Wednesday, July 27, 2016

This Robotic Crawler Helps Babies at Risk for Cerebral Palsy

Robotics and AI often get a bad rap for the whole destroyer of the human racething. But when you watch a motorized machine help a baby crawl, you can’t help put feel like robots aren’t so bad after all. And that’s exactly the kind of machine that researchers at the University of Oklahoma built.
Specifically, the Self-Initiated Prone Progression Crawler (SIPPC) is designed to mitigate neurological damage caused by cerebral palsy at an early age. Cerebral palsy refers to a number of neurological disorders that occur during pregnancy, infancy, or early childhood. Infants at risk can suffer from severe loss of motor skills and, sometimes, intellectual capabilities. Although children usually aren’t diagnosed with cerebral palsy until their first birthday, aiding movement in those crucial early months can help children at risk to develop motor and cognitive skills.
So researchers designed a motorized scooter for infants around two to eight months that helps them crawl. Additionally, an EEG cap monitors brain activity during these exercises, while mounted cameras capture movement 20 times a second to create a 3D graph of the child’s crawling.
The centerpiece to this whole robotic operation, however, is the machine learning algorithm which analyzes the infant’s movements and anticipates what the child is trying to do. The crawler then kicks in some motorized assistance to help the kiddo go.
The device featured in the above video is actually third iteration of the robot’s design. Since receiving funding from the National Science Foundation in 2012, the project has seen a series of successes leading to the current study of 56 newborns. Unfortunately, the device is still in its early stages and can’t be used by families at home. But the researchers hope that won’t be the case for long.

ALS ice bucket challenge leads to real-life genetics discover

You couldn't go on social media in 2014 without seeing a new video of a friend, celebrity or tech star dumping a bucket of ice water over his or her head to raise money for research into the degenerative neurological disorder ALS, short for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Now, it looks like that "ice bucket challenge" produced some very real scientific results, according to the ALS Association.
A new Nature Genetics study — funded by money raised through the ice bucket challenge — details the discovery of a new gene associated with ALS.
The gene, named NEK1, appears to be one of the most common found in association with the disease and may be a good option for future gene therapy, the new study suggests.
“Global collaboration among scientists, which was really made possible by ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations, led to this important discovery,” co-author of the new study John Landers, said in a statement
“It is a prime example of the success that can come from the combined efforts of so many people, all dedicated to finding the causes of ALS. This kind of collaborative study is, more and more, where the field is headed.”
Scientists found the gene by searching the genomes of more than 1,000 ALS families. Researchers also independently found the gene in a Dutch population, the ALS Association said.

The new study is part of Project MinE, a gene sequencing effort looking at the genomes of about 15,000 people with ALS around the world that's funded by donations raised through the ice bucket challenge. 
“The discovery of NEK1 highlights the value of ‘big data’ in ALS research,” ALS Association scientist Lucie Bruijn said in the statement. “The sophisticated gene analysis that led to this finding was only possible because of the large number of ALS samples available." 
"The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled The ALS Association to invest in Project MinE’s work to create large biorepositories of ALS biosamples that are designed to allow exactly this kind of research and to produce exactly this kind of result.”
In total, the challenge raised about $115 million, with about $77 million of that going to research. The viral hit also produced some amazing videos. 
Stars like Chris Pratt and Justin Timberlake got in on the ice bucket action, and even tech giants like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg took the plunge for ALS research.

This August, the ALS Association is asking for donations as part of its "Every Drop Adds Up" campaign. The new campaign asks contributors to talk about their commitment to fighting ALS.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Furenexo’s SoundSense is a simple, open-source gadget that helps deaf people stay aware of their surroundings

People with deafness have plenty of ways to navigate everyday situations as if they had no disability at all, but there are still situations that present dangers unique to them — not being able to hear a smoke alarm or gunshot, for instance. SoundSense is a small wearable device that listens for noises that might require immediate attention and alerts the user when it detects one.
“There’s really been an absence of innovation in technology for disabilities over the last decade or even decades,” said Brian Goral, co-founder and CEO of Furenexo, the company behind SoundSense. We talked a few weeks before today’s launch. “What we’re looking to do is bring technology that’s taken for granted, things like cell phones and driverless cars, and apply that to the disability space.”
This first device is a small and simple one for a reason — the company is bootstrapped and has to rely on Kickstarter for the funds to make the SoundSense. They’re also looking for grants from non-profit entities and perhaps government funds.
But really, the company has self-limited on purpose: the idea is to make something practical and cheap that almost anyone can use. Even a person with perfect hearing could wear one of these while walking around with headphones on.
There isn’t much to say about the device — it really is simple. The microphone passes its signal to a microchip, which watches for sudden increases in volume, and when it hears one, the whole doodad vibrates and its LEDs flash. The battery lasts about a day, and recharges over USB.
“It’s not anything deeply profound, like it’s going to revolutionize disability,” Goral said. “But for a person who wants to go jogging, or staying in a city they’ve never been to, just having that extra confidence and awareness that they’re going to know if something’s going wrong.”
Because it’s not a medical device, it can be sold immediately without any kind of FDA approval. And because it’s so cheap (Kickstarter versions will be $25, but the cost can be dropped even further with scale), it can be sold at drug stores or even given away by, for example, a community center catering to deaf people. Not only that, but the schematics for the device are free to download for anyone who wants to tweak them and make their own version.
For testing, guidance, and other benefits of partnership, Furenexo is working with non-profits like Helen Keller Services, which specializes in helping out people who are deaf, blind, or both.
But the SoundSense isn’t the only thing they plan on doing — just the first.
“You start to look at other challenges,” Goral said. “Like, if you’re a pedestrian in a wheelchair, and you’re on Google Maps — you might want a plug-in that avoids complex intersections, or takes you to accessible entrances instead of a generic spot on a map. Or a geofence for Alzheimer’s patients that sends you a text if they’re outside a certain area.”
The company is working on a wrist-mounted pad that the visually impaired can use to type braille, and there are plans for a more comprehensive haptic feedback armpiece that can give simple signals when they approach things like obstacles or other people.
Furenexo also hopes to create a community online that connects people with disabilities to people who want to address them. A person with paralysis might explain the difficulties of navigating the web without using her arms or legs, and an curious engineer might propose a solution or prototype a device.
The SoundSense Kickstarter is live now, so snatch up a device if you think it might be useful to you or someone you know.