While robotic applications have become almost commonplace in
industrial manufacturing, the use of advanced futuristic automated
applications, like those used in rehabilitation and military projects,
are also on the rise.
"Many of these robots are science fiction projects of years' past,
but now they are becoming relevant," says Adil Shafi, president of SHAFI Inc, a Michigan-based provider of simplified software solutions for vision-guided robotics.
An innovator of 2-D/3-D vision robotics, Shafi spoke about robotic innovation applications at the Robotic Industries Assn.'s
conference and expo, "Robots 2008; What's Next," at the Hynes
Convention Center in Boston recently. He said advancements once
considered futuristic are now realistic and have a place in society.
Robotic applications also save time and money, he said.
"Advanced robotic applications can actually produce a better product than a manual project," he said.
One such robotic invention is the Lokomat, made by Zurich, Switzerland-based Hocoma AG.
It is locomotion therapy supported by an automated gait orthosis on a
treadmill that can improve walking abilities for those with
neurological movement disorders.
According to Hocoma's website, the Lokomat is the first driven gait
orthosis that assists walking movements of impaired patients. It is
used to improve mobility in individuals following a stroke, spinal cord
injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis or other neurological diseases
"Performance results are dramatic," said Shafi, who showed a short
video clip on the Lokomat. "Of course, it's pre-clinical and pre-FDA
approval (in the U.S.), but it is used and approved in Holland and
According to Shafi, a patient who is using an automated
rehabilitation machine like the Lokomat must be able to produce some
type of brain command or have some amount of limb ability in order to
move their body, so the machine can aide in the rehabilitation.
The Lokomat requires only one therapist to help the patient strap in and out.
Another up-and-coming robotic application is the KineAssist, a
robotic rehabilitation system that catches a person who is learning to
walk again if he or she falls. The machine straps onto the back and
catches the person.
It is made by Kinea Design LLC , a company that specializes in human-machine motion control and works on large projects including DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009.
KineAssist technology allows therapists to challenge patients in
functional environments with reduced concern about falls. It also
records objective measures and allows patients to integrate with
existing practice settings, according to the company's website.
Unlike equipment that requires significant set-up time and
additional staff, this rehab robot requires only one therapist, minimal
set-up time and is used during transition, standing balance, ambulation
and dynamic balance therapy.
"There are so many dramatic stories of these robotic applications
helping people walk," Shafi said. "The KineAssist is vision and force
learning. Force needs to be applied, so haptics are essential in these
Shafi also explained that military applications are becoming more automated, incorporating industrial equipment.
He gave an example of the John Deere Skid Steer Loader
which is the core of many autonomous unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) and
has already premiered in combat."There is a lot of desire to put an
industrialized robot on the end," he said.
According to Shafi, the opportunities are endless. A future use may
include picking up soldiers in a war zone or detonating bombs.
A lot can be automated, but these (situations) require hydraulic, kinematic controls," he said.
He said a dual arm robot that will pick up an object using vision is
also being developed. Autonomous robots have arrived," Shafi said.
"They are here to stay and not only improve operations of business, but
help people, too."