Bionics and IoT: Man Machines

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Bionics and IoT: Man Machines

Most people think of science fiction when they hear the word “cyborg”. But we do not have to take a trip to the movies to find examples of human enhancements described here as Bionics and IoT.

by Rainer Claassen

Humans have been using tools since the first homo sapiens stepped down from their trees and started walking. One obvious reason is that frail human beings aren’t up to many tasks, so they need tools as an extension of their own capabilities. Science fiction authors have fantasized about this for decades, and by creating characters such as Robocop, Iron Man, or even Darth Vader, writers have introduced their ideas about superhuman capabilities to the rest of us so that they are embedded in the popular mindset. But now, technology is pushing the envelope, as tools themselves become more intelligent and sensitive, so that fantasy, thanks to advances in fields such as IoT, is becoming reality.

Bionics and IoT: ATOUN exoskeleton

Lift me up! The Model Y exoskeleton from ATOUN is already being used in warehouses and on building sites. It allows workers to carry heavier loads and to work longer without getting tired and exhausted

Replacing the work of humans by that of machines has been going on for more than a century, but this has not made people obsolete – not by a long shot. Even the most modern production facilities still need human workers. The reasons are obvious: people are more intelligent and flexible than machines. On the other hand, people have limits: they are vulnerable to injuries; they get tired sooner or later; they make dumb mistakes; their strength and perception are limited.

In many cases, machines can reduce these restrictions – with the help of a pulley even a child can lift heavy weights. But technology being developed today now goes further than ever by allowing much more intuitive access to new tools.

Artificial muscles and extra skeletons

A good example is the “Power Assist Suit” manufactured by the Japanese Company ATOUN (a subsidiary of Panasonic), and sold under the product name Model Y. The exoskeleton is adjustable to people of heights from 1.5 to 1.9 meters and supports them in lifting and carrying heavy weights. Workers in warehouses can easily ft them over their working clothes. The skeleton with its carbon-fiber frame that weighs about 4 kilograms will support the wearer in lifting and transporting all kinds of weights.

The suit is equipped with two sets of motors and sensors that detect the waist movements of the wearer. When a worker is about to pick up a heavy object, the suit senses his movements and goes into operation to provide back support. It helps reduce strain by as much as 10 kilograms, lowering the risk of back injuries common among construction workers. The Hong Kongbased company Gammon Construction Limited lately purchased ten assist suites and is currently conducting trials on its construction sites.

Bionic and IoT: Helping hand - Google Glass

Expanded vision: Wearing Google Glass, craftsmen can get additional information about the piece they are working on displayed right in their view.

Medicine is another field where you can find many developments in which humans interact very closely with technology. At Swiss University EPFL, a Center for artificial Muscles was inaugurated in June 2018. Working together with Bern and Zurich University Hospitals, and with the help of a 12-million-frank donation from the Werner Siemens Foundation, they are developing less invasive cardiac assistance systems for treating heart failure. The prosthetic device avoids the complications of hemorrhaging and thrombosis because it will not be in contact with blood at all. It consists of a series of rings placed around the aorta that is made out of dielectric electro active polymers (DEAPs) and controlled by magnetic induction. The rings will help the heart pump blood through magnetic induction, dilating when a current is applied and contracting when it is switched off. Due to immediate reactions, the contraction-relaxation movement can be controlled in real time. Two other projects will follow: a facial-reconstruction project aimed at restoring patients’ ability to make expressions and a project to develop artificial sphincters using the cardiac assistance technology.

Bionics and IoT: DRAPA Info Graphic

Artifcial feelings The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently working on ways of connecting human nerves to digital sensors. This will allow people to conduct prosthetics by thought – and to feel with artificial limbs.

