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”.

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.

Tor, An Ethical Dilema

tor

Over the summer I have been following reporting surrounding the TOR project. I have learnt some interesting things. I must admit that I tried to download the browser but I couldn’t work out how to get it up and running, but that is probably more due to my own incompetence than anything else.

Tor has some serious issues as far as ethics goes, because it is designed to help people to remain anonymous as they use the net. This may to some seem perfectly justified given that Google and their friends are monitoring our every move and storing it all for resale later, but it is also great for criminal activity.

Recently reports emerged from Russia that the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has personally ordered preparations for laws that would block the Tor anonymity network from the entire Russian sector of the Internet. Obviously his aim is not to stop people from anonymously using the Internet, but to fight crime. The agency initiated the move as internet anonymizers were used by weapon traffickers, drug dealers and credit card fraudsters, giving the FSB an obvious interest in limiting the use of such software.

Other reports claim that not all of Russian law enforcement are in agreement, because criminals tend to overestimate the protection provided by the Undernet, act recklessly and allow themselves to get caught. Here the so-called Undernet is the key though, as anonymity is difficult to police.

Other reports state that “Security experts have accused US law enforcement of taking advantage of a flaw in the Firefox Internet browser then exploiting it to identify and potentially monitor subscribers to Tor”. It appears that the malware comes from the USA, but nobody is admitting to creating it, and as the Russians accuse the FBI and vice versa, any truth will be difficult to find.

One truth is however that Tor allows for the proliferation of various forms of criminality and exploitation that I would rather not go into here. The problem remains though, do we have the right to online anonymity? If not who has the right to stop us?

To return to following the news, I read that workers at the NSA and GCHQ in the UK have been accused of leaking information that they have regarding flaws in the workings of Tor. These two organizations are extremely interested in the browser for the obvious reasons above, but there is more that you might expect here. According to the BBC “The BBC understands, however, that GCHQ does attempt to monitor a range of anonymisation services in order to identify and track down suspects involved in…….crimes”.

But! Tor was originally designed by the US Naval Research Laboratory, and continues to receive funding from the US State Department. It is used by the military, activists, businesses and others to keep communications confidential and aid free speech.

And it turns out that the investigating agency rely on Tor for their own work, to keep themselves safe and anonymous, so they seem to be in a bit of a contradictory position to say the least.

So there appear to be many unanswered questions about the level of anonymity achieved, who has access, who works to destroy and who works to aid the project, and once more I find myself looking into a murky world.

Be decisive!

Technology can be both a help and a hindrance.

Emails

An @ symbol in an envelopeEmails are a fantastic way to communicate. They are fast, they are fairly reliable, it is possible to tell when someone has received your message, you can send pictures and files via them etc.

I love emails, emails are great.

There is a problem with emails though. They have the ability to suck a massive amount of time from your life. According to this study, at work many of us spend over a quarter of our time dealing with emails. I have also heard statistics that we each spend an hour of our lives every day reading and replying to emails. I have access to emails on my phone and as am guilty as many other people, I check my emails every so often. Those ‘every so oftens’ add up though.

The reason I am writing this – and the reason for the title – is because I have just been decisive. This blog is a hobby for me. I enjoy writing, I enjoy updating/fixing the site, and I also enjoy reading what others write.

The thing that annoys me is I don’t particularly enjoy dealing with emails. It used to be okay when just 2 or 3 a day came in, maybe even enjoyable at that rate, but now I get hundreds each week, it has started to become a chore. A chore that I am maybe not always keeping on top of.

I try to deal with emails when they come in, but some are too time-consuming, so I will scan read them and then leave them for later. Later often never comes though.

Moving Forward

So, because this is a hobby, I want to spend time doing the things I enjoy. I can cope with a few small emails.

I have just marked all the emails in Technology Bloggers inbox as read. All those messages I had scan read and then left for later are now gone – all 120 of them!

