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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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Intel Becomes Savior Of Exploited Workers

In recent years modern slavery has increasingly come under the global spotlight

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Intel CEO Brian Krzanich delivers a keynote speech at CES International, Jan. 8, 2018, in Las Vegas.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich delivers a keynote speech at CES International, Jan. 8, 2018, in Las Vegas. VOA

Intel topped a list issued on Monday ranking how well technology companies combat the risk of forced labor in their supply chains, overtaking HP and Apple.

Most of the top 40 global technology companies assessed in the study by KnowTheChain, an online resource for business, had made progress since the last report was published in 2016. But the study found there was still room for improvement.

“The sector needs to advance their efforts further down the supply chain in order to truly protect vulnerable workers,” said Kilian Moote, project director of KnowTheChain, in a statement.

Intel, HP and Apple scored the highest on the list, which looked at factors including purchasing practices, monitoring and auditing processes. China-based BOE Technology Group and Taiwan’s Largan Precision came bottom.

Workers who make the components used by technology companies are often migrants vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, the report said.

About 25 million people globally were estimated to be trapped in forced labor in 2016, according to the International Labor Organization and rights group Walk Free Foundation.

Laborers in technology companies’ supply chains are sometimes charged high recruitment fees to get jobs, trapped in debt servitude, or deprived of their passports or other documents, the report said.

It highlighted a failure to give workers a voice through grievance mechanisms and tackle exploitative recruiting practices as the main areas of concern across the sector.

In recent years modern slavery has increasingly come under the global spotlight, putting ever greater regulatory and consumer pressure on firms to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labor, child labor and other forms of slavery.

From cosmetics and clothes to shrimp and smartphones, supply chains are often complex with multiple layers across various countries — whether in sourcing the raw materials or creating the final product — making it hard to identify exploitation.

Overall, large technology companies fared better than smaller ones, suggesting a strong link between size and capacity to take action, the report said. Amazon, which ranked 20th, was a notable exception, it said.

“Top-ranking brands … are listening to workers in their supply chains and weeding out unscrupulous recruitment processes,” Phil Bloomer, head of the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

intel technology
intel technology, pixabay

A spokesman for Amazon said the report drew from old and incomplete information and failed to take into account recently launched anti-slavery commitments and initiatives.

HP said it regularly assessed its supply chain to identify and address any concerns and risks of exploitation.

“We strive to ensure that workers in our supply chain have fair treatment, safe working conditions, and freely chosen employment,” said Annukka Dickens, HP’s director for human rights and supply chain responsibility.

Also read: Another Security flaw is Revealed By Intel in its Chips

Intel, Apple, BOE Technology and Largan Precision did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (VOA)