Bionics and IoT: A real helping hand

One of the most impairing injuries a human can experience is the loss of one or both hands. Last year, German prosthetics specialist Ottobock acquired the Bebionic artificial hands from British developer Steeper. These artificial hands are made from high-tech materials used in racing cars and military equipment. The wearer controls them through muscle movements in the upper arm. Two sensors integrated in the prosthetic socket interpret the wearer’s notions and translate them to signals that are transferred to individual motors in each of the fingers of the artificial hand. Microprocessors continuously monitor the position of each fnger, giving precise, reliable control over hand movements. The hand has 14 selectable grip patterns and hand positions. It is tough enough to handle up to 45 kg, so people can carry heavy loads or push themselves up from a seated position. Software and wireless technology located within the myoelectric hand makes it easy to customize the functions to suit its carrier’s preferences. An auto grip function senses when a gripped item is slipping and adjusts the grip to secure it.

Wearers of the prosthetic must get used to it first , but with training and practice, people can perform astonishingly complex tasks with the help of Bebionic, like tying shoes or picking up pieces of paper. Currently, Ottobock engineers are developing a model with eight sensors that will allow even better control by the wearer and a deeper integration. But what is still missing in this solution is a sensory feedback from the hand to the brain. In the USA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently working on that. So far only prototypes have evolved from their cooperation with eight universities and clinics. Researchers at Cornell University have already created an artificial nerve that can sense touch, process information, and communicate with other nerves much like those in human bodies do.

There are more examples of high-tech body equipment that find their way into industrial production. Take Google Glass for example. The development of the intelligent spectacles for the consumer market was cancelled in 2015. But under the brand “Glass” the product is now quietly successful in many business applications – like for DHL in logistics and General Electric in manufacturing, to name only two clients. Wearers can see additional information on things that are currently in their view with the help of the spectacle. That can facilitate work in warehouses, manufacturing, medicine, and logistics.

Give a Hand: Bionics and IoT

Bionics and IoT:  Give a hand - Even in the field of bionics, a do-it-yourself attitude can lead to great results. Mick Ebeling, who founded the organization “Not Impossible,” came across news about a 14-year-old boy from Sudan who had lost both his arms from a bombing in 2013. He decided to do something about that – and not only help this one boy. He put together a team and traveled to Yida to build an artificial arm for Daniel – and to give locals the means and information on how to create prosthetic limbs for other victims injured in bombings. Regular hospital prosthetic arms cost more than €10,000 – the one that Mick created with the help of a 3D printer was only about €100. And with the equipment and the know-how his team left behind, locals were able to build one prosthetic each week after the organization had left Yida.

Listen well Since 1981, Sydney-based Cochlear Limited has helped deaf people to hear again. By amplifying noises and transferring vibrations to the bones of the skull, the company’s implanted devices allow hearing-impaired persons to “hear” voices and ambient noises. Danish hearing-aid pioneer ReSound has now teamed up with Cochlear and developed what they call a “bimodal hearing solution”: wearers have a cochlear implant on one side and a hearing aid on the other. This enhances sound quality and spatial sense as well as the capability to recognize spoken words. With the help of a smartphone app, the system seamlessly integrates with sound systems, TV sets, or even microphones at lectures and conferences. Results of this project are also helpful for business use cases – allowing seamless communication in loud surroundings like warehouses or production facilities. The examples described in this article have one thing in common: they all rely on interfaces that stimulate original human sensory organs. Of course, science is also working on overcoming this limitation. There have been some spectacular experiments, in which people were able to steer machines through electrodes directly connected to their brains. But so far none of them has been reliant enough for long-term use outside of showrooms and laboratories. It seems that the way the human mind and body are organized internally is too complex to be controlled by the technology available today – but it is developing at incredible speed. In his book The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil wrote: “One cubic inch of nanotube circuitry, once fully developed, would be up to one hundred million times more powerful than the human brain.” We have to prepare for questions that arise once the integration of technology starts to go deep beyond the outer layer of our skin and skulls. And with the examples given in this article it is clear that we should do this quickly.


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