That’s sorted the problem out for now, but what about the future? 3 lines. 3 lines is all you are getting. If you are going to contact us through our contact form, you can only write up to 500 characters – about 3 lines. You work hard to be clear and concise and I will do the same back.

If you want to take up the 3 sentence challenge, you might want to consider letting people know why your emails are so short.

Lets see if this works.

Smart Canes for the Blind

smartcane

Last week I wrote about Martina Caironi and prosthetic limbs. Today I want to sort of continue the theme by looking at technological aids for the blind or visually impaired. Many readers will have smartphones in their hands and smartmeters in their homes, but I would like to introduce you all to the world of smart-canes.

A cane offers a lot of information to a blind user, but it tends to concentrate on the floor or at best below knee level. Users can avoid objects that are attached to the floor, but overhanging tree branches and other free standing objects are much more difficult to detect. I would like to take a look at two possible solutions, one produced in India and relatively low cost, and the other produced in the UK and relatively high cost.

The Smartcane is the Indian solution, see the photo above. It costs about $50 US, and its designers say it is innovative and user centric. It detects obstacles using sonic waves and the presence of obstacles is conveyed through intuitive vibratory patterns. It is powered using a rechargeable Li–ion battery, and is seperate from the cane, so the user attaches the technology to their existing cane.

The Specs (as taken from the website):

Adjustable detection range: User can switch between long (3 metre) and short (1.8 metre) range mode depending on the usage scenarios such as outdoor, indoor or crowded places.
Ergonomic grip for comfortable holding and cane tapping: Can be held by different gripping styles, allowing users to use their natural cane holding and mobility techniques.
High detection sensitivity: The sensors can detect a 3 centimetre wide pipe from 3 metres distance, ensuring reliable detection of objects in the detection range.
Four intuitive and distinctive vibration patterns indicating obstacle distance.
Vibrations are uniformly produced on the entire grip: Non-localized vibration feedback allows user to conveniently grip the device.
Does not interfere with the auditory environment surrounding the user Vibrations allow discreet continuous use without making the user conscious or creating annoyance to others
Adjustable sensor orientation: Allows people of different heights and with different cane holding styles to direct the sensors appropriately.
In-built rechargeable battery with a long battery back-up: Removing of batteries for charging is not required.
Fully accessible user interface: Simple and distinguishable beeps to convey the battery charge status, low battery warning and charging status.
Failure detection of key components: Users informed immediately on failure of sensors and/ or vibrator through special alarm signals.
Detects fast approaching objects in the detection range: Especially helpful in detection of reversing vehicles.
Easy attachment / detachment from a white cane: Allows for compatible white cane replacement by the user himself.
Multiple colour options: Available in two non- flashy and elegant colours
Robust design: Can withstand accidental fall
Splash proof: Prevents damage during light rain
Conforms to international quality standards

Sounds like a deal to me!
In the UK users can order the above or splash out on another product called Ultracane. The Ultracane works in a similar way to the Smartcane, but it is a single piece of equipment. You order the cane by length. It boasts more or less the same technical specs as the above, but the batteries are interchangeable (so it does not look as if they are rechargeable in situ), it has a strap to aid in holding it, it is foldable and has a replaceable tip. It works over 4 mtrs in front (further than the Smartcane) and 1.6 mtrs in an upward direction. It also has a twin range, choice of tip, is shower-proof, and is available in any colour you like as long as it’s white.

UltraCane

UltraCane

It costs somewhere in the region of $900 in the UK, has a 12 month guarantee and there is a service centre in case of accidents.

I am sure that much of the difference in price is due to development expenses, the Ultracane was very much on its own when it was developed, and has been on the market for several years. The website hosts many happy testimonials. I am pleased to see the development in India though, as it may give many in the developing world access to the kinds of aids that we in Europe have. Ultracane has also developed the Ultrabike, giving the partially sighted the chance to take to the bike paths in safety.

Check out the websites linked above for more information.