August R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

This month we have a selection of sensor-related medical research efforts that includes a sensor-enhanced cane that helps the visually impaired to find their way around, an intelligent crutch that can tell you if you're using it correctly, and an artificial retina project.

Move Over, Fido
In an interesting project at Central Michigan University, students have created a smart cane, intended for the visually impaired, that can detect objects and provide navigational help to the user. An ultrasonic sensor in the cane proper will warn of potential obstacles via a speaker on the strap of a messenger-style bag. The bag also contains a miniature navigation system that provides navigational direction to the wearer in addition to an RFID tag reader. Miniature flags placed around the campus hold RFID tags that are detected by the bag and cane working together. More detail is available in the article, "Smart Cane gives a new direction." If we achieve pervasive computing and the Internet of Things, just imagine how much more sophisticated this system could become!

Intelligent Crutch
Considering how sensors have revolutionized prosthetics, it shouldn't be a surprise that researchers have now brought some intelligence to the humble crutch. Too many people stuck using crutches don't use them correctly and this can either delay recovery or make things worse. Professor Neil White and Dr Geoff Merrett from the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science have teamed up with Georgina Hallet, a physiotherapist at Southampton's General Hospital, to build a smarter crutch. The forearm crutch contains three accelerometers and force sensors; the accelerometers detect motion while the force sensors gauge the patient's hand position and how much weight is applied to his or her leg. Readings are then beamed wirelessly to a remote computer. If the patient isn't using the crutch properly, the crutch can provide visual feedback. (Not coincidentally, Professor White is one of the principal investigators on the Southampton Hand, a very sophisticated prosthesis.)

An Artificial Retina
The Artificial Retina Project (a collaboration between Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, USC (Doheny Eye Institute), Caltech, North Carolina State University, and UC Santa Cruz along with Second Sight Medical Products Inc.) seeks to restore the ability to see to those who have lost their sight to macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa. The project involves the develoment of an implantable retinal prosthesis. Researchers at Caltech, led by Wolfgang Fink and Mark Tarbell, have developed a specialized image processing software, called the Artificial Retinal Implant Vision Simulator (ARIVS) that takes the signals from the artificial retina's miniature camera, processes them in real time, and then transmits them to the electrodes on the back of the retina that are then transmitted via the optical nerve to the brain. For more information, I refer you to the article "Caltech-Supported Innovation to Treat Blindness Earns R&D 100 Award."