Tag Archive for 'assistive technologies'

Smart Homes Getting Smarter

Smart Home TechnologyAt the beginning of December, while a monster of an ice storm had most of us in Dallas/Fort Worth trapped inside, a group of people gathered in San Antonio to talk about helping our wounded warriors. The meeting, held at the headquarters of grocery retailer H-E-B, was about a specific initiative: building state-of-the-art Smart Homes for our severely injured service members.

State of the Art Assistive Technologies

The initial phase of the project calls for two homes to be completed in 2014 – homes like no others in the world. Using current technologies (think robotic vacuums, automated temperature control) and newly-developed technologies (single-purpose robots to take out the trash, network-enabled appliances, etc.), the homes will be specifically designed to suit the needs of the individual soldier and family that live in them.

General Lynch addresses Smart Home collaborators.

The companies that attended the H-E-B meeting have a passion for helping the disabled, and were particularly interested in how they could be part of the effort to better the lives of our wounded warriors. The discussion focused on everything from addressing the medical needs of the homeowner, to ways in which to automate house work and handle specific space considerations. And the conversation extended to what technologies are anticipated down the road – what the group hoped for in terms of research and development of Smart Home components as the initiative progresses.

Quality of Life Research

There’s quite a bit of noteworthy work going on in this type of assistive technology, of course. Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh’s Quality of Life Technology Center drives some impressive research into increasing the independence of the disabled and elderly. And UTARI’s own Living Lab re-creates typical home living conditions to allow for realistic study of how products and processes will perform under everyday circumstances. Not surprisingly, using a real refrigerator when testing how a robot will open and remove items from a refrigerator, makes a world of difference.

PR2 Unloading Dryer

PR2 Robot unloading dryer in Living Laboratory

The coming months will be filled with a massive amount of research and development for the H-E-B Smart Homes project (not to mention good, old-fashioned brick-and-mortar work). The hope is that this initiative is simply the beginning of hundreds of Smart Homes across the country for our severely injured soldiers.

What do you think would be the most useful technology in a Smart Home? If it was your home, what features and technology would be on your “wish list”? What companies do you think would be interested in this initiative?

The Future of Printing

Growing up, I never thought of the possibility of three-dimensional printing. It’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around when you’re watching your teacher physically crank out mimeographed carbon copies.

As an adult, I’ve had the pleasure of watching the technology of 3D printing develop. There are the “wow”-worthy designs, of course. But what I find most fascinating are the 3D products that are integrated into other disciplines in a way that changes the playing field.

Assistive Innovations

The other day I ran across a list of winners for the 2013 James Dyson Award. Dyson, of bagless vacuum fame, presents awards each year for excellence in design engineering among university students. The international winner walks away with about $60,000 in prize money for designing something that “solves a problem.”

Titan Arm

Three members of the team (Liz Beattie, Nick McGill, and Nick Parrotta) pose with the Titan Arm.

This year’s winner, a group of students from the University of Pennsylvania, took home the Dyson Award for their work on the Titan Arm, an upper body exoskeleton that was originally developed to augment lifting ability for those whose job entails repetitive heavy lifting. The applications of the Titan Arm have extended to healthcare – to improve physical therapy, mobility, and perhaps prosthetics. And, notably, the Titan Arm was developed using quite a bit of 3D printing. According to Dyson, “Titan Arm is obviously an ingenious design, but the team’s use of modern, rapid – and relatively inexpensive – manufacturing techniques makes the project even more compelling.”

If you have a couple hundred thousands of dollars to blow, an exoskeleton might top your Christmas list this year, but for folks without the hefty bank account, it’s worth noting that the Titan Arm cost just $2,000 to make – in large part because of its reliance on 3D-printed parts.

Printing at UTARI

Clockwise from top left: Viper Si2 printer, Connex Objet 500 printer, and 3D printed surgical simulator.

Our work here at UTARI has relied frequently on the precision, capabilities and cost-efficiency of 3D printing. Our Knee Model Surgical Simulator – a low-cost arthroscopic surgical simulation model – was produced with the help of our Connex Objet 500 and Viper Si2 3D printers. The detail of the ligaments, bones, and menisci is incredible, making the simulated surgical experience particularly realistic – even to trained surgeons. And the cost break is indeed “compelling” – a few thousand dollars in comparison to virtual simulators that push a price tag sometimes up to $100,000.

The use of 3D printing for fabrication in medical and healthcare applications in-and-of itself isn’t groundbreaking, but the way in which people are beginning to test the boundaries of 3D printing capabilities certainly seems to be. The detail that is now available in the printing process lends itself to more and more complex applications, so the boundaries are likely to keep moving.

What do you think the next 3D printing “wow-worthy” breakthrough will be? In five or ten years, how do you think we’ll be using the technology?