Thought-driven bionic limbs. Eye-controlled computers. Advances in social robotics. With more awareness and funding available for special needs individuals than ever before, the cutting-edge of assistive and adaptive technology is a sight to behold. Here are 5 of our favorite special needs technology advances.
1. Introduction of the first bionic spinal cord
With recent successes in bionic limbs that include thought-controlled legs and arms, a team of Australian scientists — backed by a $2.5M sponsorship from the U.S. Army — is attempting to develop the first thought-controlled bionic spinal cord to assist soldiers with disabilities.
The implant will empower the user to control robotic limbs using only their thoughts for a period of five years. In fact, the signal has the capacity to control not only a robotic limb, but a mobile device, mobility device, or exoskeleton.
2. Development of eye-controlled special needs technology
Designed for individuals with rehabilitative disabilities and motor disabilities, the Gaze interaction computer access method replaces the mouse with the eyeball as the primary means of driving a mobile device. Developed by Tobii Assistive Technologies, Inc., the collection of eye-tracking and gaze interaction-based Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices improve the overall quality of life.
The technology boasts a smooth, streamlined computer interaction method that only requires the movement of the eye itself to activate, select, zoom, and scroll across the input screen. When it comes to adaptive technologies, the eyes definitely have it.
3. Social robotics-assisted autism adaptations
For those living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the challenge is not necessarily the work demands — but rather the demands of the work environment. But the advances in social robotics and special needs technology are making great strides in putting autistic individuals in positive positions of employment.
Robot buddy software loaded onto mobile devices can help those with disabilities to better understand and interact with the social world inherent in the workplace — such as if a boss is pleased or displeased with their performance. And the best part is that the social robotic system learns and adapts to the user over time.
4. The powerchair controlled by tongue movements
The Georgia Institute of Technology is putting mobility freedom where your mouth is with the development of a tongue-controlled powerchair. For the person with special abilities, all they need is a titanium barbell tongue piercing, a headset adapter, and an iPod app connected to a mobile device.
These special needs technology components work in tandem — flicks of the tongue active magnetic signals in the piercing that are passed from the headset to the app to tell the mobility device which way to move. Think of it as the ‘alternative’ to the ‘sip-and-puff’ assistive technology that has been around since the 60s.
5. Air-powered wheelchair models for water resistance
When it comes to incorporating water activities into mobility freedom, forget electronics and think pneumatics. After success with a pneumatic scooter, the Human Engineering Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh is pioneering a special needs technology wheelchair powered completely by air.
This is a literal game changer for wheelchair users in that the air-powered model is lighter and less expensive — perfectly suited to be driven into the beach surf of zero-entry swimming pools. Plus, the technology could be easily adapted to long-term care facilities where space is at a premium.
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About AMS Vans
America’s Mobility Superstore is a national wheelchair accessible van dealer and manufacturer with a mission to deliver the industry’s best wheelchair accessible vans and adapted mobility equipment that meets the unique needs of our specially-abled customers at a price they can afford. With over 20 years of dedicated service to helping thousands of amazing people realize true mobility freedom, the AMS Vans nationwide family is growing every day.