Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cyberlegs project wants to equip amputees with robotic limbs

You'll see a lot more instances of robotic arms in the news, but it doesn't mean high-tech prostheses for the lower limbs don't exist. The Cyberlegs project, for instance, is developing robotic legs that can help amputees move and walk more naturally. Each system is comprised of smart shoes equipped with pressure sensors and inertial measurement units, the limb itself, as well as a component and algorithm that can decode how the user intends to move. It can, for instance, tell if the user wants to start walking, to get up or to sit down -- based on the amputee's habits -- providing the proper support for each action. Users that need even more help can also be fitted with an accompanying pelvic brace that can assist them in moving their hips.
Cyberlegs is a joint project by a number of European institutions: the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna di Pisa, Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi Onlus in Florence, as well the Catholic University of Louvain and the Free University of Brussels in Belgium. Researchers from these schools have been working on the project since 2012 using $2.7 million in funds from the European Commission, but the Italian scientists have only just presented their work to the public this Monday.
Thus far, the system has already been tested by 11 people. But when the team got together recently to assess their work, they've determined that they still need to reduce the prosthetic's weight and size for comfort. The team is hoping to get additional funds from industrial partners to make that happen and to bring Cyberlegs to market in two to three years' time.

High-tech glove could help the deaf-blind send text messages

In German-speaking countries, deaf-blind people use a "tactile alphabet" called Lorm to communicate with one another, which involves a series of motions on the hand.
The problem with Lorm, though, is that few people understand it. This means that people who are both deaf and blind are often limited to communicating with others who understand Lorm.
But a new technology aims to help them communicate more easily with people who don't understand Lorm. Researchers in Berlin are developing the Mobile Lorm Glove, with which deaf-blind people can transmit Lorm to text on a computer or mobile device.
A deaf-blind person can run her fingers across sensors on the glove's palm, just as she would on a normal hand. The sensors pick up on the Lorm and then translate those tactile motions into text. The communication is then sent as a text message to the receiver's smartphone, for example. The transmission occurs via Bluetooth. 
Conversely, the receiver can then send a message back to the glove. 
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It works just like a normal text message, but there are small vibrating motors on the back of the glove. The text is then translated in Lorm and communicated via vibrations.
The Mobile Lorm Glove could allow deaf-blind people to make more connections and communicate with more than one person at a time. 
The glove is still a prototype but has already had practical applications in the real world.
“I can send and receive — it’s easy,” Edi Haug, a deaf-blind man, told the BBC through the glove's translations.