Friday, 13 July 2012

Our Robotic Future

The last decade has been all about the Internet. This decade will be all about robots. They are already starting to take over some of the more mundane tasks like vacuuming, mowing the lawn even parking your car is becoming automated.  By the end of this decade your car will drive itself, robots will be assisting in the care of the elderly and disabled, tele-presence robots will be everywhere and will be a normal part of life.  Almost every aspect of our lives will be affected by some level of automation.

One of the biggest advances in the field of Robotics has been the development of powered exoskeletons (Raytheon XOS 2 , HAL ).  These are robots that you wear - they use electronic actuators to assist movement.  They have mainly been used to help people with spinal cord injuries to walk again.  They also require the use of crutches meaning they can only be used by disabled people with significant upper body strength.  They are all so very expensive.  I wish to develop an exoskeleton that will be full body including the fingers and adaptable to many different disabilities.

I believe powered exoskeletons will revolutionise the lives of many people with disabilities. They will also be used in search and rescue also in all sorts of industries from construction, manufacturing to landscape gardening and everything in between.  Before exoskeletons get to this standard a lot of research and development needs to be done.  Industrial exoskeletons simply need better batteries before widespread use is possible.

However exoskeletons for people with disabilities will be much more difficult to achieve. Each disability will require different problems to be overcome.  My disability for example, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, all my nerves work perfectly fine, but my muscles are so weak I'm basically paralysed.  The exoskeleton would need a way to receive the information from the nervous system using either EMG ( Electromyography ) or a more direct interface to individual nerves. EMG is problematic because it relies on electrical signals generated by your muscles as my muscles are very weak the signals are also very weak.

Exoskeletons for people with spinal-cord injuries have already been developed (Ekso), but are not very user-friendly and require the use of crutches or a joystick like the Rex exoskeleton.  Ultimately a direct connection to the nervous system would be required, this is still some time away.  In the timebeing gyroscopes and a myriad of the other sensors along with sophisticated software could be used to make the use of these exoskeletons more natural, and would greatly enhance there capabilities.  In the coming years these devices might even replace manual wheelchairs.

Exoskeletons could also be used to smooth out involuntary motions by people with cerebral palsy.  This is achievable now it just needs people to make it happen.

Exoskeletons would be beneficial for people suffering from many other conditions, not to mention the rehabilitation potential of these devices.  The possibilities offered by powerd exoskeletons are truly awesome, I intend to realise these possibilities.

No comments:

Post a Comment