Saturday, November 17, 2012

Vanderbilt Exoskeleton Promises More Independence For The Paralyzed

Today's guest blog post comes from Joseph Hill. Joseph writes on behalf of Pannone Personal Injury documenting research into disability and assistive technology.

A team of engineers at Vanderbilt University have developed an exoskeleton which gives people who suffer from paraplegia or have suffered severe spinal cord injuries, the ability to walk again.

Brian Shaffer, who is paralyzed from the waist  down,  testing the Vanderbilt exoskeleton  at Shepherd Center's satellite facility in  Franklin, Tenn. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt University)

Brian Shaffer, who is paralyzed from the waist
 down,  testing the Vanderbilt exoskeleton 
at Shepherd Center's satellite facility in 
Franklin, Tenn. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt University)
The device was developed by Professor of Medicine and Rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University, Michael Goldfarb. The exoskeleton provides its users with a degree of independence which can’t be met with a standard wheel chair. Its lightweight and compact size enables the paraplegic to stand, sit, walk and climb stairs, things that some of us may take for granted at times.

The device acts as an external skeleton and securely straps around waist and then ridged supports are strapped above and below the knee. The hip and knee joints are controlled by electric motors which are powered by advanced batteries. The patient is also advised to use forearm crutches with the device to establish balance when moving.

Brain Shaffer suffered a car accident around Christmas 2010 which left him paralysed from the waist down. He has been testing the exoskeleton at the Sheppard centre’s satellite facility in Franklin, in Atlanta. “My Kids have started calling me ‘Ironman’” said Brian.

photo of the exoskeleton “It’s unbelievable to stand up again. It takes concentration to use it at first but, once you catch on, it’s not that hard: The device does all the work. I don’t expect that it will completely replace the wheelchair, but there are some situations, like walking your daughter down the aisle at her wedding or sitting in the bleachers watching your son play football, where it will be priceless,”

The device weights about 27 pounds in total, which is around half the weight of other models which can weigh up to 45-50 pounds. Not only is this model the lightest and most advanced exoskeleton in development, but it is also predicted to be the cheapest once it makes it to market. The price of other existing models on the market have price tags as high as $140,000, however Vanderbilt University believe that by using the manufacturing capability of Parker Hannifin and Goldfarb’s minimalist design, they will be able to keep the cost down to hopefully make the thought of an exoskeleton a more affordable product.

“It would be wonderful if we could get the price down to a level where individuals could afford them and insurance companies would cover them,” Claire Hartigan, a physical therapist at the Shepherd Centre, has worked with various different exo-skeletons and is really excited by the new developments. 

“This is an extremely exciting new technology,” said Clare.

According to Hartigan, just getting out of the seating position and standing up can have major health benefits. People who spend a large part of their life in a seated position can suffer from osteoporosis, pressure sores and blood clots, whilst also developing serious problems with their respiratory, urinary, cardiovascular and digestive systems. Interestingly, the risk of developing these health issues can be considerably reduced by regularly standing, moving and exercising the lower limbs. Despite also working with the Argo and Ekso, Claire and her colleagues recognise the Vanderbilt as the most promising rehabilitative home device in development.

Test session of the exoskeleton: The test subject, Brian Shaffer, is followed by Shepherd Center  physical therapist Scott Hawes, Vanderbilt engineer Don Truex and Vanderbilt graduate  students Kevin Ha and Spencer Murray. (Mike Todd/Vanderbilt University)

Test session of the exoskeleton: The test subject, Brian Shaffer, is followed by Shepherd Center
 physical therapist Scott Hawes, Vanderbilt engineer Don Truex and Vanderbilt graduate 
students Kevin Ha and Spencer Murray. (Mike Todd/Vanderbilt University)

“You can think of our exoskeleton as a Segway with legs,” said Goldfarb. “If the person wearing it leans forward, he moves forward. If he leans back and holds that position for a few seconds, he sits down. When he is sitting down, if he leans forward and holds that position for a few seconds, then he stands up.”

Leaning technology is however not the most advanced technology which has been integrated into this device. The Vanderbilt design is also the first wearable robot to incorporate a proven rehabilitation technology called Functional Electrical Stimulation. FES applies small electrical pulses to paralyzed muscles, causing them to contract and relax. This can improve strength in the legs of people with incomplete paraplegia and for complete paraplegics, FES can improve circulation, change bone density and reduce muscle atrophy. The amount of robotic assistance also adjusts automatically for users who have some muscle control in their legs. This allows them to partially use their own muscles which have rehabilitate benefits, but when a user is totally paralyzed the device does all the work. This again is completely unique to the Vanderbilt design.

The exoskeleton is currently being tested and refined at the Shepherd Center, Atlanta, Georgia, a rehabilitation hospital that focuses on rehabilitation and research into people who suffer from spinal cord or brain injury. The Vanderbilt Exoskeleton should be released into the market sometime next year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Assistive Technology Videos: Two Broke AT Girls!

Today's guest post comes from two very talented girls, Katie Nawrot and Megan Spencer, who are going to Illinois State University for their degree in Special Education. They go by "Two Broke AT Girls" and they make short youtube (TwoBrokeATGirls) videos in which they demonstrate DIY AT solutions that can be achieved at home with minimal to no cost! 

Hey everyone! Two Broke AT Girls here. We’re here to share some insights to our videos. (Still surprised that more than just our mothers are watching. Shout out to Lyn and Judy.) The inspiration behind our video series was brought on by a project we had to do for our assistive technology class at Illinois State University this semester. (Shout out to Dr. Brian Wojcik!) We were assigned to create a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and develop a collaborative knowledge product that we could give back to other educators. Through our PLN, we were able to gain information on assistive technology from other educators through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and other education sites. We decided to use this information to team up and find some cheap, easy do-it-yourself technology that everyday teachers can use. We chose to do videos because we found that we live in a very visual culture. From our previous learning experiences, we found ourselves watching more videos or looking at tweets, than turning the pages of our textbooks. We thought a video would be professional, fun, and educational. We were both very enthusiastic about the subject of DIY AT (why are there so many acronyms in Special Education?) and wanted to portray this through our videos. Since we are in college, and don’t have much money to spare, our goal was to find AT devices that we could make for under $10.

To give you some background knowledge on our personalities, we have been friends for 11 years (seems like 10 years too long) which makes it really easy for us to be comfortable and have fun together. If you could not already tell, we enjoy making jokes at one another’s expense. (Imagine living in the same apartment as us.) We decided on the name Two Broke AT Girls when we were walking back from class trying to brainstorm names for the video series. Of course, like always, we found ourselves trying to top the other with a clever name. Katie, like always, the victorious one. (Can you tell who’s writing this yet?)

Our first video focused on pencil grips because we found that this is one area of need for many students. A simple tool such as a pencil grip can transform the way a student writes.

On the second video, because we did not have any fancy devices around, we decided to use our 1999 Panasonic remote control to our SUPER BIG FLAT SCREEN T.V. (Just kidding, I wish). We used shrink-wrap to display ways that a professional can create a moisture guard to protect from spills, drool, or anything that may harm an expensive device.

The third do it yourself video was for a pen stylus that can be used for the newest craze of the IPad. Which, we are very proud non-owners of. This was our favorite, easiest, and cheapest AT tool to create.

Thanks for watching and stay tuned for the next episode!!!

-Katie and Megan