Powered Exoskeletons

hulc-testing-1

As some readers will know, I have a great interest in prosthetics and other aids that help people to overcome barriers due to their being in some way different. Recently I wrote articles about prosthetic limbs, interviewed the World record holding runner Martina Caironi and looked at canes for the blind. Many posts ago I looked at elective amputation, and today I would like to cast my gaze over exoskeletons.

Companies have now started to produce powered exoskeletons in various forms, for both military and civilian use. Dual use technology has also always been of interest to me for some time, as it is difficult to see how we could draw a line between civilian use and development and military use. If we think that most robot limb and hand developments are geared towards treating soldiers who have been injured while on active service, then we see why the military is the largest investor in such research.

If we take the powered exoskeleton the link is more obvious. The military want an armoured exoskeleton that supports itself (so the soldier does not have to carry the weight) that can enable said soldier to carry more ammunition and supplies, heavier weaponry and move quicker and for a longer period of time.

Robocop comes to mind. But one thing is for sure, the FDA recently gave approval for the sales of the first exoskeleton in the USA, and you can also get one if you live in Europe or parts of the Middle East (at a cost of about $65,000), and so they will soon be seen on the streets.

And there are also many applications in hospital. The machines are used to get people walking again who have had accidents, to build up muscle and to aid other forms of rehab such as balance loss. Who could say that technology that allows someone to walk again after years in a wheelchair is a bad thing?

Exoskeleton in Medical Use

Exoskeleton in Medical Use

 

Well there are actually some arguments related to this. Many of the following are taken from an article called Exoskeletons in a disabilities context: the need for social and ethical research , written by Jathan Sadowski of Arizona State University and available here (payment required).

One problem is that creating the model of how it is correct to move and “be”, makes the non acceptability of alternatives worse. To give an example, the more technology works towards making us all walk upright, as many humans do, the more those who do not walk upright become marginalized. Society does not change to incorporate the differences, but moves to “rectify” the differences, as if it was just a problem to be solved. This may not be the right approach. This wonderful article by Jenny Davis explains all.

Another possible problem is dependence. If a person has access to such a machine they may grow to be dependent upon it. What happens if they lose the use of the machine? If they can no longer afford it, or it is withdrawn, or breaks down? With dependency comes withdrawal, and we might imagine that it would be serious cold turkey in this case. And all this comes without mention of the problem of availability to all. These systems are not cheap.

There are many industrial applications that relate to the needs for the soldiers above, allowing workers to carry heavy objects for long periods of time, or use heavier machinery, something that could on the surface be seen as little more than an advancement in industrialized production methods. This kind of technology would be fantastic for disaster workers too, as well as fire fighters and people working in remote areas or difficult to access spaces.

Here are a couple of links that you might be interested in. This Forbes video shows the development of a new military exoskeleton, once more explaining its civilian use. This TED talk is a little older, showing the development of the same project. Neither has any critical view of the technology however, and the TED talk almost looks like publicity.

In some of the cases above the use of this technology could undoubtedly be described as human enhancement. In others some would say that it is something more akin to a mechanical wheelchair that improves mobility. But one thing is for sure, as Sadowski point out in the article cited above, “any serious consideration – whether critique, condemnation, or support – of enhancement technologies must also incorporate critical inquiry about ethics, politics, justice, and social relations”.

The Rosetta Space Mission

rosetta

This week I am muscling in on Christopher’s space series with a guest post about comet exploration.

In a couple of weeks (on November 12th to be precise), scientists will try to put a lander on a comet for the first time ever. The mission blasted off 10 years ago, made its rendezvous and began orbiting in August of this year, and is currently being prepared to touch down.

The mission is called Rosetta, and it is operated by the European Space Agency. It is a risky mission though and there are no guarantees that the lander will be able to plant itself safely on the comet. But if all goes well, the lander will stay operational as the comet flies closer and closer to the sun in its elliptical orbit, so that it can study how proximity to the sun changes the elements that make up the comet. The orbiter will follow, and should stay with comet until the end of next year, while the lander will operate until the spring when it will then get too hot to function.

Comets are some of the oldest structures in the solar system, so learning what they are made of and how they undergo change is seen as the closest thing to going back to the formation of the system currently possible. Scientists hope to gather evidence about water and carbon content, to see if the Earth could have got its first water and elements that are needed for the development of life from such bodies.

The Europeans Space agency has an interactive graphic so you can see how Rosetta arrived at its destination, and it is well worth a look. You really get an idea of the task of getting to something that is just a few KM across and traveling at 55 000 Kilometres per hour.

This article in the online journal Science gives lots more information, and there are some great photos here.

The European Space Agency are also running a competition to name the area where the craft is due to touch down. They want the public to propose names and reasons to use them, so that someone has the chance to enter the history books as their name will be immortalized. Why not give it a go, read more here.

Bluetooth Gloves

bluetooth gloves

Life in the Netherlands involves biking. Biking involves getting cold hands in the winter. Getting cold hands in the winter means difficulty operating your mobile phone.

It is typical, you are riding down the cycle-path, it is raining, your hands are cold, you might be wearing gloves. The phone rings. You stumble to the side of the path, take your gloves off if you are wearing them because otherwise you can’t get into the pockets of your jeans, through the waterproof trousers and take out your phone. By this time at the last second the person decides that you are not going to answer and bang… missed call with a withheld number. What was it? You will never know.

And your hands are now even colder, the touch screen does not register and in a nervous moment you drop the phone trying to put it back into your pocket with wet hands. You get off the bike, put the stand down, go to retrieve your phone (the back has come off so you have to reset various things) and the bike falls over because of the weight in the panniers.

