Tiny exoskeleton helps babies avoid cerebral palsy, makes them look like Dr. Octopus

Infants at risk of cerebral palsy are getting a bit of support from a skateboard, a robot, and a machine-learning algorithm at the University of Oklahoma (OU) Health Science Center, where this year a team of researchers have embarked on the third version of an innovative effort, IEEE Spectrum reports.

As infants mature, they often learn to crawl in an effort to reach some goal, such as a toy or another interesting object. In this case, learning to crawl is reward-based. But, when an infant suffers from cerebral palsy, her movements and muscle coordination can be severely stunted, and the motivation to keep crawling may be reduced since the task is either too difficult or doesn’t result in a reward.

With this motivation gone, as the infant focuses energy elsewhere, the brain stops building and reinforcing vital spatial cognition and motor connections, leading to further issues later in life.

The Self-Initiated Prone Progression Crawler (SIPPC) — invented by physical therapist and researchers Thubi Kolobe and Peter Pidcoe — sees infants lie on a padded skateboard, while strapped to a robot and wearing a cap packed with dozens of electrodes to monitor brain activity. The cap transmits the infant’s movement to a 3D screen as a camera on the robot records the movements of her limbs. This data is finally relayed to a machine-learning algorithm that interprets what actions the infant is attempting to perform and informs the robot to move slightly in accordance with the infant’s desires.

The comprehensive effort rewards infants for simply attempting to crawl by assisting in their movements.

“As soon as you start to crawl, the world seems like a much bigger place,” OU engineering professor Andrew Fagg told IEEE Spectrum. “We hope, with the crawling, we’ll set them up to build other capabilities that will be really important later on in life.”

In the trials, Fagg is joined by Kolobe and engineering professors David Miller and Lei Ding. They realize their cause is honorable but Fagg admitted that fatigue is a factor. “It’s wearing everybody down,” he said, after 1,000 sessions, 10 gigabytes of data, and another six to nine more months of research ahead of them.

And although Fagg insists that more research needs to be done before anything definitive is concluded, results from this year’s study have been in line with what the researchers found in their pilot study and — perhaps just as promising — the parents of the infant participants are already eager to take a device of their own home.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

This implant goes beyond pacemakers, helps aging hearts beat more vigorously

The FDA's advisory committee has voted to recommend an innovative pacemaker-style gadget be approved in the U.S. The Optimizer Smart Implantable Pulse Generator boosts performance, strength, and pumping ability of weakened heart chambers.
Outdoors

Forget pumps. This innovative filter purifies H2O in 8 seconds flat

The Grayl Geopress water purification system removes more than 99 percent of all bacteria, cysts, and viruses from water in just eight seconds, providing clean drinking water to travelers and outdoor adventurers.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.
Outdoors

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.
Outdoors

Crush your next workout with the best Fitbit for every activity

Fitbits are amazingly helpful tools for setting fitness goals and tracking progress. However, different activities require different metrics. We've gathered a list of the best Fitbits for running, swimming, biking, and other activities.
Deals

These fitness deals come just in time to work off those holiday calories

Finding the motivation to work out is one thing. Finding space at home to get in a few sets and reps can be an entire challenge in itself. Luckily for you, Walmart and Amazon both have space saving fitness machines and tools on sale right…
Mobile

Google Fit app finally gets a widget, among other new features

Google Fit hasn't received any new features since its redesign. This week, the company is rolling some new tools; users will be able to add a widget to their Android home screen, adjust the intensity of their workouts, and more.
Deals

Amazon is slashing its prices on an array of top blenders

Quality blenders from Vitamix to Ninja and more are on sale at Amazon — just in time to gift them for Christmas. They're great for preparing tasty treats, and as a kitchen staple, they make a great gift for the budding chef in your life.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Deals

REI clearance sale extends discounts on Garmin, Fitbit, and GoPro devices

Beyond the things you typically expect to find at REI — like tents, skis, and jackets — there are tons of great deals on quality tech foryour outdoor adventures. From smartwatches to action cameras, here are the best tech deals.