This post was written by Jaymi Heimbuch for PlanetGreen.com
New technologies are helping close the gaps for those with physical disabilities. Each day, the physical capabilities that technology gives us is
incredible, and we’re not just talking about texting friends at
lightening pace, or the ability to see our energy consumption in real
time. We’re talking about the abilities given to us by new tech in the
health industry, either to supplement or restore disabilities
experienced by people across the globe.
Technology is giving us wonderful options for those of us with
physical limitations. From the blind to the deaf, from amputees to burn
victims, gadgets are creating a whole new realm of abilities.
Here are eight extraordinary technologies that hold promise for an easier life.
1. The Eyewriter
The Eyewriter is an outstanding invention
for people unable to use their limbs. It is a set of glasses that can
detect where a person’s eyes are looking, allow them to literally draw
with their eyes. Created for people diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis (ALS), the designers’ goal for the Eyewriter project
is to develop the most simple and inexpensive eye-tracking headset
possible and open source the software so that ALS patients around the
world can create art and images on their own.
2. The Luke Arm
Named as a Star Wars head nod to Luke Skywalker, the Luke arm is one of
the most advanced prosthetic arms ever created. DARPA, the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency, awarded $18 million in funding to
Dean Kamen in 2005 to bring prosthetics into the 21st century, and boy
did he. The Luke Arm is the first bionic upper limb to provide 18
degrees of freedom, a step up from its ancestors that only offer 3
degrees of freedom. It can be controlled by wiring the device to
muscles or nerves, or with a foot pedal. It even has a tactile feedback
sensor in the hand allowing the wearer to sense what kind of pressure
they’re putting into their grip. Here is a video of Kamen showing off
the arm earlier this year.
3. A Dozen Different Legs
For amputees who have lost their legs, simply finding a prosthetic leg
that allows them to move comfortably and freely can be a challenge. But
what if you want to run in a marathon, or have legs that look natural
for a formal event? Athlete, fashion model and activist Aimee Mullins
has helped bring the possibilities for amputees to new heights. She
shows how prosthetic leg design can transform the body into everything
from a work of art to a super athlete, or simply help a person easily
blend in to a social scene. Here is Aimee during a TED talk on the
possibilities held within designing high tech prosthesis.
4. Solar Powered Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are helpful for the hard of hearing but they’re very
expensive, especially when it comes to the batteries. For people with
little money to spare or limited access to replacement batteries,
hearing aids are impractical. That’s why Howard Weinstein created the Solar Ear,
a $100 hearing aid with a solar powered battery that lasts as long as
three years. Weinstein is hoping to chip away at the gap between the
600 million people who have hearing loss and the mere 8 million people
who can afford a hearing aid.
On top of providing the gift of sound to those who might otherwise
go without assistance, the Solar Ear project extends help far into the
deaf community through employment opportunities. All of the employees
working on Solar Ear devices are deaf.
The project is currently in Brazil, Botswana, West Bank Palestine, and will expand to Mexico, China, India, Canada during 2010.
5. Regrowing Stereocilia – The Hairs that Help You Hear
Stereocilia, or the tiny hairs inside our ears, are an integral part of
the hearing system. But overexposure to noise – such as experienced in
music concerts or blasting tunes from an iPod – can permanently damage
them, degrading a person’s hearing over time. Researchers at Stanford,
however, have hit a breakthrough in growing hair-like cells that
function just like those in our ears. This could mean solutions for
The research is still about a decade away from offering a solution
that can be used in humans, but the potential is there for helping to
restore hearing to those with noise-induced hearing loss.
6. Liquid-Filled Eye Glasses
Sometimes low tech is far more effective than elaborate gadgets. Such
is the case with Josh Silver’s eyeglasses that adjust to the wearer’s
correct prescription simply with liquid. More or less liquid is added
to the lens until the prescription is just right for the wearer. The
inexpensive glasses address an important need of more than one billion
people in developing nations worldwide who lack access to eyecare. Here
is Josh Silver demonstrating how the glasses work and the impact they
can have on people, from improving their productivity to their quality
7. Printing New Skin Directly onto Wounds
Skin is an organ that protects our bodies from infection, and for burn
victims, it’s the loss of that protective barrier that is the biggest
threat. Skin grafts – surgically moving healthy skin from one part of
the body to the burned area – is one way of aiding recovery. But what
if new skin could be created in an instant, sprayed on like a printer
sprays ink onto a paper? Turns out, we can do that.
Researchers at Wake Forest University have created a device that can
spray new skin cells onto burn victims, supplanting skin grafts as the
standard treatment. The device can be wheeled directly over a patient
in a hospital bed, where a laser takes a reading of the wound’s shape
and size, and the precise amount of skin cells is applied exactly where
“We literally print the cells directly onto the wound,” said student
Kyle Binder, who helped design the device. “We can put specific cells
where they need to go.”
The device still needs to undergo testing by the FDA for approved use on humans, but it has proven to be effective on mice.
8. Wheel Chairs Powered by Fuel Cells and Solar Panels
Wheelchair technology has come a long way for getting people around.
Ensuring they have a charge from a sustainable source of energy is part
of that improvement. Over the last few years, we’ve seen Fuel Cell (Hydrogen-Powered) Wheelchairs and Solar Powered Wheelchairs
pop up as more environmentally friendly ways of charging up the chairs.
While they’re not the most streamlined of chairs, using off-grid
charging is a big plus and we’re certain that in the next few years,
we’ll see even more innovative and less bulky ways of incorporating
alternative energy into mobility.