According to Hugh Herr—a professor at MIT, Technology will wipe out disability during this century. How much truth there is in the claim made by professor Herr? Check it out…
Recently, Hugh Herr—the head of MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, made a bold claim that technology will wipe out disability this century. According to professor Herr, fundamental advancements in human-machine interaction will allow society to eliminate disability in the 21st century, establishingthe scientific and technological basis for human augmentation.
Herr lost both his leg to Frostbite after he had a climbing accident on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Following the accident, Herr had his legs amputated and doctors told him that he’d never return to rock climbing. But this statement wasn’t valid for too long.
After the accident, Herr dived into math, science and engineering, and became a pioneer in the bionic limb field. Soon, he designed the bionic legs, which he still uses while performing his duties at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Herr’s bionic legs include multiple computers and sensors that mimic muscles. The high-tech legs allow him to run and walk normally and they make a only a light squeaking as he moves. Herr’s legs allow him to move in the same way biological legs would, but he can’t feel them—yet.
The team of professor Herr is currently working on ways to make the brain have control over bionic limbs, designing the biological body for better communications and natural biomechanical movements through synthetic body part. According to Herr, the future of bionics includes ways to eliminate physical limitations.
Additionally, he believes that advances in genetics, artificial intelligence, regenerative and reconstructive medicine, and robotics are beginning to enable more connections between the human body and machines. Society may be at the threshold of a new age when machines will be intimate extensions of the human body.
The Tech Helping People to Overcome Disability
Professor Herr is not the only doing research to find ways to eliminate physical limitations. There are many other individuals and organizations developing technology that could help disabled people contribute more in the workplace and improve their overall life.
According to World Health Organization, around a billion people worldwide have a disability. In this United States, this would mean that one in five people have a disability. For this reason, tackling disability is crucial and what better way to do it than using technology. Following are some tech helping people to overcome disability.
400,000 people worldwide are affected by Motor neuron disease while multiple sclerosis affects 2.3 million people. Neurons controlling eye movement are more resistant to degenerative diseases and this is true for other parts of the face as well such as the cheek. Eyegaze Edge—an innovation of US company LC technologies, enables people to control a computer using just their eyes.
Pupil Centre/Corneal Reflection, or PCCR is the technology behind Eyegaze. A tablet is set up in front of the user, with a small video camera underneath. The user’s eye is illuminated by a near-infrared LED (light-emitting diode). This is followed by the camera measuring the distance between the center of the user’s pupil and the reflection of the LED light on their cornea. As the user’s gaze changes, this tiny distance shifts, enabling the computer to work out exactly where they are looking.
Developed by Origin Instruments, HeadMouse Nano is equipped with a camera that tracks the movements of a reflective dot stick to the user’s forehead, and these motions control a computer cursor. Selections are made using either a ‘sip-puff’ switch in the mouth, or by dwell time, which is the amount of time the head stays in a certain position.
According to the World Health Organization, there are almost 40 million blind people in the world. However, 90% of the have at least some level of light perception. Considering this, Stephen Hicks—a neuroscientist at Oxford University has developed ‘smart glasses’ that accentuate the contrast between light and dark objects.
The smart glasses try to represent the world in simple and unambiguous real-time images. The nearest image is bright, whereas the rest of the field is black, while the contrast between them is cranked up to maximum.
There are 1.5 million deaf and blind people in the world and technology can help them as well. Deafblind people communicate using tactical alphabets, pressing or pinching different parts of the hand to represent different letters. Now, Nicholas Caparusso—a technologist from Italy, has developed a way of turning these movements and touches into electronic signals via a special glove called dbGlove.
Sensors in the dbGlove turn these alphabet tracings into computer text, and actuators trace the letter back onto the hand. This enables deafblind people to operate computers and smartphones.
Advances in bio-electronics and 3D printing are helping replace missing limbs with prosthetics and give disable people extra functionality. An example of this is Myo—an armband developed by Ontario-based Thalmic Labs in 2014. Using the armband, a person can control computer devices by reading the electricity produced by their skeletal muscles and then sending these signals wirelessly through Bluetooth to the device.
In 2015, the armband was adopted by the researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to control a prosthetic limb and increased adoption of the technology is expected in the future.
From professor Herr’s bionic legs to Eyegaze Edge to Smart glasses and DbGlove, technology is helping people to overcome different types of physical disabilities and it is only a matter of time before technology completely wipes out disability. For more information on this, get in touch with us today.
by Bobby J Davidson
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