This Disabled World category covers the latest technology news and reviews mainly in relation to the fields of Exoskeletons, Robotics, and Self driving, or autonomous vehicles, used to aid persons with disabilities both today and in the future.
NOTE: A prosthesis is defined as an artificial extension that replaces a missing body part. It is part of the field of biomechatronics, the science of fusing mechanical devices with human muscle, skeleton, and nervous systems to assist or enhance motor control lost by trauma, disease, or defect.
We have a separate category that covers types of artificial limbs (prostheses), including research and developments in prosthetics, located at Prostheses and Prosthetics: Artificial Limbs News and Information.
By definition an exoskeleton is a skeleton on the outside of the body in some invertebrate animals, esp. arthropods.
A powered exoskeleton, also known as powered armor, exoframe, or exosuit, is defined as a mobile machine consisting primarily of an outer framework worn by a person, and powered by a system of motors, hydraulics or Pneumatics that delivers at least part of the energy for limb movement. For example, the ReWalk exoskeleton system features powered hip and knee motion to enable those with lower limb disabilities, including paraplegia as a result of spinal cord injury (SCI), to perform self-initiated standing, walking, and stair ascending/ descending.
An autonomous car (driverless car, self-driving car, robotic car) is defined as a vehicle capable of sensing its environment and navigating without input from a person.
Just some of the potential benefits of autonomous cars include increased safety and mobility for children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.
Autonomous vehicles may offer disabled people opportunities for increased mobility and independence, as well as reliable transportation that could vastly increase their, and others, employment opportunities.
For further information on autonomous vehicles and how driver-less cars could provide a level of freedom previously unobtainable to people with disabilities see our article by Laura Chapman, titled What Do Self-Driving Vehicles Mean for Disabled Travelers.
Ethical concerns regarding autonomous vehicles such as "should your self-driving car protect you at all costs, or should it steer you into a ditch, potentially causing serious injury, to avoid hitting a school bus", are covered in the document Ethical Debate On Self-Driving Cars and Decision Making Algorithms by The University of Massachusetts Lowell.
"Everybody is waiting for the arrival of fully automated vehicles, but there's a lot that vehicle manufacturers can be doing already with existing technology to help improve accessibility and mobility for older and disabled drivers." - Dr Ben Davis, Technical Director, Gobotix - (https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/transport/teleoperation.php).
The future is here as far as robotics is concerned. Meet 'Pepper,' a humanoid robot that takes its surroundings into consideration to react proactively using proprietary algorithms.
Robotics is broadly defined as an interdisciplinary branch of engineering and science that includes electronics engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, and others.
The technical field of robotics deals with the design, construction, operation, and use of robots, in addition to sensory feedback, computer systems for control, and information processing.
A "disability robot" is a special robot designed to help people who may have physical disabilities that impede their daily tasks.
The field of expertise that creates such robots is known as "disability robotics", a broad category that includes robotic arms, electric wheelchairs, and other robotic devices that are designed to assist people with disabilities.
Robotic assistive devices are used increasingly to improve the independence and quality of life of persons with disabilities. Devices as varied as robotic feeders, smart-powered wheelchairs, independent mobile robots, and socially assistive robots are becoming more clinically relevant (The role of assistive robotics in the lives of persons with disability: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20134305)
Brain-computer Interface Technology:
In a demonstration that brain-computer interface technology has the potential to improve the function and quality of life of those unable to use their own arms, a woman with quadriplegia shaped the almost human hand of a robot arm with just her thoughts to pick up big and small boxes, a ball, an oddly shaped rock, and fat and skinny tubes - Mind Controlled Robot Arm Project. Brain-computer interface technology has potential to improve function and quality of life of those unable to use their limbs - University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences.
Robotic technology today, as well as in the future, promises to be of tremendous worldwide assistance to people with severe physical disabilities.