Bionic Revolution … High-Tech Getting Disabled Back To Work

bionicsIt truly is a full time job just to keep current in the world of access laws and codes. However, the high-tech innovations that make all our lives better is of great interest to me, so when I read or see something of value, I want to pass it on.

I stumbled across this article about a year ago on a “Bionic Revolution” that is making huge strides towards getting disabled persons back into the work force with pride and confidence. Hugh Herr, who is an Associate Professor of Biometrics at MIT Media Lab has created a technology so sophisticated that it can emulate key physiological functions.

Herr is a double amputee himself after losing both legs from the knees down due to frostbite during a grueling climbing expedition in 1982.

Now thanks to his own products he is still able to be a climber once again.

His bionics — called iWalk — are so advanced, they not only match the functions of a normal human leg, but they are in many ways superior, and they are now commercially available from over 50 centers across the United States.

One iWalk customer, a factory worker from Ohio, was able to return to work just two weeks after having his new legs fitted … a process that Herr says can be extremely effective if emulated.

Being able to get people back to work is huge. That alone would save the state millions of dollars in the long run.

In the not to distant future, we could see  the disabled will be the ones without prosthetic limbs….

In a similar circumstance, Bertolt Meyer can control a bionic hand by an iPhone app. This has been years in the making, but it is here. Meyer was born with a stump where his left hand should have been.   He spent his childhood wearing a hook connected to an elaborate pulley and harness. The harness was limited and was very uncomfortable. At age 19, Meyer was able to upgrade to a myoelectric prosthesis with a more realistic plastic hand,   but even then he kept his left arm and hand hidden from view. It wasn’t just the aesthetics of a grubby discolored plastic hand that  was a stigma. People treated him differently because they thought it was weird. And for this he felt ashamed!  Well today, that shame is gone. In 2009 Meyer, a social psychologist at the University of Zurich, was fitted with an i-limb, a state-of-the-art bionic prosthesis developed by a Scottish company, Touch Bionics, that comes with an aluminum chassis and 24 different grip patterns. To select a new suite of gestures, Meyer simply taps an app on his iPhone.

He says “This is the first prosthesis where the aesthetics match the engineering” balancing a Biro between his purring electronic fingers. “It’s part of me and I’m proud of
it.”

Could this be a breakthrough is personal human advancement?

When do we cross the line between restorative therapy and elective surgery?
Last year, for instance, an Austrian man who damaged his hand in a motorcycle
accident opted for an amputation and had a bionic replacement fitted.

At the moment, bionic hands are poor substitutes for the real thing – they can grasp and
manipulate objects, but cannot feel. But what if in the future we could make bionic
hands with a sense of touch that were also capable of enhanced performance? Would we be happy if a struggling concert pianist elected to amputate his hand so that he could perform Rachmaninoff’s infamously difficult third concerto? For the moment, the answer is almost certainly no, but that may change as people become more comfortable with post-human technologies and the opportunities they afford for improved health and function. “What’s crucial about these technologies is they don’t just repair us, they make us better than well,” says Andy Miah, director of the Creative Futures Institute and professor of ethics and emerging technologies at the University of the West of Scotland. “The human enhancement market will reveal the truth about our biological conditions – we are all disabled. This is why human enhancements are here to stay and likely to become more popular.”

When I read about such advancements in technology I get so excited and look forward to meeting and working side by side with people with disabilities.

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