Tuesday August 21, 2018
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Now Paralyzed Can Also Walk Due To Exoskeleton Technology

Technology helps in walking

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Patrick Wensing tests out an Ekso Bionics exoskeleton in his lab at the University of Notre Dame. He and his team are working to make the machines more intuitive.
Patrick Wensing tests out an Ekso Bionics exoskeleton in his lab at the University of Notre Dame. He and his team are working to make the machines more intuitive. VOA
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An accident, a stroke, or a disease can leave someone paralyzed and unable to walk. That happens to more than 15 million people around the world each year.

But new technological advances and physical therapy could help some of them walk again.

Among the most promising is the use of robotic exoskeletons, like one made by Ekso Bionics. It looks a bit like a backpack that straps on the user’s back and around the midsection. Robotic ‘legs’ complete with foot panels extend from either side of the pack and wrap around the patient’s legs. A video game-style controller attaches to the pack with a long cord.

The EksoGT robotic exoskeleton is being used in more than 200 rehabilitation centers around the world, including Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.
The EksoGT robotic exoskeleton is being used in more than 200 rehabilitation centers around the world, including Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. VOA

“I’m going to be a robot!”

Lindsey Stoefen has been doing physical therapy with the exoskeleton for an hour a day, as she works to recover from the rare disorder that put her in a wheelchair in October.

The 17-year-old athlete climbed into a specially designed exoskeleton for the first time in late April, after becoming an in-patient at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago.

She recalls being nervous. “I was like ‘Dang, I’m going to be a robot!’ I was scared at first. I was like, ‘Am I going to like it? Will I be okay?’ And once I got into it, I loved it.”

Lauren Bularzik, Lindsey’s physical therapist, says the exo robots help to accelerate the rehabilitation process. “For someone who takes a lot of energy to only walk a few feet, exo can get them up, can get them moving, it can supplement their movements, get that reciprocal pattern, encourage the correct motor planning.”

Beside speeding up recovery times, these robotic skeletons are especially helpful for those with paralysis, from spinal cord injuries and strokes. Using the machine can help some patients rewire their brains to use secondary muscles, so they can eventually walk again – without the device.

The downside

Scientists at the University of Notre Dame are leading the way with their work on wearable robots that allow patients to regain some or all of their mobility. But Patrick Wensing, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, says exoskeletons have one big drawback.

Bionic exoskeleton helps wheelchair users stand and walk
Bionic exoskeleton helps wheelchair users stand and walk. Flickr

“While existing exoskeletons are very powerful, they don’t understand what the user wants to do. So in order to transition between activities in daily life, you often have to press a button interface to tell the exoskeleton ‘I would like to stand up now.’”

Wensing and his team are collaborating with Ekso Bionics, a leading developer of wearable robots, to create a machine that can understand what its user wants to do without implanted sensors and complicated control panels.

The new three-year project funded by The National Science Foundation’s robotic initiative, hopes to achieve a more fluid, intuitive system.

Taylor Gambon has spent the last year analyzing data from exoskeleton users and comparing them to models of everyday walking. “What we’re seeing is that slow walking in general, whether in the exoskeleton or just the human, is much different from walking at a speed that you would choose naturally.”

Also read: Heart patients who walk faster hospitalised less

Later this year, the team will travel to Ekso Bionics’ California headquarters, where they will work directly with exoskeletons to design programs that interact with users of various disabilities, so that more people like Lindsey Stoefen can get back on their feet again. (VOA)

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Cuba Gets Nationwide Internet For A Day

“We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online,” he told parliament in July, adding that Cubans could thus “counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content” on the internet.

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Cubans check their phones at an internet hotspot in Havana, Cuba, Aug. 10, 2018. A day of free, expanded internet was provided by the state-run telecommunications company
Cubans check their phones at an internet hotspot in Havana, Cuba, Aug. 10, 2018. A day of free, expanded internet was provided by the state-run telecommunications company. VOA

Cuba’s government said it provided free internet to the Communist-run island’s more than 5 million cellphone users on Tuesday, in an eight-hour test before it launches sales of the service.

Cuba is one of the Western Hemisphere’s least connected countries. State-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA announced the trial, with Tuesday marking the first time internet services were available nationwide.

There are hundreds of WiFi hotspots in Cuba but virtually no home penetration.

Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, considered the country’s social media pioneer, raved that she had directly sent a tweet from her mobile. In another tweet, she called the test a “citizen’s victory.”

A young Cuban checks his phone at an internet hotspot next to a picture of late revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Havana
A young Cuban checks his phone at an internet hotspot next to a picture of late revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Havana. VOA

On the streets of Havana, mobile users said they were happy about the day of free internet, even as some complained that connectivity was notably slower than usual.

“This is marvelous news because we can talk with family abroad without going to specific WiFi spots, there is more intimacy,” said taxi driver Andres Peraza.

Forty percent of Cubans have relatives living abroad.

Leinier Valdez, one of a group of young people trying to connect, said, “this is great. Its better and more so when you can connect for free.”

Hotspots currently charge about $1 an hour although monthly wages in Cuba average just $30.

The government has not yet said how much most Cubans would pay for mobile internet, or when exactly sales of the service will begin. But ETECSA is already charging companies and embassies $45 a month for four gigabytes.

Analysts have said broader Web access will ultimately weaken government control over what information reaches people in a country where the state has a monopoly on the media.

Cuba has lagged far behind most countries in Web access.
Cuba has lagged far behind most countries in Web access.

Whether because of a lack of cash, a long-running U.S. trade embargo or concerns about the flow of information, Cuba has lagged far behind most countries in Web access. Until 2013, internet was largely only available to the public at tourist hotels on the island.

But the government has since made boosting connectivity a priority, introducing cybercafes and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots and slowly starting to hook up homes to the Web.

Long before he took office from Raul Castro in April, 58-year-old President Miguel Diaz-Canel championed the cause.

Also Read: Android Development and Data Analysis- Bloodlines of The Internet Industry

“We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online,” he told parliament in July, adding that Cubans could thus “counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content” on the internet. VOA