Friday, September 29, 2006

New Power Suit Amplifies Human Strength

By Tariq Malik
LiveScience Staff Writer

posted: 28 September 2006
03:21 pm ET

NEW YORK—Engineers in Japan are perfecting a wearable power suit that amplifies human strength to help lift hospital patients or heavy objects.

Driven by portable batteries, micro air pumps and small body sensors that pick up even the slightest muscle twitch, the Stand-Alone Wearable Power Assist Suit is designed to help nursing home workers lift patients of up to 180 pounds while cutting the amount of strength required in half, project researcher Hirokazu Noborisaka told LiveScience today.

At Wired Magazine's NextFest new-technology forum here, researchers demonstrated walking [Image] and lifting weights [image] in the 66-pound suit, which was developed at the High-Tech Research Center of Japan's Kanagawa Institute of Technology.

"When I wear it, I don't feel that it's heavy at all," said project team member Hiroe Tsukui after stepping out of the power suit. "The sensors can tell the muscle power needed to lift an object."

A network of sensors track the wearer's upper arms and legs and waist-muscle activity, then relay the data to an onboard microcomputer that regulates air flow into a series of inflatable cuffs which expand to amplify lifting strength. The suit supports its own weight and carries a battery lifetime of about 30 minutes.

"We think that 30 minutes is enough time to lift a patient from one place to another," said Noborisaka, who engineered the sensor computing system used in the suit, adding that future versions could help the elderly or disabled walk.

The current model—known as the 2nd Stand-Alone Power Assist Suit—is stronger and more compact than its predecessor, researchers said.

Designer Mineo Ishii said that the next step is to further reduce the size of the power assist suit to make it more practical for use by hospital staff.

"It needs to be more flexible so for more easy movement," Ishii said, adding that a protective cover that shrouds the suit's sensitive or sharp areas, is also required.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Advance of Dip-Pen Nanolithography

Ever since the invention of the first scanning probe microscope in 1981, researchers have believed the powerful tool would someday be used for the nanofabrication and nanopatterning of surfaces in a molecule-by-molecule, bottom-up fashion. Despite 25 years of research in this area, the world has hit a brick wall in developing a technique with commercial potential -- until now.
Northwestern University researchers have developed a 55,000-pen, two-dimensional array that allows them to simultaneously create 55,000 identical patterns drawn with tiny dots of molecular ink on substrates of gold or glass. Each structure is only a single molecule tall.

This advance of a patterning method called Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN), which was invented at Northwestern in 1999, was published online Monday (Sept. 25) by the journal Angewandte Chemie.

To demonstrate the technique's power, the researchers reproduced the face of Thomas Jefferson from a five-cent coin 55,000 times, which took only 30 minutes. Each identical nickel image is 12 micrometers wide -- about twice the diameter of a red blood cell -- and is made up of 8,773 dots, each 80 nanometers in diameter.

The parallel process paves the way for making DPN competitive with other optical and stamping lithographic methods used for patterning large areas on metal and semiconductor substrates, including silicon wafers. The advantage of DPN, which is a maskless lithography, is that it can be used to deliver many different types of inks simultaneously to a surface in any configuration one desires. Mask-based lithographies and stamping protocols are extremely limited in this regard.

"This development should lead to massively miniaturized gene chips, combinatorial libraries for screening pharmaceutically active materials and new ways of fabricating and integrating nanoscale or even molecular-scale components for electronics and computers," said Chad A. Mirkin, director of Northwestern's International Institute for Nanotechnology and George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, who led the research.

"In addition, it could lead to new ways of studying biological systems at the single particle level, which is important for understanding how cancer cells and viruses work and for getting them to stop what they do," he said. "Essentially one can build an entire gene or protein chip that fits underneath a single cell."

