New tech aims to im­prove lives of dis­abled

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FEATURES & ANALYSIS -

LAS VE­GAS: Emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy is giv­ing new hope for the dis­abled, and har­ness­ing brain­waves for those with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties and help­ing the vis­ually im­paired with “ar­ti­fi­cial vi­sion” are just the start.

Many sys­tems show­cased at the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Ve­gas are aimed at im­prov­ing qual­ity of life for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

BrainRobotics, a Mas­sachusetts­based startup, showed its pros­the­sis that can be con­trolled by resid­ual mus­cle strength of an am­putee with bet­ter ef­fi­ciency than sim­i­lar de­vices, ac­cord­ing to de­vel­op­ers.

Bicheng Han, a doc­toral can­di­date at Har­vard Univer­sity who founded the group, said the goal is to “pro­vide low cost func­tional pros­thet­ics” at a cost of around $3,000, or far less than the tens of thou­sands of dol­lars for sim­i­lar de­vices.

Robotics en­gi­neer Kacper Puczyd­lowski said the hand, which could hit the mar­ket next year, is “the most nat­u­ral to use” and gets its abil­ity by an­a­lyz­ing mus­cle func­tion and us­ing a clas­si­fi­ca­tion al­go­rithm for spe­cific hand func­tions, such as grasp­ing ob­jects or point­ing fin­gers.

“An av­er­age user, with at least 50 per­cent of their resid­ual mus­cle, should be able to be trained in un­der a month, within their home,” he said.

Over time the group wants to use tech­nol­ogy from its sis­ter com­pany BrainCo to har­ness brain waves for im­proved func­tion.

BrainCo al­ready mar­kets a head­band which helps iden­tify pat­terns of brain waves to help im­prove fo­cus and treat chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

Sev­eral tech­nolo­gies are also be­ing de­vel­oped for the vis­ually im­paired. Is­raeli startup Or­cam showed its de­vice called MyEye, which can be at­tached to arms of eye­glasses and is be­ing mar­keted by French eye­wear gi­ant Es­silor.

The de­vice aims to give greater in­de­pen­dence to those with trou­ble see­ing: It has a tiny cam­era and whis­pers into a user’s ear, and has the abil­ity to read texts and iden­tify peo­ple and ob­jects on su­per­mar­ket shelves.

The com­pany was founded by Am­non Shashua and Ziv Avi­ram, who are also the co-founders of auto tech firm Mo­bil­eye, which is de­vel­op­ing sys­tems for ac­ci­dent avoid­ance and self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles.

Dan­ish-based man­u­fac­turer Oti­con showed its new hear­ing aid, which works with ob­jects in a con­nected home.

Us­ing wire­less Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, it can alert users to a door­bell or smoke de­tec­tor – or let the wearer known when cof­fee is ready.

South Korean group Hyundai mean­while showed its ex­oskele­ton, known as H-MEX, that can of­fer mo­bil­ity to those with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. It can al­low a para­plegic to stand and even walk up stairs, ac­cord­ing to en­gi­neer Jung Kyungmo. The ex­oskele­ton cov­ers the en­tire spine and back of the legs, at­tach­ing at the waist, thighs and knees. The com­pany has no plans for a con­sumer ver­sion but is work­ing with hos­pi­tals and re­searchers.

French-based startup Japet in­tro­duced its At­las ex­oskele­ton, or brace, which takes pres­sure off the ver­te­bral col­umn for peo­ple with chronic back pain, ac­cord­ing to co­founder Damien Bratic.

The brace uses small mo­tors and an­a­lyt­ics that can help in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Bratic said that the de­vice could be avail­able in 2017 or 2018. –

Those with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties may get help from rapidly ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy.

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