That’s probably something new for you: Assistive Technologies. You have never heard of that term and you wonder what it could well be? Assistive Technology relates to the conception and production of adaptive, assistive, and rehabilitative devices for these people who have disabilities and also for the elderly population in general.
People who suffer from disabilities often have a lot of difficulties for common tasks and daily life operations (ADLs) and even with some assistance, hence the need for such a technology which aims at giving them the help they need.
Everybody has in mind the defunct professor of theoretical physics Stephen Hawking. The devices that were helping him to move and speak are characteristics of assistive technologies.
On another page, while the example may look surprising to you, the fictional character of ‘Darth Vader’, is also characteristic of (futuristic) assistive technologies since he needs support for his damaged body.
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The difficulty to move oneself – which can be permanent or to the contrary only temporary, must be helped with a specific device that will help that impaired person to gain back sufficient mobility.
Wheelchairs are familiar in popular culture. Nowadays wheelchairs can be extremely sophisticated, far from the old wheelchair. Wheelchairs are usually powered by an electric motor and can be controlled by a set of buttons, a joystick, and gears, just as with a modern car! Smart Wheelchairs are becoming a reality.
A smart wheelchair consists normally of a standard wheelchair base powered with an engine, a computer, and finally a set of sensors. The Smart wheelchair reduces the cognitive and physical load needed in steering it.
A Smart Wheelchair is typically controlled by a computer. Meyra GmbH is a company known worldwide for the quality of the smart wheelchair that it develops.
Smart Walkers which are Robotic mobility-training devices may be divided into three different categories, considering to the disabled person pathologies:
Gait Trainer or Haptic Walker are more and more sophisticated rehabilitation devices.
Almost all the smart walkers are equipped by now with an assistive navigation system using a set of sensors that can detect obstacles. They use as well as, a specific design providing and improving a stable gait.
Another factor that augments the stability is the fact that electronics and other heavy components are embedded at the lower base of the walkers, thus allowing a greater balance and greater stability to the device.
Smart Prosthetic Devices are able to create almost a natural motion by using a prediction system.
Nowadays, Prosthetic Devices are using artificial intelligence and brain-computer interfaces to provide real bionic members to amputated or paralyzed people.
One of the most advanced bionic arms in the world is the Modular Prosthetic Limb designed at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. It is a real bionic arm which has been transplanted to an amputated patient and which is now controlled by his nervous system.
Exoskeletons are now more and more developed in order to assist people with mobility incapacity to walk.
Over the past few years, exoskeletons, which may look like a typical science fiction item, have become to be used in the real world. Many companies and research laboratories are designing and producing exoskeletons to make people walk rather than staying in wheelchairs.
The ReWalk devices – or the Walk Again project are making such assistive technologies more and more ‘popular’ The devices can be either controlled by a remote controller or directly by the brain.
The partial or total defect of vision is also covered by the assistive technologies.
Braille isn’t new but smart Braille is. Smart Braille display features a dynamic Braille system that can provide an interface in Braille to a visually impaired person.
The desktop video magnifier is using a camera and a video monitor that is connected to a computer in order to display in ‘real-time’ the images with visual magnification, thus helping the people with vision problems.
Assistive technology for navigation is booming. GPS, gyroscopes, accelerometers, or even cameras are able to geo-track the disabled user and provide him or her with the correct information regarding his journey.
GPS for visually impaired people (especially blind people) has a successful number of developments such as :
These GPS systems are specially designed for people with impaired vision, and they have very specific features such as advertising places of interest nearby, usually by voice synthesis, Announcing the Sky direction that the user is facing, support of many public transportation applications, etc.
Designing wearable IoT devices for people with disabilities is also a booming phenomenon.
In terms of assistive technologies, wearable devices may be used as smart solutions for accessing computers. Wearable devices can pair with a computer and be used as a mouse for example.
Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) can improve in an extraordinary way the lives of people who suffer from hearing loss. Such systems purify the sound source by eliminating the effects of background noise, distance, and reverberation.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are assistive technologies that can help disabled people to communicate in a one-to-one conversation. The devices are hand-held amplifiers provided with microphones, and they bring the sound closer to the ears.
Such systems use now Bluetooth technology or infrared systems that provide fantastic wireless connectivity. Such devices are named “Hearables”.
Last but not the least, Assistive Technologies can also help people with cognitive deficits. People with Down syndrome or impaired people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
For example, help cards which are smart card-based and have the shape of a credit card can help Alzheimer patients or people suffering from Amnesia or Dementia.
Memory assistive technology consists of medication reminders and voice recorders that record the own reminder messages of the impaired person.
Such technology can help people with memory issues for instance.
Assistive technologies are not very well known but nevertheless they provide now an insight into what could be a biomechanical human provided with bionic members and technological support to help impaired vision or hearing.
Yes, what was once becoming only the realm of science-fiction is now becoming a reality as we are now entering the future… as of 2020!
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