back to article In the lab: Robotic AI-powered exoskeletons to help disabled people move freely without implants

Canadian boffins are testing semi-autonomous exoskeletons that could help people with limited mobility walk again without the need for implanted sensors. Researchers at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, are hard at work trying to combine modern deep-learning systems with robotic prostheses. They hope to give disabled …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. don't you hate it when you lose your account

      It's the wrong

      Trousers Grommet

    2. gobaskof

      "What could possibly go wrong?"

      I like the idea that "Disasters are prevented by including a kill switch." What if it doesn't properly work when going downstairs, does the kill-switch also turn off gravity? Or activate a jet pack?

      The whole article talks about the user's intent being to walk up the stairs if there are stairs in front of them. What if the user's intent is to turn around and go to the loo? How is that communicated?

      Most importantly what if someone puts a post-it on a door saying "no door here"? Will the AI walk straight into it?

      1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        Kill switch

        Looking for prior experience in the ergonomics of a kill switch?

        A police drone operator managed to switch his craft off mid-flight, dropping it squarely into a pond while attempting to search for a missing person.

    3. macjules

      “You must think in Canadian”

  2. Chris G

    Invasive implants are not necessary, just look at Tilley Lockey and the arms she uses.

    There may be a use for algorithmic interpretation to smooth out or generally improve the function of prostheses like Tilley's but depending on an AI to operate say a set of legs seems to be coming from the wrong direction.

    " I'm sorry Dave, we're not going there!"

    1. WhereAmI?

      Tilly Lockey - never heard of her but had to go and look... man! What a wonderful brave young lady!

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "human-controlled override buttons to disengage the automated controllers,”

    Hmm. I wonder how well that will work when the user wants to go down the stairs and the machine wants to walk stright ahead.

    I applaud anything that will advance our ability to improve the life of disabled, but this strikes me as rather dangerous.

    I wish them luck, though.

  4. gitignore

    Why walking ?

    There seems to be an obsession with walking for disabled people ; what in my experience is way more of a problem is not being able to use your hands, or not being able to sit. This invention requires good core control (which many people with cerebral palsy struggle with) and assumes you don't have contractures. For walking, for many (not all, obvs) situations, the wheelchair is an adequate tool. On the positives, getting yourself vertical has lots of benefits.

    1. riparian zone

      Re: Why walking ?

      Indeed. Rather than do the difficult things like make buildings accessible for wheelchairs (and those with limited movement), consult with those with disabilities in terms of town/city planning or all of those things that are actually worthy - we get exoskeletons. TBH, I think the only people who may take up the idea are those that lost the use of their legs through spinal injury.

    2. twellys

      Re: Why walking ?

      The leading cause of disability in the UK is a stroke. Stroke survivors struggle with manual wheelchairs because stroke affects half of the body. That's why walking is important for them.

      (I'm stroke survivor of 21 years)

  5. TimMaher Silver badge

    “Kill switch”

    Not sure about the terminology here.

    1. Lyndon Hills 1

      Re: “Kill switch”

      There was a film called "Upgrade" on Film4 (UK TV) in the last few days. Not a great film, but the central idea was just what this article is about...

    2. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: “Kill switch”

      Well, a kill switch has a few other names, depending on their exact function: EPO (Emergency power off), E-Stop (Emergency Stop), and the like. "Kill switch" is a bit on the dramatic side, but things like pressing EPO or E-Stop buttons are usually dramatic events.

      I suspect in the exoskeleton's case, it sends a command to halt whatever action the AI is trying to do and to wait for the meat sitting in the exoskeleton to tell it what to do, or reverts the frame into a freewheel sort of mode where the person strapped into it can still move about, just without any power assist.

      Did that answer your question?

  6. Anonymous Coward

    In tle lab

    Does anyone read the headline anymore?

    Mobility is a real problem for many people. Starting with the ability to walk without falling and go up stairs makes sense as you develop the hardware and software because they are easier than going down stairs and sitting (for example). I applaud the boffins and offer a zero alcohol pint (so as not to impair their own mobility).

    P.S. as anyone who was in IT back when it was called DP can tell you, the emergency switch is called a BRB - Big Red Button.

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