Source: Northwestern University

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Unveils World’s First “Bionic Woman"

First Use of Bionic Arm Technology in a Female Patient
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), the leading physical medicine and rehabilitation hospital in the country, today extended its leadership in engineering and rehabilitation science by introducing Claudia Mitchell, the first woman to be successfully fit with RIC's original Bionic Arm technology.  The most advanced prosthesis of its kind, the RIC neuro-controlled Bionic Arm allows an amputee to move his or her prosthetic arm as if it is a real limb simply by thinking.  The arm also empowers patients with more natural movement, greater range of motion and restores lost function.

The technology was developed by Todd Kuiken, M.D., Ph.D., director of RIC's Neural Engineering Center for Bionic Medicine, and a team of leading rehabilitation experts with the support of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"It is so rewarding for me as a physician and a scientist to lead research with the potential to positively impact the lives of amputees, including our U.S. service men and women," said Dr. Kuiken.  "On behalf of RIC, my team and I consider it a great honor to be able to serve our country and the individuals with disabilities around the world in this way."

To provide the neuro-controlled movement of RIC's Bionic Arm technology, nerves located in the amputee's shoulder, which once went to the amputated arm, are re-routed and connected to healthy muscle in the chest.  This surgical process is called targeted muscle reinnervation.  The muscle reinnervation procedure allows the re-routed nerves to grow into the chest muscle and direct the signals they once sent to the amputated arm instead to the robotic arm via surface electrodes.  Then, when the patient thinks about moving his or her arm, the action is carried out as voluntarily as it would be in a healthy arm allowing for smoother and easier movement of the prosthetic. 

In other words, the sensation nerves to the hand have been re-routed to a patch of skin on her chest.  Now when Ms. Mitchell is touched on this skin, she feels that her hand is being touched.  This will eventually let her 'feel' what she is touching with an artificial hand, as if she were touching it with her own hand.

Currently available artificial arms have only up to three motors.  RIC's revolutionary Bionic Arm technology includes a six-motor arm developed in collaboration with researchers around the world.  With a six-motor arm, patients have greater motion in the shoulder and forearm and are able to use several parts of the prosthesis simultaneously to produce the more natural arm movements.  Using key learnings from the first successful Bionic Arm recipient, former power lineman and double amputee from Tennessee, Jesse Sullivan, Dr. Kuiken and his team also have made significant advancements in the area of sensory feedback so that the patient can actually feel if they are touching hot or cold objects.

Ms. Mitchell, of Ellicott City, Maryland, is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer whose left arm was severed at the scene of a motorcycle accident in 2004.  After reading about Mr. Sullivan in a magazine, Ms. Mitchell undertook her own research and was put in touch with Dr. Kuiken.  After an evaluation by Dr. Kuiken and his staff, she was found to be a strong candidate and successfully underwent the surgery in 2005.

"RIC is proud to play such a significant role in changing the face of research and advancing technology to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities throughout the world," said Joanne C. Smith, M.D., interim president and CEO of RIC.

Because of the Bionic Arm, Ms. Mitchell has been able to live a more functional and fulfilling life. She is able to give to her passion, the U.S. Marine Corps, through mentoring junior officers and making regular visits to veterans in the amputee units at the National Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Through her volunteer efforts, she shares her message of personal gratitude and hope to troops who have returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Before the surgery, I doubted that I would ever be able to get my life back," said Ms. Mitchell. "But this arm and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago have allowed me to return to a life that is more rewarding and active than I ever could have imagined. I am happy, confident and independent.  As a military veteran, I am also hopeful that the Bionic Arm technology may provide benefits to amputees returning from war."

To date, more than 400 amputee patients who have served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been treated in Army hospitals.  RIC's Bionic Arm technology has the potential to benefit these amputees returning from war. 

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A 21st Century Code Adam

under the new system, a network of dozens of video cameras feeds a constant flow of digital data to security.
When a parent reports a missing child, the system can—within a few minutes—locate the video of when the parent and the child were last together and then show footage of exactly where the child went and with whom, even showing where the child is at that moment, assuming the child has not left the store. If the child had left, it would show when and could even track the child to the parking lot, possibly capturing a license plate and footage of a car.