There are now a number of powered exoskeletons either on the market or in development, all of which allow people who lack the use of their legs to walk in an upright position. The ReWalk
device is without doubt the best-known, having been commercially
available since 2012. This week, ReWalk Robotics announced the sixth
version of the product, which is reportedly better-fitting, faster and
less bulky than its predecessors.
A telepresence robot developed at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) that can be controlled by thought may give people with severe motor disabilities a greater level of independence. Successfully put through its paces by 19 people scattered around Central Europe – nine of whom are quadriplegic and all of whom were hooked up to a brain-machine interface – the robot handled obstacle detection and avoidance on its own while the person controlling it gave general navigation instructions.
We've seen tracked wheelchairs
before, that are able to take on steep or uneven terrain. For regular
surfaces, however, wheels make more sense. That's why a group of
students from ETH Zurich and the Zurich University of the Arts are
creating the Scalevo electric wheelchair, which features wheels for
cruising and tracks for climbing stairs.
After taking a look at the Jet Blade hydroplaning watercraft last week, we were alerted to another senior design project from Calvin College, Michigan. A different group of students has designed and prototyped a device they're calling the TheraTryke. Aimed at those with MS, spinal cord injuries, or complete paraplegics, it lets riders use their hands, feet or a combination of both together to propel themselves forward.
Last year we heard about the GRIT Freedom Chair,
an off-road wheelchair that users propel using arm levers instead of
hand rims on the wheels. While it's pretty neat, it isn't the first
product of its kind. One of its predecessors is the British-made
Mountain Trike, which is now available in two new models to accommodate
riders with varying physical challenges.
Just because you have difficulty walking doesn't mean that you should be limited to the smooth sidewalks and asphalt paths of the world ... at least, not according to folks at Sweden's Zoomability. Their Zoom 4-wheel drive electric vehicle can be operated entirely by hand, allowing people with limited mobility – or anyone else – to get in some off-road action.
Although blind people are generally capable of going about things unaided, there are times when seeing something is a necessity. A new mobile app aims to help the blind in those situations. Be My Eyes connects individuals in need of visual assistance with sighted volunteers via a video call.
Three years ago, scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) reported success in getting rats with severed spinal cords to walk again
. They did so by suspending the animals in a harness, then using implants to electrically stimulate neurons in their lower spinal cord. Although this ultimately resulted in the rats being able to run on their previously-paralyzed hind legs, the technology still wasn't practical for long-term use in humans. Thanks to new research conducted at EPFL, however, that may no longer be the case.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) have successfully tested bilateral shoulder-level prosthetics, allowing a test subject to perform complex tasks using both arms simultaneously. The tests indicate that the system is quick to learn, and it could one day drastically alter the lives of shoulder-level amputees.
Whoever said that losing your mobility also meant giving up your independence? We've already seen that the adventurous wheelchair user or walking-impaired person can head off road with a six-wheeled electric all-terrain vehicle
or a caterpillar-tracked micro EV drive train
. Now there's another option: Rocket Mobility's Tomahawk all-terrain personal utility vehicle, which allows the wheelchair-bound to traverse up to 12 miles (19 km) cross country at a maximum speed of 6 mph (10 km/h).