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Archive for the ‘robots’ Category

Matching brain signals with prosthetics – algorithmically

Posted by evolvingwheel on October 4, 2007

I do remember the robot from Will Smith’s I Robot (2004), where the android moves its arm with unimaginable degrees of freedom. The artificial machine is capable of translating its wishes by communicating effectively with its mechanical appendages. Brain (central intelligence system) signals are decoded and converted into mechanical actions. One of the researchers from MIT has embarked on one such project of creating these movements in artificial prosthetics by decoding neural commands from the brain.

Laxminarayan Srinivasan has developed an algorithm that will enable a prosthetic device to move according to neural signals [read article here]. People who often loose their arms or limbs from accidents or paralysis are still able to think and manifest their intentions from the brain. The challenge is to interpret their intentions that originate as neural signals and match them with the mode of action sought. Then make the prosthetic device operate accordingly. The researcher and his team have developed an algorithm that matches such recorded signals with different archived mechanical actions and then instruct the machine to behave. Presumably, a lot of work needs to be done in understanding the nature of the neural transmission associated with the movements of our arms and limbs. The algorithm processes the signal modalities and all its subtle variations in stimulation and then appropriately connects the command with the action code. A highly robust library of actions and a very sensitive and critical recorder of signals. blog_irobot.jpg

With a very difficult task in hand, Srinivasan aspires to build a unifying model of decoding in the coming years.

These kind of activities will one day lead to artificial movements very close to the natural ones. The difference between science fiction and reality is TIME. As we develop smart interfaces and recording devices for neural signals, and are able to interpret their messages, the closer we will get in understanding the motor behaviors related to such signals. My forecast is over the next decade industry will focus on developing such interfaces and creating small prosthetics that use AI to learn and develop actions from the recorded signals. A very burgeoning area of bio-engineering.


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Smart robots to help humans

Posted by evolvingwheel on September 12, 2007

Consider this – your grandfather, 80+, lives alone. He gets up in the early morning for his first dose of pills. However, his frail knees prevent him from getting off the bed right away and walk to the bathroom cabinet… he has forgotten to keep the pills by bedside last night. How does he get help? Well, he has a smart robot called Zen at home. As he calls Zen and asks it to get the pills, Zen follows the command, rolls to the bathroom, opens the cabinet, grabs the right bottle, and brings it back to your grandfather.

Intelligent robots are being designed that will soon find their way to our homes. If not in the immediate future, definitely in the distant future, and if I am luckily wrong, then may be within next 5-10 years. Researchers in Japan, which is considered the powerhouse of industrial robots, are vehemently trying to bring such smart robots that would be able to perform several daily chores in absence of human labor. Scientists are eying the possibility of helping a growing elderly population with these smart robots. You may read the full [article here].

As I was mentioning before in my Boeing Dreamliner post, there are all different kinds of sensors being manufactured that are capable of providing realtime knowledge of our surrounding environment – from ambient light intensity to odor and from heat to vibration. Smart algorithms coupled with these sensors in robots can make these objects more intelligent. They could be reactive decision makers on the basis of the surroundings and the requirement logic. These robots will then find their way not only as workers for doing daily household activities but also for commercial purposes. 

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Let there be vision – And there were Retinal Implants

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 28, 2007

People who turned blind from retinal degeneration have got a recent improvement in their ability to see. An improvement in the implants have allowed scientists to embed four times more electrodes in the chap implant from before – and thus a 4-fold increase in resolution. The device, developed by Mark Humayun and his colleagues at USC consists of an array of hair thin electrodes in a tiny chip that is implanted in the retina. The scientific breakthrough has been with stacking the large number of electrodes in the tiny chip bed.

There are few important technological aspects of this development. One is the wireless transmission of the visual data to the chip after the video is processed by an instrumentation clipped to the belt on the waist. The electrical impulse is then transmitted to the electrodes that send electrical stimulus to the retinal cells. However, the hurdle is not just with the packing of thousands of electrodes but making the impulse work identical to the effect of light on the retina. How do they do that? May be they will soon find ways to tweak electrical signals that may trigger stimulations on retinal cells similar to that of light. Guess more research needs to be done on the behavior of the retinal cells, their properties, and their behavior. What type of cellular protiens are located over there and how do they behave to light?

Then comes the packing of electrodes. Nano electrodes may be. How do they stack them though? I have to do a bit more research on the video processing side too. Can something be done on the algorithm side? If more information can be sent by using optimized processing algorithm. Read the article [here].

Posted in Innovation, Medicine, micron, nanotechnology, optics, robots | Leave a Comment »

Innerspace – Part II

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 20, 2007

innerspace2.jpgIts like revisiting Fantastic Voyage.  A recent article in WIRED News (Fantastic Voyage: Departure 2009) sounds like a SciFi story in line with the script of 1987’s Innerspace. James Friend and his buddies at Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory are building a flagellated robot of 250 micron capable of swimming upstream through he human arteries and operating at desired locations unreachable by todays’s conventional methods. Isn’t that amazing! Just knocked my socks off when I tried to imagine its implications. What a massive engineering feat. A motor fitted in a capsule as wide as 2 human hairs that is driven by the mechanical pressure exerted by the rushing bloodstream running down the arterial network. The components are mind boggling: a micro level piezoelectric slab, mechanical flagella, a circuit, a power supply – all stacked together in a carrier that travels to a microscopic tumor or a blod clot in the middle of the brain. Innovation at its best.

Now lets dig into the possibilities that diverge from the commercialization of such technology in medical science. What always interests me is the ramification in other industrial developments and scientific researches. There are numerous opportunities. One is definitely material research in micro level. How can we develop materials that operate under severe size and conductive restrictions. May be we will try to mimic the natural phenomenon in artificial devices but in microscopic level. Another industry could be the commercialization of power supplies that are derived from molecular configurations and their alterations. Microbot development could also trigger research in molecular and genetic payloads which are capable of reaching highly sophisticated targets and reacting by chemical interaction to diffuse or instigate actions as required. Molecular genetics will be definitely worth following. I would also like to emphasize on the growth of a sector in medical profession where doctors will be acting like astronauts. Think of Dr. John Doe sitting on his special chair half inclined, with a hi-tech pair of goggles, and his both hands holding two joysticks that drive the microbot to the smallest cavity in the middle of the brain. As he smoothly rotates the stick, his right thumb presses a red button that ejects a micro amount of a synthetic glue to seal a ruptured vein.

It might sound great to have the patient check into the medical center, sit on a half inclined bed, get injected with a bot, and watch a Seinfeld rerun while the doctor finishes a delicate surgery in his brain. But…. but.. any invention is successful only to the extent of its availability. Along with the economics involved with the commercialization, what matters most is its implementation. Currently there are so many life saving drugs waiting for years to get approved by the FDA. Then there are ethical, political, and social questions associated with every aspect of a new drug or a technique. The medical industry doesn’t operate like the software or the hardware industry. Thus, the procedure might need some big shot pharmaceutical or medical device company to bring it to the market. However, in that case we face the inevitable question – will the new method be available at a reasonble price? Will not the implementor try to make huge profits and pass on the cost to the average patient? How receptive will the insurance companies be? So there are so many questions…….. and we will keep looking for answers.. and I ask you to look for too 🙂 

However, for now lets savor the wonderful feeling of crossing the thin line between reality and science fiction! 

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