People With Limited Mobility Can Now Use Amazon Alexa to Control Exoskeletons

Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

One of the challenges that comes with engineering exoskeletons that compensate for limited mobility is giving control to the people who wear them. Some systems use hand controls, while others can detect faint signals in the wearer’s muscles and respond accordingly. Now one exoskeleton startup is taking advantage of a technology that’s become mainstream in recent years: voice recognition.

As Engadget reports, Bionik Laboratories has integrated Amazon’s Alexa into its ARKE lower-body exoskeleton. The apparatus is designed for people with spinal chord damage or a history of stroke or traumatic brain injury that has hindered their movement below the waist. After strapping into the suit, wearers will now be able to use it just as they would a television set or stereo enabled with Alexa. Saying “Alexa, I’m ready to stand,” brings the joints to an upright position, and the command “Alexa, I’m ready to walk” prompts the legs to move forward. An Amazon Echo device must be within hearing range for the voice control to work, so in its current state the exoskeleton is only good for making short trips within the home.

Compatibility with Alexa isn’t the only modern feature Bionik worked into the design. The company also claims that ARKE is the first exoskeleton with integrated tablet control. That means if users wish to adjust their suit manually, they can do so by typing commands into a wireless touchpad. The tablet also records information that physical therapists can use to make more informed decisions when treating the patient.

Before the ARKE suit can be made available to consumers, it must first undergo clinical trials and receive approval from the FDA. If the tests go as planned Bionik hopes to have a commercial version of the product ready by 2019.

[h/t Engadget]

This Amateur Rocketeer Builds Functioning, Miniature Replicas of SpaceX Rockets

Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images

Amateur rocketry is a hobby that predates NASA. Hobbyists have successfully made it to space using rockets built without the massive budgets and resources available to larger organizations. And some of these rockets do more than reach incredible heights: As Motherboard reports, Joe Barnard, a 25-year-old rocketeer from Nashville, Tennessee, is working on making model rockets capable of propulsive landings, the same trick that makes some SpaceX rockets reusable.

Most rocket boosters that propel loads past the Earth's atmosphere are designed to go only one way. In 2015, Elon Musk's space exploration company SpaceX made history when it successfully maneuvered the boosters used to launch its Falcon 9 rocket back onto the landing pad. SpaceX says its latest version of the rocket can be re-flown up to 100 times, saving the company millions of dollars per launch.

Joe Barnard is bringing this same level of innovation to the amateur rocketry world. He first became interested in aerospace engineering after watching early SpaceX videos, and instead of earning a degree in the field, he taught himself the basics. He's since made rocketry into a career, founding Barnard Propulsion Systems (BPS), a small business that sells supplies to other hobbyists, and working on rockets of his own.

Like the rockets at SpaceX, Barnard's creations use thrust vectoring—the technology that makes it possible to navigate and stabilize a rocket after launch—only on a much smaller scale. He's built miniature models of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, and as is the case at SpaceX, his launches don't always run smoothly.

Barnard is still perfecting propulsive landings in amateur rockets, but for now he says each failure is a learning experience. You can watch the progress of his experiments on his YouTube channel.

[h/t Motherboard]

This High-Tech Skin Turns Almost Any Object Into a Robot

iStock
iStock

Instead of trading in their low-tech toys for fancy new gadgets, kids of the future may have the option to turn Teddy into a cyborg. As Gizmodo reports, researchers at Yale University have invented a robot "skin" that can give mobility to just about any inanimate object that can bend.

The researchers describe how this technology, called OmniSkins, works in a paper published in Science Robotics. The material, made from elastic sheets that contain sensors and actuators, can be wrapped around any malleable surface and controlled remotely or with on-board light sensors, essentially turning the item into a makeshift robot. The actuators in OmniSkins manipulate the object, while sensors can gauge exactly how much pressure needs to be applied to perform an action.

The project was largely funded by NASA, and it's easy to see how the tech might be used on one of the agency's missions in the future. On board a spacecraft, every cubic inch of space is precious, and the ability to repurpose something into a robotic arm or rover in a pinch would be invaluable to astronauts.

But the technology has potential applications on Earth as well, and not just to allow stuffed animals to walk on their own. Add a few of the skins to a shirt and it could automatically adjust your posture throughout the day, or you could use them to create a gripper to handle hard-to-reach objects.

You can see OmniSkins in action in the video below.

[h/t Gizmodo]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER