I, Robot? You, Robot? Part I

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

I was watching one of the Terminator movies with my Dear Husband not terribly long ago and it got me to thinking about the many different visions of the future that are out there in movies and TV.

In the future – will robots be killing machines like the T-800?

Or will they be benevolent beings like Star Trek’s Data?

I know that I would prefer option two by far. However, we don’t have to go to science fiction to examine the complex relationship between humans and machines.

Beyond virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa – automation has been a part of our lives for decades – from the automobile plant to the twinkie factory.

But this is Carol, and I tend to geek out (sorry, couldn’t resist) about advancements in health care.

So – what is one thing I’m excited about?

Exoskeleton Robots:

An exoskeleton robot is a wearable machine that assists with movement and is a powerful example of man working with machine. These exoskeleton robots combine several technologies – including sensors, electric motors, pneumatic, levers and hydraulics.

One key player: Cyberdyne – the Japanese company (not the fictional evil corporation of Terminator fame).

One of Cyberdyne’s products is HAL® [Hybrid Assistive Limb], which according to their website is the “world‘s first 1 cyborg-type robot.”

Their lower limb model, is a rather stylish white suit that looks like a set of leg braces with a small controller that sits at waist-level on the wearer. Made for people with lower-limb disabilities, the real advance is the control software – that can read the wearer’s intention to sit, stand or take a step – and make it so.

How it works: When a person moves – or even thinks of moving a body part, signals are sent from the brain, through the nervous system, to the muscles. These bio-electric signals actually ‘leak’ onto the skin’s surface and special sensors in HAL read these signals (impulses) to translate them into movement. Sensors also can also help the robot to adapt in real time to increase or decrease assistance to compensate for the wearer’s actual muscle power of to assist him or her in walking, standing-up and sitting-down.

A US company Ekso Robotics is even more ambitious – developing robotics for both medical and industrial uses. Read more on their website, here.

Friends, from where I’m sitting (on my couch in quarantine), the future is here.

Stay safe and curious!

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