Tech Trends: Robotics

Robotics refers to technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. These technologies deal with automated machines that can take the place of humans in dangerous environments or manufacturing processes, or resemble humans in appearance, behavior, and/or cognition. Many of today’s robots are inspired by nature contributing to the field of bio-inspired robotics.

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“Luke Arm” Advanced Prosthetic to go on Sale Later this Year

mobius_bionics_luke_arm_largeThe Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Segway inventor Dean Kamen, and medical device company, Mobilius LLC have teamed together to bring one of the most advanced prosthetic arms to market. The prosthetic known as the Luke Arm (named for the prosthetic arm given to Luke Skywalker following his amputation at the end of Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back), was designed by Dean Kamen, funded by DARPA, and is being made commercially available by Mobilius LLC. The Luke Arm is an electromechanical prosthetic limb that offers near natural control for wearers. The arm is adjustable for varying levels of amputation and features enough durability to withstand water and other forms of impact, while having a variable enough grip to hold an egg or lift a milk carton. The Luke Arm also features flexion and extension, and is controlled by myoelectric muscle-controlled sensors in both the arm and foot.

The prosthetic, which sell in the $10,000–$100,000 range, is expected to be available late in 2016.

(Source: Popular Science)

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R70i Aging Suit Allows Users to Experience Aging

aging exosuitThis month, the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey featured an exhibit that allowed participants to experience what life is like for the average 85 year old. The exhibit includes the R70i suit which weighs an extra 40 pounds, and includes a virtual reality headset with headphones, and HD cameras. The suit interfaces with a computer to mimic many of the conditions of aging including macular degeneration, cataracts, hearing loss, and general fatigue. The suit can also cause one leg to feel heavier and more stiff to mimic the sensation of a hip replacement. Volunteers who participate in the exhibit note how difficult daily tasks (such as walking the distance of one city block) can become.

Though it only last a few moments, this technology can help wearer’s understand the struggles of the aging population. It can help family members and caretakers better empathize with the pain and discomfort of their elderly relatives, and thereby deliver better care.

(Source: Popular Science)

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FDA Clears SYMBIS Robots for MRI Procedures

SymbisThe FDA has approved the use of Deerfield Imaging’s SYMBIS stereotactic brain biopsy system. The system allows for robotic biopsies of the brain to be performed simultaneously with an MRI. The goal of the SYMBIS system is to improve the visualization of targeted areas, and procedure time for biopsies. As the system allows for a visual representation of the target, it can also improve tissue sampling and reduce the need for repeat biopsies.

The FDA approval is a huge success for the company, and they now plan to use the SYMBIS as a stepping stone for future neurosurgical tools as well as other medical devices.

(Source: medGadget)

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ReWalk Personal 6.0 Tested for Usability

Israel-based ReWalk Robotics has put their ReWalk Personal 6.0 to the ultimate test– a paralyzed man strapped the exoskeleton suit on and walked through New York City’s midtown amid other pedestrians. While the suit garnered some stares, few people went out of their way to avoid the man, proving the suit’s ability to be integrated into daily, community life.

The ReWalk Personal 6.0 uses servos in the hips and knees to provide walking power, and accelerometers to detect when a user has shifted their weight and is ready to take another step. As an improvement to its predecessors the device has slimmed down, the support straps distribute weight more evenly and improve gait, and the battery pack has been reduced so that it can fit in a fanny pack. The device, which unlike its competitors is meant for home use, has different settings for sitting, standing, walking, and climbing stairs (though the stair mode has not yet been approved by US regulators). While the list price is quite expensive–$77,000, and unlikely to be covered by insurance–the device can vastly improve the quality of life for paralyzed patients.

(Source: ieeeSpectrum)

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Tiny Octopus Robot has Potential to Perform Microsurgery

ocotpus robotsEngineers at the University of Iowa have developed an octopus-inspired robot that is only one centimeter wide, and has “tentacles” so small and thin they can pick up and move objects such as fish eggs and ants without crushing them. Octopi have long inspired robotic designs, however, larger octopus robots are too thick to curl their “tentacles” and lack the precision to handle tiny objects. However, the University of Iowa-designed octobot is a microtube made of stretchy polymer known as elastomer. The robot is so thin that the tentacle can curl up to just 200 microns in diameter, as well as lift and move small objects. The octobot has potential uses in microsurgery, particularly vascular surgery where punctured blood vessels can cause aneurysms.

(Source: Popular Science)

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SynDaver Offers Cost-Efficient Synthetic Cadaver

Cadavers for dissection are an essential part of a health professional’s education and training. These cadavers allow students the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of human anatomy and physiology. The conflict with using cadavers for anatomy and physiology classes is that unless a full cadaver lab is readily available, obtaining cadavers for dissection is too costly. Additionally, cadavers cannot be used an unlimited amount of times and new ones are expensive to obtain and difficult to preserve.

Now, SynDaver Labs in Tampa Florida has developed a synthetic cadaver that very closely mimics the human body. The SynDaver model shares physical and chemical properties of the human body, including water, fiber, and salt content. The cadaver contains hundreds of replaceable muscles, bones, organs, and vessels, and can even simulate bleeding and breathing. The models, which start at $40,000, are an excellent option for medical and health professions schools with limited budgets and a need for cadavers.

