What do you get when you cross artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, and futuristic fashion sense? A technology that could make life easier for people with motor neuron diseases.
Motor neuron diseases attack the cells that make muscles move. Diseases like cerebral palsy (CP) steal people’s ability to walk, move their arms and hands, or even speak.
Twenty-year-old Aaryan Shah lives in Australia. He was born with CP. He has used a wheelchair for his entire life. The disease makes it hard for him—and others with CP—to operate computers. He can use only one hand, and he can type with only one finger. In today’s digital world, that’s a real disadvantage.
But two years ago, a team of engineers at Sydney University’s School of Computer Science had an idea:
They invented a life-changing bracelet.
The bracelet looks futuristic. Rainbow wires connect a ring of 3-D-printed springs. Each spring acts as a sensor. Those sensors pick up tiny wrist movements that tell our fingers what to do.
Turn your palm up and wiggle your fingers. Look at your wrist. Do you see small vibrations beneath the skin? Those are the muscles and tendons in your carpal tunnel, controlling the movements of your hand.
The bracelet senses those vibrations and sends them to a computer via Bluetooth. Then artificial intelligence turns those vibrations into commands. It all happens in an instant.
Scientists have created similar devices in the past. Those devices relied on clunky sensors surrounding the fingers or the entire hand. But the bracelet engineers wanted to design something easier to use. They didn’t want a device that focuses on people’s disabilities. They wanted to make a device tailored around people’s abilities.
Instead of mass producing the bracelets, they 3-D-print them on demand. They can adjust the stiffness of the springs for each user. That means the device can help people at many different levels of ability. If someone has less muscle strength, the engineers can print more sensitive springs to pick up tinier muscle movements.
Shah recently tested out the new bracelet. Using only slight hand movements, he could play a simple fruit-slicing video game. He hopes that someday the technology will help him use the computer to study.
The engineers at Sydney University are applying their gifts to help others. When they complete the technology, they plan to release the designs for free. Anyone with a 3-D printer will be able to make his or her own bracelet.
Why? We live in a fallen world where people suffer from disease and disability. But God gives us abilities to help the disadvantaged, including much in the developing tech realm.