gizmag, ranging from the solutions for paraplegics – see REX Bionics'
and Berkley Bionics'
exoskeletons – to the downright wacky Kid Walker
mecha for children. Last year we saw Activelink's Power Loader
, an exoskeleton that takes its name from the suit of the same name in James Cameron's Aliens
. The company, a subsidiary of Panasonic, has now come out with a lightweight version, appropriately named the Power Loader Light.
At a press conference held this morning in San Francisco, California’s Berkeley Bionics unveiled its eLEGS exoskeleton. The computer-controlled device is designed to be worn by paraplegics, providing the power and support to get them out of their wheelchairs, into a standing posture, and walking – albeit with the aid of crutches. The two formerly wheelchair-bound “test pilots” in attendance did indeed use eLEGS to walk across the stage, in a slow-but-steady gait similar to that of full-time crutch-users.
Five years ago, Frog Design
founder Hartmut Esslinger envisioned a technology that “could influence notions of community, identity, and connectivity with minimal impact on the physical environment.” Using an online design portal, users would select and try out a customized electronic processing device that they would then print onto their own skin. The DNA Tattoo, or Dattoo, could include printable input/output tools such as a camera, microphone, or laser-loudspeaker - it would be up to the user, as would the Dattoo’s aesthetics. Most intriguingly, it would capture its wearer’s DNA, to ensure an intimate user/machine relationship.
It's a long time since The Six Million Dollar Man
graced our TV screens; indeed, many Gizmag readers may be too young to have heard of Steve Austin, the Bionic Man. Bionics
have come a long way in the past few years, and while we're not yet creating bionic men and women, we can at least claim to make people "better, stronger, and faster." A robotic hand and bionic leg undergoing clinical trials at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center are two promising neurorehabilitation devices that are helping stroke survivors regain movement in affected limbs by rewiring neural pathways.
Luke Skywalker/Steve Austin-like bionic hands might seem like something straight out of... well, science fiction, but they’re most definitely not. There are now actually several companies competing
to sell hands that can perform complex, independent-fingered tasks, and that can even return a sense of touch to the amputee user. In the recent past, we’ve told you about several of these devices, including the iLimb
, the SmartHand
, and the CYBERHAND
. Recently, British company RSLSteeper officially threw its hat (or glove?) into the ring, with the unveiling of its bebionic myo-electric hand.
Ships are big polluters
and one of the key reasons for this is the energy lost due to friction as they move through the water. Numerous innovations
in marine paint
technology have sought to address this issue and now a group of German material research scientists have unlocked a secret that could radically improve fuel consumption... and it's all down to the marvelous properties of one small plant.
The human body is an amazingly complex bit of kit. Replicating it with bionic technology
presents challenges on many fronts, including the formidable task of mimicking our sense of touch
. This goal could now be a little closer thanks to a breakthrough in carbon nanotube processing by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Borrowing from conventional methods of making glass fiber, the researchers managed to cram 19,600 individual carbon nanotube-containing channels into fibers just four times thicker than a human hair, putting the artificial structure on a scale similar to the tiny neural bundles that make up our nerve pathways.
Researchers at Bionic Vision Australia (BVA) have produced a prototype version of a bionic eye implant
that could be ready to start restoring rudimentary vision to blind people as soon as 2013. The system consists of a pair of glasses with a camera built in, a processor that fits in your pocket, and an ocular implant that sits against the retina at the back of the eye and electronically stimulates the retinal neurons that send visual information to the brain. The resulting visual picture is blocky and low-res at this point, but the technology is bound to improve, and even in its current form it's going to be a major life-changer for those with no vision at all. And the future potential - even for sighted people - is fascinating.