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robotics

New Actuators Allow Robots to Play a Role in Medical Recovery

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New Actuators Allow Robots to Play a Role in Medical Recovery

Following a stroke, many patients have to relearn many of their motor skills. Robotic exoskeletons have been touted as a potentially valuable tool for helping patients develop these neuromuscular skills, but the technology has not yet lived up to that potential.

A start-up called LinkDyn may have come up with the solution. The foundation for LinkDyn’s technologies is a novel actuator, which is the component in the robot that is responsible for controlling its movement. The LinkDyn actuator is extremely sensitive to user input, meaning recovering patients don’t have to apply a great deal of force in order for the system to respond. At the same time, the actuator doesn’t move too quickly or too powerfully, which would pose safety concerns. In short, the actuator allows LinkDyn’s technologies to move smoothly and easily, which is essential for any viable neuromuscular recovery system.

LinkDyn has already developed a robotic arm that can be controlled using a virtual reality-based platform that draws on the vast literature of neuromuscular research. In addition, the company is in the process of building wearable exoskeleton robotics with funding from the National Science Foundation. The company’s ultimate goal is to make robotic rehabilitation not only possible, but economically viable for patients.

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Resource Fix: Robots with inflatable parts are lightweight, versatile

iRobot researchers are developing prototype robots with inflatable parts. The Inflatable Robot Manipulator Arm, developed under the AIR (Advanced Inflatable Robots) initiative weighs less than half of a pound, while the arm of a similar robot weighs 15 pounds. This significant weight savings results in a robot that uses less energy and is easier to carry (an important feature for its potential military applications, like defusing explosives). Inflatable parts also make for a more versatile robot. For example, a robot with a deflated arm can navigate through small spaces and then inflate the arm when it’s in position. And the arm’s capabilities can vary depending on its rigidity, which can be modified with more or less air pressure. The arm becomes the right tool at the right time with no additional parts needed. Finally, a robot equipped with a deflatable arm packs up into less space during transport, saving additional resources. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1gcwTXm7oE

What other technologies could employ inflatable parts to reduce resource use and improve capabilities?

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Resource Fix: A robot to replace travel

Last year, we wrote about various ways to accomplish work without traveling, saving resources and money. One option, the virtual meeting, has become more commonplace as technology has made it more accessible and easier to use. But business travel is often motivated by the benefits of face-to-face interactions, some of which are too hard to replicate in a conference room with static screens. What about technology to facilitate less formal interactions, like meeting people in a new office or chatting near the water cooler?

Double Robotics has introduced a relatively inexpensive device that turns an iPad into a telepresence robot. The lightweight “Double” is meant to allow users to interact with colleagues more naturally. A user can navigate around an office, going from meeting to meeting and stopping in the halls to talk. This means that Double’s functionality gets closer to providing the benefits of face-to-face interactions, without the resource use associated with traveling. What do you think – is it close enough?

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