For most of us, virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa are time- and effort-saving technologies for when we are too lazy to get up and find a notebook to make a list, or find the particular music track we want to listen to. A new partnership involving Toronto-based medical device and robotics company Bionik Laboratories is using Alexa in a more life-changing way: As an interface for controlling robot exoskeletons for people with mobility difficulties.
Using commands like “Alexa, let’s walk to the kitchen,” the use of Amazon’s Echo and Alexa tech with Bionik’s Arke lower body exoskeleton could be a rehabilitation and assistive technology game-changer for those who need it.
The Arke exoskeleton works using a combination of smart sensors, inertial measurement units, and artificial intelligence to allow users to walk around. Adding in voice-activated smart technology simply means incorporating another useful interface element — like adding a mouse to a computer that already has a keyboard. Alexa integration will allow Arke users to perform actions like quickly getting to their feet simply by saying, “Alexa, I’m ready to stand” or “Alexa, I’m ready to walk.” It can also be used to modify parameters like stride length when a person is walking, or to check how much battery is remaining.
“In building Arke, we had one goal in mind — to empower the user to take back their mobility and regain the ability to complete tasks that the rest of us deem normal, like walking to the refrigerator or going to get the mail,” Michal Prywata, co-founder, chief operating officer and director of Bionik, said in a statement. “This pairing of our robotic technologies with the power of Amazon’s Alexa further pushes the boundaries of what technology can do within the home healthcare industry, and we believe we will help many impaired individuals regain the mobility they once lost.”
It is not the only example smart-assistive technology in this field. Other companies are developing rival exoskeletons and autonomous high-tech wheelchairs. It is also not yet perfect since there are no onboard microphones on the Arke, so you need to be within striking distance of an Echo to use it. Still, this is totally a step in the right direction. Pun very much intended.
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