Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Life Changing Prosthetics

It is probably a little known fact that about 45 million people around the world are blind, and 36 million people have impaired hearing ability. Little things are known to bring about a great change and technology might be able to enhance the quality of regular life for people with impaired visual and hearing capabilities.

Although the term ‘Bionic ears’ might seem futuristic in concept, a hearing implant company known as Med-El has brought out a wide range of ear implants for partially or completely deaf individuals. For people suffering from acute to heavy sensorineural hearing loss, the cochlear implant system is a practical medical solution. Hearing aids offer little or no advantage to people with this form of hearing inability. The astounding ability to produce auditory sensations comes from the fact that a flexible electrode array is placed within the cochlea at the time of surgery.  The wires let the standard auditory pathway be bypassed. An external microphone which is placed over the ear picks up the sounds and an in-built processor transforms them into digital electronic stimulation patterns. The message is then wirelessly communicated across the scalp along with a bit of energy. The information is plucked by a coil beneath the scalp skin and transmitted to the implant which converts the digital patterns into electrical pulses. These are transmitted to the electrodes located inside the cochlea where they artificially activate the electrical impulses inside the auditory nerve fibers and sidestep the function of the hair cells. Every hair cell stimulates only some of these auditory nerve fibers. However, the electrical pulses within a cochlear implant activate much larger spaces.

One more solution that was presented in the form of a student project and came up trumps at the Microsoft Imagine Cup has a couple of sensor gloves along with a mobile device that can transform sign language into speech. Titled “Enable Talk”, this idea is still in a conceptual stage.

The idea is still a concept and named Enable Talk. The inspiration for the gloves came from observing fellow college students who were deaf having difficulty communicating with other students, which results in them being excluded from activities. As many as 15 flex sensors in the fingers of their gloves evaluate the degree of bend while the movement of the glove through space is detected through a compass, accelerometer, and gyroscope. The sensor data are processed by a microcontroller on the glove that is then sent via Bluetooth to a mobile device. When the pattern is discerned, the device translates the hand and finger positions into text.

There are also some smart ideas for people with visual impairments. Orcam, a company that was established in 2010, came out with a pair of glasses with a smart camera placed on the frames which can understand text, make out objects and also discern whisper sensations in the ears of wearers. This specialized device helps wearers read newspapers and books and even spot the items that the person wearing the glass is pointing at. The device automatically realizes whether the wearer wishes to recognize an object, search an object or read something. This is a simple and intuitive device which works through pointing gesture. The base unit is tinier than standard glasses and can easily fit into pockets or belt clips.

Techno giants such as Samsung also provide Galaxy Core Advance mobile users with three new accessories that can help those with visual impairments and other disabilities. The ultrasonic covers helps users spot various obstacles and navigate alien surroundings by text, vibration or speech alert. When a user holds the cover before him, his visual ability can be enhanced and he can be aware of the environment by sensing objects or people up to 2 meters far away. The optical scan stand helps the device concentrate on printed material and automatically trigger the optical scan application which can discern text from image and reads it loudly to users. The app is especially helpful when the user is alone. The app starts automatically to read text immediately as soon as it can sense paper or any text material on the stand. The voice label helps users make out objects by helping them easily take notes and tag voice labels while on the move.

In 2011, two friends established Ducere Technologies. The two MIT graduates developed a product, known as LECHAL, which was devised for the use of every user. The footwear of LECHAL can also be used by visually challenged individuals. The footwear is equipped with navigational system that is based on interactive haptic and guides users to their destination with the help of simple vibrations. A smartphone application connects to the footwear through Bluetooth and helps the users to reach the places they want to go to. The GPS in the smartphone is used to measure location data and sends directions to users through haptics within the shoe. Apart from GPS, LECHAL also consists of features like calorie tracking and step counting. A user can use the application to create custom workout sessions, set goals and even more. The app can also set destinations, tag locations and start/pause/stop navigation through simple foot gestures. The package comes with a pair of footwear along with a smartphone (Windows, Android or IOS platforms) application and a charger.

Ramesh Raskar, the head of the Camera Culture group at the MIT, has also developed a smart technology with his team to detect and prevent things on an early basis. He has brought out a mobile retinal imaging solution called Eyemitra which brings retinal examinations to routine care and reduces the cost of imaging devices to 1/10th of its present cost. It also introduces image analysis software into the device which can do a predictive analysis. The main cause of adult blindness is Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) and the MIT group hopes to improve the quality of vision with the help of Eyemitra and lower the number of blindness cases related to DR. The group also hopes to bring routine diagnostic retinal exams within the reach of developing nations where a common eye care for diabetics might not be existent even to this day.

Emotiv is a neuroengineering firm that is particularly renowned for its wireless EEG systems, as well as products like:

  • Headset
  • EPOC
  • Personal interface for human computer interaction
The EPOC makes use of a set of as many as 14 sensors along with 2 references for tuning electrical signal of the brain to spot the feeling, expressions and thoughts of users in real time. The Cognitiv suite within the device reads and translates the conscious thoughts and aims of a user. Users can manage virtual objects solely with their thought power. This could be particularly useful to regulating mind keyboard, hands-free games and electric wheelchairs.

Personal BIONICS helps users to do whatever they want with the help of the BiOM® T2 System which offers natural Bionic Propulsion and imitates muscular function of a normal human ankle when it walks with a load. The prosthetic industry is being revolutionized by Personal Bionics with the technology of Bionic Propulsion in ankle which imitates absent muscle and tendon capabilities. The BiOM provides users with power assist and programmable stiffness modulation to:

·         Imitate absent muscle function
·         Decrease gait deviation
·         Reducing loss of metabolic energies
·         Helping in faster speeds
·         Stressing the lower joint all through the musculoskeletal system
These are simply some of the solutions designed to improve the lives of physically challenged individuals. Share with us news about any solution that you think we have missed out.

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