(Source: Huffington Post)

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Limbitless Solutions Develops Bionic Limbs for Children that Cost Just $350

Fulbright Scholar and University of Central Florida mechanical engineer, Albert Manero, has assembled a team that works to bring bionic limbs to children in need. The volunteer group–known as Limbitless Solutions–uses 3D printing to create affordable, robotic prosthetics. The bionic limb utilizes electrical muscular signals from the wearer to guide movements. The final prosthetic was designed to look like an arm from the Iron Man suit, and the company chose none other than Robert Downey Jr. to deliver it to a young, disabled boy by the name of Alex. Click on the video above to see watch Alex receive and try the bionic arm for the first time.

(Source: Popular Science)

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New Power Vest Helps With the Lifting and Moving of Patients

Power-VestResearchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology in Germany are working to develop a  “soft robot” vest which will aid caregivers in being able to lift and move patients with limited mobility. One of the more difficult parts of caring for a partially or fully immobile patient lies in being able to carry and move patients. If a caregiver is not in good physical shape, or if the patient is very heavy, both caregiver and patient stand the risk of injury. However, the soft robot vest being developed by the Fraunhofer Institute works by using the wearer’s movements: the vest stores energy when the wearer bends down to lift the patient, then releases a boost of energy to help the wearer lift the patient. The vest can be tailored to adjust the amount of energy released and when, and the vest also features sensors to warn the wearer against over-exertion. Though the device is still in prototype phases, it can potentially be of great use to caregivers both at home and in the hospital.

(Source: medGadget)

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Three Men in Vienna Receive Mind-Controlled Robotic Arms

Three men in Vienna have received mind-controlled robotic arms as part of a new technique known as bionic reconstruction. The three men all had their original limbs, but suffered from brachial plexus injuries which affected the nerve that runs from the armpit into the arm. The bionic reconstruction had three phases that ended in the patients receiving bionic arms that completely interfaced with their nervous system, allowing them to control their new arm with just their brain.

The three phases occurred over a nine month period that involved intense, cognitive training. Patients first learned how to control a virtual hand using electrical signals, then learned to use a hybrid hand– a sort of secondary hand that attached to the patients’ non-functioning hand, and finally patients underwent voluntary amputation of their non-functioning hand to be fitted with a myoelectric prosthetic limb. The new hand allowed the patients to perform every day tasks that they had been unable to perform before receiving the bionic limb. For more information and to see how the bionic limb works, click on the video above.

(Source: CNET)

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MEDi Robot Counsels Children During Vaccines and Blood Tests

Anyone who has ever had to take a child to a physical examination knows the difficulty of giving children vaccines and blood tests. Needles make children nervous and can often cause them scream, cry, or vomit in anticipation. These negative responses to doctor’s visits as a child often lead to adults who are less likely to seek medical help when necessary. Now, University of Calgary-based robotics company, RxRobots has developed a robot who can help children relax and approach their doctor’s visits and encounters with needles calmly. The robot, named MEDi, sits across from children and chats with them as they prepare for their shots. Following a successful blood test or vaccine administration, the robot congratulates the child and gives them an encouraging high-five. To watch the MEDi robot and learn more about how it helps children during doctor’s appointments, watch the video above.

(Source: ieeeSpectrum)

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Cyberdene’s HAL Exoskeleton Could be Available in the United States After 2015

Japanese robotics company, Cyberdene is working to get an FDA approval for the release of its HAL exoskeleton in the US. HAL, which stands for Hybrid Assisted Limb, is the first wearable robot to satisfy international safety standards for personal care robots. The device, which is worn around the lower back and hips and is then strapped to the thighs, offers lumbar support for the wearer, allowing them to easily lift heavy objects. In Japan, the device is currently being used in industries that require heavy labor, as well as for caretakers; the exoskeleton makes lifting and moving patients from wheelchairs to beds more simple and less strenuous. If the HAL receives FDA approval, it could be available in the United States in late 2015, and will be marketed primarily to caretakers and hospitals.

To learn more about the Cyberdene HAL, and to watch wearers easily lift two 20 kilogram plates, watch the video above.

(Source: ieeeSpectrum)

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Xenex’s “Saul” Robot a Powerful Tool in the Fight Against Ebola

xenex-robotThe United States Air Force’s Langley Hospital has obtained a robot which has the potential to fight viruses, including the Ebola virus. The Xenex robot –nicknamed Saul– stands at only five feet two inches, and vaguely resembles Star Wars’ R2D2, however, the tiny robot has the power to disinfect an entire room in minutes, removing all present bacteria, viruses and fungi from surface areas. After a room that has been exposed to a virus is cleared, the Saul robot is sent in to disinfect. While hospital staff is required to sterilize rooms after every patient, there are still bacteria and viruses that can be left behind. The Saul Xenex is used as an extra safety measure by blasting the room with high-energy ultraviolet rays 25,000 times brighter than standard fluorescent light bulbs. Xenex Healthcare Services Implementation Manager, Geri Genalt says that within five minutes of use, Saul can destroy Ebola-like viruses with up to 99.9 percent accuracy and hospitals which have implemented the use of Saul have seen a 60% drop in infection rates.

