Tuesday, February 22, 2011

ReWalk robotic exoskeleton

ike the REX robotic exoskeleton, ReWalk is a wearable, motorized robotic device that is worn outside the clothing. The motorized legs, which are held in place by leg braces and a harness worn around the waist and shoulders, are powered by a rechargeable battery providing 3.5 hours of use located in a backpack along with a computer. However, unlike the REX exoskeleton which is controlled by a joystick, the ReWalk uses motion sensors to detect the wearer’s movements and translate them into movement of the units’ motorized joints, similar to the eLEGS exoskeletondeveloped at UC Berkeley.

Unlike the robotic exoskeletons being developed mainly for military use, such as Lockheed Martin’s HULC and Raytheon’s XOS robotic exoskeletons, which are designed to amplify the wearer’s movements giving them increased strength, speed and endurance, ReWalk is controlled by detecting the subtle movements in the user’s center of gravity and upper-body movements.
For this reason the user needs crutches to assist with their balance when using ReWalk, which means it is only suitable for those with movement in their hands and shoulders. Unfortunately this means Goffer, who is a quadriplegic, isn’t able to use his creation. However, Argo Medical Technologies – the company he founded to commercialize the device – is working on a version suitable for quadriplegics.
The ReWalk weighs 15 kg (33 lbs.) and is designed to serve as a physical training device for those undergoing rehabilitation. By maintaining users upright on a daily basis it also helps alleviate many of the health-related problems associated with long-tern wheelchair use such as urinary, respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive problems.
The ReWalk has been undergoing clinical trials in Israel and the U.S. for several years and Argo Medical Technologies now plans to start selling the device to rehabilitation centers around the world from January 2011 for a cost of around US$100,000.

Monday, February 21, 2011

HyperSolar concentrator could boost solar cell output by 400 percent

Solar cells are the most expensive part of a solar panel, so it would follow that if panels could produce the same amount of electricity with less cells, then their prices would come down. In order for panels to be able to do so using existing cell technology, however, they would need to get more light to the fewer cells that they still had. Mounting the panels on the end of vertical poles to get them closer to the sun is one possible approach, that might work in the town of Bedrock or on Gilligan’s Island. A better idea, though, is to apply a clear layer of solar concentrators to the surface of a panel – and that’s just what HyperSolar intends to do.

The California company claims that it has just completed the prototype design of “the world’s first thin and flat solar concentrator for direct placement on top of existing solar cells.” Each sheet will contain a matrix of optical concentrators that are capable of collecting sunlight from a variety of angles. Beneath those concentrators will be a “photonics network,” that will channel light from all the collection points on the top to concentrated output points on the bottom. This network will also able to separate the sunlight into different spectrum ranges, so that specific ranges can be sent to specific cells designed to absorb them.
The sheets will also incorporate a photonics thermal management system, that will keep unusable parts of the solar spectrum from reaching the cells. This should keep the cells from overheating, and becoming less efficient.
While HyperSolar predicts that its product will be able to magnify the sun’s rays by 300 to 400 percent, not all cells will necessarily be able to handle that kind of intensity. For that reason, the solar concentrators will come in Low Magnification, High Magnification, and Mix-Mode Magnification models. At the 400 percent level, the company states that a concentrator-equipped panel could use 75 percent less cells than one without.
HyperSolar’s next step will be to produce an actual physical prototype, and see if it works as envisioned. We’ll keep you posted ...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thought-controlled car demonstrated

Since its formation in 2006, Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin’s AutoNOMOS team has been researching and developing systems that could someday result in driverless, autonomous cars. Previously, they have successfully used an iPhone, an iPad, and an eye-tracking device to maneuver their Volkswagen Passat MadeInGermany test car. Now, using a commercially-available Emotiv EPOC brain-machine gaming interface, they have demonstrated that their car can be controlled by mind power.

AutoNOMOS’ system, known as BrainDriver, acquires bioelectric signals from the driver via 16 EEG sensors on the EPOC neuroheadset. Before slipping behind the wheel, drivers first need to spend some time on the system’s software tool kit, where they learn to move a cube back and forth on a computer screen by altering their thought patterns. Once on the road, BrainDriver links these patterns with assigned actuations (such as steering and acceleration), and sends the appropriate commands to the car’s drive-by-wire system.

In the first test of the technology, the car drove itself autonomously to an intersection, at which point its human occupant used their thought patterns to tell it which way to turn. In the second test, carried out at Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport, the occupant continuously controlled steering, acceleration and braking. There was said to be “only a slight delay” between their mental commands and the subsequent reactions of the car.
The system is currently only a demonstration project. Team members, however, believe that it could have definite applications in the future, such as for allowing passengers to assist autonomous cars when the vehicles are unsure of which road to take at an intersection.