This every-day occurrence could become a thing of the past though, thanks to a fine invention. Bluetooth gloves. Yes ladies and gentlemen, gloves that use bluetooth to operate your phone. You just press the answer button on the glove, make the phone with your fingers as you do when you are pretending to make a call or playing with the kids, and speak. The sound comes out of the thumb, and the pinky has a microphone.

Available in black or grey, mens or women’s sizes, but unfortunately only with the phone fitted in the left hand, the gloves can even be worn while operating a touchscreen. They are dry cleanable and charge with a USB.

I know what is going on my list for Santa.

Car Trouble

car loans

Last week the New York Times ran an interesting article about cars fitted with the so-called starter interrupt device.

Many might know that some cars have an engine cut off switch that can be remotely operated. If someone steals your car you might be able to track it and turn the engine off if you have forward thinkingly fitted one. But they are becoming more commonly used today on cars that are sold with lease or debt payment.

And it is extremely simple, I sell you the car and as long as you repay the debt or lease charges the vehicle is yours to do what you will, and drive where you like. But if you miss a payment, I can remotely track your movement and at the moment I see fit I can block the car.

So one morning, you have not made the payment on Friday because you are on holiday, you go out to take your child to school, or the dentist, or the hospital because she is sick, and the car won’t start.

Now I would agree that if you want a car you should pay for it, and that if you don’t keep up payments you may lose it, but there are other knock on effects to using such technology in this way. Of course there is the problem that you might block a car that would be used in an emergency situation, like the one suggested above. But the effect of having such a ready resource in reclaiming the car may lead you to sell it to someone who might have difficulty repaying the loan. If you knew that you might have to first find the car, send a car transporter out to recover it and incur some time and financial interference, you might think twice about selling it to someone with a bad credit rating and precarious situation.

If you know you can just track the car, block it when it is in a good place for you to collect, and always know where it is, then who cares? Give them the car and get it back later.

These devices are currently fitted on about 2 million cars, and the article states that their use is helping to push the use of sub-prime auto loans. I am no financial guru but I have heard a lot of talk and read a lot about sub-prime mortgages, and they don’t get good press.

So even if we put aside the issue of privacy, as the lender can see your every move (I put it aside because if you carry a mobile phone you are in the same boat), there is the problem of physical security in case of malfunction, data protection and of course dragging people into high rate loans and all the associated black market dealings that go with debt. But we should not forget that this technology also means that people who would not be able to buy a car can get hold of one, and people might accept the device if the choice is that of car with device, or no car.

High rate loans are justified because they are high risk, so I might argue that if you take the risk out of the loan then the rate should drop, this does not however seem to be the case (surprisingly).

Read more on the argument through the link to the New York Times above, and let me know in the comments section if you have any experience.

INSS Social Sustainability Multi Media Competition

threeleggedstool

Technology Bloggers is pleased to support the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS) Digital media competition “Visions of Social Sustainability”.

The overall goal of the INSS network is to produce a clearer, more applicable definition of social sustainability, and to create opportunities for engaging people in discussions about social sustainability. The network is made up of individuals from various jobs and professions to consider social sustainability, and aims to put people engaging with social sustainability in touch with one another to speed up and promote understanding of this important aspect of sustainability.

The competition is looking for creative explorations of what social sustainability means, how it is being pursued, and how it might be advanced further. The hope is that it will push forward discussion of social sustainability by bringing a broader range of voices into the discussion.

We would invite all readers to think about submitting an entry, give a voice to their ideas and push debate and action in a positive way. Technology Bloggers Editor Jonny Hankins is part of the team that have prepared the call, and through the Bassetti Foundation will help to promote the winning entry.

So why not get your camera or telephone out and have a go?

— Call For Entries —

Multi-Media Competition: Visions of Social Sustainability

What does social sustainability mean to you? Where do you see it in practice? And what are the ingredients for a more sustainable world?

In the past several decades, sustainability has grown into an important and all-encompassing priority for communities and nations around the world. While there is little debate that current patterns of development, production, and consumption are un-sustainable, there is less agreement about what a sustainable world looks like.

There are countless visions of sustainability, and the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability is interested in your vision of social sustainability in a short video or digital media presentation.

Eligible Entries

Amateur or non-professional artists/producers may submit one piece of work in any digital media format up to 10 minutes in length, including but not limited to videos, photo essays, games, and apps. Submissions may be produced using cell phones or other household recording technologies. Limited to one entry per person or group.

How to Submit

Submissions can either be sent directly to visions.of.sustainability@gmail.com or via a link to any large file hosting service (dropbox, hightail etc). Email us with any problems uploading or sending the files. To be considered for the competition, entries must be received by 5 pm EST on January 3, 2015.

Judging

All eligible submissions will be hosted on the INSS YouTube channel and website. The competition will be judged through public vote, and will be promoted through the member institutions of the INSS.

Winning Entry Publicity

The winning entry will be shown at the April 2015 INSS annual conference, where its producer(s) will be invited to present their work. The entry will also be hosted on the INSS website and promoted in other INSS communications. The Bassetti Foundation will promote the winning entry on its website and will seek international press coverage of the winning producer(s). 

Rules

  • Your entry must respect copyright. Any music, video and photos must be your own or used with permission and acknowledged in your description (royalty free or stock audio/photos are ok to use).
  • Your entry must not be owned by someone else (e.g. if you’ve entered into another contest and they now own it).
  • Your entry should be appropriate for a public audience in language and images.
  • Still image and/or graphic slide shows are also eligible, as well as any other digital format.