(Source: Xenex)

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Toshiba Has a New, Sign-Language-Speaking Robot

Toshiba has unveiled its newest robot, Aiko Chihira, a humanoid that can communicate using sign language. The “communication android” is remarkably fluid, using 47 actuators in its joints to speak Japanese Sign Language. Aiko Chihira is still in its developmental stage, and can only mimic simple greetings, but by 2020, Toshiba plans on having a full communication robot who will be able to perform speech synthesis, speech recognition, robotic control, and other features. Ultimately, the Aiko Chihira can be used as a caretaker for elderly and dementia patients. To watch how the Aiko Chihira works, click on the video above.

(Source: YahooTech)

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HelloSpoon Provides Feeding Options for the Disabled

For patients with disabilities which affect the upper extremities, simple tasks such as feeding can become burdensome. These patients often struggle to feed themselves, or have to rely on a caretaker to help them with feeding. Now, Luis Garcia, a mechanical engineer in Mexico has designed a device which will help disabled patients with feedings. The device, known as the HelloSpoon, is a robotic feeder. Users place the HelloSpoon at their dining table, and the robotic feeder is equipped with a spoon and tilted bowl. Users turn the HelloSpoon on with a smartphone and control the device with voice commands. Garcia is raising money for the marketing of HelloSpoon through Indiegogo. For more information and to see how the HelloSpoon works, click on the video above.

(Source: medGadget)

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NeuroVigil’s iBrain Technology to Assist in Understanding Neurological Diseases

iBrain-from-NeuroVigilMedical company NeuroVigil, responsible for developing the world’s first neurological brain scanner, the iBrain, has now teamed with a large, undisclosed pharmaceutical company to assist in the understanding of various neurological diseases and the effect of psychiatric medications on these conditions. The iBrain works by providing single-line EEG’s over an extended period of time. In this particular study, the iBrain’s capacity will be used to measure a patient’s resting EEG, this data will then be compared to an EEG performed after the patient has taken medication. The results will help to determine the side effects of various neurological medications.

(Source: medGadget)

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Medrobotics’ Flex System Surgical Snakebot Submitted for Approval in Europe and the US

SnakebotThe DaVinci robot may soon have competition as the only surgical robot allowed for use in operating rooms, as the Flex System designed by Medrobotics has been submitted for approval in Europe and the United States. The Flex System, also known as a Snakebot, makes an incision-less entry into the body through natural orifices (likely the mouth).  Once in the body, a surgeon uses a monitor and joystick to maneuver the Flex System around tissue and organs, while manually controlling the surgical instruments threaded to the tip of the Snakebot. The system is said to be easier to use than a traditional laparoscopy because it does not require multiple punctures to insert surgical tools and cameras.

If the Flex System gains approval, it will be used initially for head and neck surgery, such as the removal of throat tumors. However, the company has set its ultimate goal for abdominal surgeries.

(Source: Popular Science)

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Researchers at the University of Illinois Develop Muscle-Powered “Biotbots”

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed what they are calling a, “biobot.” The device is a small robot, roughly one centimeter in size, coated with skeletal muscle cells and controlled by electrical impulses. The robot can be made to move slower or more quickly with the use of the electrical currents. Previous biobots have used heart cells in the past, but researchers found that these were difficult to control as heart cells are more sporadic in movement. The use of muscle cells allows the robots to move with a more natural movement that mimics the movements made by animals and humans.

The team from the University of Illinois sees enormous potential for these biobots to be used in surgical robots, environmental detectors, and programmable tissue engineering. For more information, click on the video above.

(Source: engadget)

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Boston University Field Tests a Bionic Pancreas

bionic pancreasResearchers at Boston University are beginning field tests on a new, bionic pancreas.  The device, which is roughly the size of a cellphone and worn externally, works by measuring insulin levels every five minutes, 24 hours a day, and administers the glucagon and insulin a Type-1 diabetes patient might need. In field trials, both adults and adolescents tested the device and their results have exceeded the expectations of the researchers. As one 76 year-old trial patient said, “Some kids were having ice cream sundaes and French fries and forbidden foods, just to see if the device could handle it.”

Researchers for the bionic pancreas are now awaiting the approval of the FDA to begin conducting larger trials.

(Source: Popular Science)

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Oxford Testing Smart Glasses to Aid the Legally Blind

Many legally blind individuals are often capable of being able to see and differentiate between large objects. However, on a dark street at night or in a large crowd, it may become more difficult for them to see things clearly. Now, a research team from Oxford University is working to aid the legally blind with new smart glasses.

The smart glasses are a pair of glasses equipped with a camera and a display unit which overlay images onto the glasses. The glasses are then hooked up to a computer which runs algorithms, allowing for a high contrast to be developed and objects to be shown in real-time with relative clarity. As one test user put it, “it isn’t seeing” in the exact sense that a person with 20/20 vision would be see, but it is a very helpful aid for those with limited vision. To learn more about Oxford’s smart glasses, watch the video above.

(Source: medGadget)

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