Mobility problems are often overlooked by many but statistics show that one in fifty people worldwide have a form of paralysis that inhibits movement. With the efforts made by physicists and researchers this may become a problem of the past. Several prototypes of exoskeletons are being developed which can enhance the mobility of an individual helping to recover from a traumatic injury, disease or accident.
Biomechanics is the study of how the body and its interconnected parts function and is considered to be a mix of several fields of biology, physics and chemistry. Research gathered from biomechanical studies is allowing scientists to emulate functions of the human body to be used in enhancing motor skills that may be inhibited in a person. One of the most impressive technologies released recently is that of the wearable robotic suit.
The wearable robotic suit is essentially a primitive exoskeleton which allows the wearer to carry a battery in a backpack that powers adjustable legs and joints providing additional support for people with weakened muscles and may help some who can no longer walk. It contains a balancing mechanism to help ensure the wearer does not fall over and can detect shifts in weight to adjust to accommodate artificial balance.
Prosthetics have evolved dramatically in the last decade and can be seen in paralympic athletes and wounded soldiers. Survivors of tragedies like the Boston Bombings have also brought to light how physical therapists can help rehabilitate a person through prosthetics. Ekso Bionics is just an example of one company using the idea of prosthetics to achieve a wearable bionic suit. The legs are driven by motors connected to a battery in a backpack. While the user moves on crutches the bionic suit detects slight shifts in their weight to initiate movements in the legs in a fluid motion.
One of the fundamental unseen problems with individuals facing paralysis is feeling of a loss of identity which can cause additional emotional and psychological damage. Living with limited mobility causes everyday routines to be taxing on not only the individual’s body, but mind as well. Although there is hope on the horizon for those facing physical disabilities, will there ever be a improvements for those inflicted with traumatic brain injuries?
Neuroscience is currently working to provide solutions to repair connections in the brain caused by injury with a variety of cutting edge techniques. Brain controlled interfacing might be one solution which allows implants or devices worn on the head to essentially read a person’s mind by detecting the output of electrical impulses. Stimulating neurons and nerves in the brain is another technique being studies using electrical currents to rebuild neuron pathways. And finally, stem cell research may also allow doctors to rebuild damaged brain tissue in a somewhat more natural bioengineering feat.Tags: biomechanics, bionics