6 Latest Advances in Assistive Technology
It’s estimated that 48.9 million people in the United States have some sort of disability. 24.1 million people have severe disabilities, and 34.2 million people have a functional limitation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation.
As defined by the survey, people who have severe disabilities are those who are unable to perform one or more activities of daily living; have one or more specific disabilities; or are long-term users of assistive devices such as crutches, walkers and wheelchairs.
As defined by the survey, people who have a non-severe disability are those who have difficulty performing functional activities such as seeing, hearing, lifting, carrying, climbing stairs, walking or having their speech understood. The survey concluded that people who have a non-severe disability have difficulty with activities of daily living.
There are many new advances in assistive technology. Smart gloves, driverless cars, robotic arms and more are just some of the new advances coming out for people who have physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from living normally.
Smart gloves are one of the latest advances in assistive technology. Smart gloves were created by researchers at the University of California in San Diego. The inexpensive smart gloves automatically translate American Sign Language to digital text that appears on a computer or smartphone.
To use the gloves, the wearer simply signs American Sign Language. The American Sign Language is then recognized by the ways of variances in the electrical resistance. The variances allow an onboard computer to figure out what letter is being signed. The computer then transfers this information to a Bluetooth with no cameras required.
There are other gloves out there that claim to translate American Sign Language into digital text, but Smart Gloves use simple components. The components in the Smart Gloves add up to less than $100. It’s an affordable solution to a difficult problem
The research team included materials scientists, chemists and chemical engineers. Graduate student Timothy O’Connor worked on the project for two years before it was completed.
The Car for Blind Drivers
Engineer Dennis Hong is currently developing a car that can actually be driven by people who are blind. Dennis Hong is integrating several sensors, computer systems and cameras. The cameras will be used to observe the environment around the vehicle while providing sound and vibration for the driver using sensory input. The sounds and vibrations may include auditory alerts, pulsing vibration signals in gloves worn by the driver, seat vibrations of various strengths and locations and a screen that displays a virtual picture of the vehicle’s surroundings using compressed air.
Even if the vehicle comes out, it may not be street legal even though the vehicle’s technology is extremely promising. If it isn’t a safe and affordable vehicle, other engineers can learn a lot from the sensors and innovations coming out as a result of the project.
Google’s Driverless Car
We all know that other car brands have come out with driverless cars, notably Tesla, but Google also has a driverless car. Google’s driverless car has potential in assistive technology. Not only will Google’s driverless car help people who are blind, but it’ll also help people who have physical and mental disabilities that prevent them from getting behind the wheel of a car. It would serve as independent and safe transportation for people with disabilities.
The team of engineers at Google have built the car to operate on its own using a combination of Google Street View and artificial intelligence using information gathered by the numerous sensors and cameras mounted on the vehicle.
Google’s driverless car is already street legal in Nevada. Google engineers hope that one day it’ll be a life-changing device for people with disabilities all over the world.
The DynaVox EyeMax System
People who have disabilities such as paralysis, cerebral palsy and strokes can use the DynaVox EyeMax System to participate in communication using only their eyes. The device uses a sophisticated eye tracking system in which users can interact with an on-screen keyboard. The on-screen keyboard allows users to enter words and phrases. After the user enters words and phrases, they’ll be translated into spoken text through the device’s text-to-speech mechanism.
The InterACCt language software that’s included with the device offers the user hundreds of pre-defined words and phrases. The pre-defined words and phrases can then be selected from lists or chosen through images and scenes. The InterACCt language software is ideal for young children and people with mental disabilities who may not understand written language.
The cochlear implant isn’t new, but it needs to be talked about. The software and hardware for the device continue to improve.
The cochlear implant is more than just a hearing aid. The implant picks up sound using a built-in microphone. The built-in microphone then carries the signal to a small computer worn behind the ear where it’s transferred to a digital signal and transmitted to the implant. Once the digital signal is transmitted to the implant, the device then directly stimulates the auditory nerve. The implant provides new means of auditory input.
The development of the implant began in the late 1950s. It was the first commercial implant received to receive FDA approval in 1984. Cochlear implants have dramatically improved since the 1950s and the 1980s. When the implant was first developed, it provided mostly static. Today, cochlear implants have more than 20 sound channels. The extensive sound channels allows the user to hear with much better quality compared to decades ago. Sometimes, people will hear background noise with a cochlear implant, but verbal communication is made possible.
The iBot Stair-Climbing Wheelchair
The iBot is a self-balancing, stair-climbing wheelchair for people who are physically disabled. Traditional wheelchairs aren’t able to climb stairs, but the iBot is. Stairs are nearly everywhere, so the iBot is a good wheelchair to have easier mobility. Most people who use traditional wheelchairs have to have help from someone to carry them up and down stairs. Having someone else carry them up and down stairs is dangerous for both individuals.
The self-balancing technology found in the iBot is similar to the technology found in the Segway. Using the iBot will allow physically disabled people able to climb any terrain without any issues.
Unfortunately, the iBot isn’t currently in production. People with physical disabilities can only hope that the iBot will return one day in the future to give them a life-changing experience.
The DEKA Robotic Arm
Dean Kamen, the same creator of the iBot also created the DEKA robotic arm. Dean Kamen and his researchers received funding for the project from the Department of Defense’s DARPA research agency. Dean Kamen and the researchers decided to create the robotic arm for injured soldiers returning from the Middle East.
The robotic arm weighs less than eight pounds. It has so much precision and control that it can easily peel an orange. The robotic arm has numerous customizable controls and modular components.
The robotic arm also has a sensory feedback system. For example, the hand sensors measure the strength of the hand grip so that it can provide feedback to the person wearing the arm in form of vibrations that grow stronger as the grip increases. This allows the person wearing the arm to be able to determine what strength of grip is and isn’t appropriate for specific tasks. It also gives them feedback on how much pressure is being applied.
Assistive technology has come a long way in the last few years. There are always new devices coming out to help people who have physical and mental disabilities. The devices that are out now that help disabled people continue to see improvements and upgrades.
A lot of people who have physical and mental disabilities haven’t been able to live a normal life until new assistive technology has come out. Now, some people with disabilities are able to live a normal, comfortable life just like other people around the world.
Even though the iBot isn’t currently in production, we can only hope that someone has learned from what they built so another stair-climbing wheelchair can be built again so that people with physical limitations can easily get around the world.
2.5 million people in America have developed a developmental disability. In a one-year period, approximately 51.3 million people have a developmental disability. 5 million people in America have a severe developmental disability.
Building assistive technology may allow people who are unable to work because of their disabilities work again. This will decrease the amount of people who are on disability, and it’ll help the economy grow. It’ll also ensure that the disabled person will always be able to pay their bills instead of living month-to-month on disability.
Disabled people are finally getting the freedom they deserve.
Are you an Assistive Technology user? How has Assistive Technology changed your life? We would love to hear your story! Drop us an email on [email protected] or send us a message on Facebook and Twitter