Giz Gadgets: Drones, Exoskeletons And Smart Glasses For A Good Cause

Each new week brings with it an abundance of new gadgets -- whether devised by tech giants like Google and Samsung or pushed by hopeful entrepreneurs to Kickstarter, they run the gamut from useful to niche to tech that nobody really needs. This week we've got high tech being used for good.


Will Drones Be A Major Part Of Australia's Future?

What part can drones play in Australian society? Last week Intel hosted a 'Drones For Good' panel as part of Vivid Sydney, inviting the likes of one of the 'Innovation Partners' behind Australia Post's drone trial, Dirk Van Lammeren; Aussie company Ninox Robotics' Managing Director Marcus Ehrlich, and even Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop to weigh in on the potential of drone technology in Australia.

You'd be surprised to hear how many applications drones are already being used -- or at least trialed -- for in Australia. As Ninox Robotics' Marcus Ehrlich says, Australia is the perfect place for it. We have a large land mass with scattered settlements, a wealthy population with high technological uptake, and a regulator that understands the industry. "Drones will be a real part of raising productivity in Australia," he predicts, though he says he can't say what form it might take.

Julie Bishop's introduction brought up a number of areas where drones are already seeing use in Australia -- whether it was by farmers monitoring or spraying remote and hard-to-reach areas of their properties, using drones to easily chart landscapes from above or even drones that are mounted with cameras to shoot films at all levels of production. The first instance of this technology was actually first developed by an Australian company for the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean -- and those same drone cameras are still used by Disney for shoots all over the world.

Perhaps surprisingly, drones are being used even in Bishop's own portfolio of Foreign Affairs. The Firetail is a low-cost UAV system that was named one of the winners of the Department of Foreign Affairs' Pacific Humanitarian Challenge. While drones aren't immediately what comes to mind as a foreign aid or humanitarian technology (because drones are more commonly associated with warfare in most cases) the impact of the Firetail in countries hit by natural disasters could save numerous lives thanks to early reporting and providing first responders with accurate, recent data.


The EyeForcer Fixes Kids' Posture While Gaming

The EyeForcer, in essence, is a pair of glasses frames with no lenses that sense the position of the head (and from that, the neck). It works with an Android app that can be installed on any phone or tablet used for gaming. The child wears the EyeForcer when they play, and if it detects poor posture a warning will pop up on the screen over their game or app. After a certain number of warnings, the game will shut down.

It's being touted as a device that can prevent 'tech neck' or 'Gameboy disease' caused by hunching over a device for long periods of time, though it faces just one issue. Well, maybe two. For one, kids will probably see the act of wearing the EyeForcer as a worse punishment than having their games turned off, and secondly -- kids usually know more about the tech than their parents do.

Still, if you're interested in the tech, Eyeforcer is crowdfunding on Kickstarter now, with a device available for pledges over $CAD240.


Here Is The World's First Exoskeleton For Children

An exoskeleton has been developed specifically for children with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that affects the the motor neurons which control muscle movement, and enabling them to walk for up to five hours -- in some cases for the first time.

There are also plans for it to be used in physiotherapy in hospitals to prevent the secondary effects associated with the loss of mobility from spinal muscular atrophy.

Developed by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the 12kg exoskeleton is built from aluminum and titanium, and has long support rods that fit around the child’s legs and torso that can be adjusted as they grow.

There are five motors in each leg that mimic human muscles, helping the child stand and move. In addition to sensors and a movement controller, there is direct user control over all five motors. The exoskeleton detects the slightest intent of muscle movement and responds accordingly.

"The number one drawback in developing this type of pediatric exoskeleton is that the symptoms of neuromuscular illness -- such as spinal muscular atrophy -- change over time," said Elena Garcia, senior researcher at the Automatics and Robotics Center in Madrid.

"That's why it's fundamental to have an exoskeleton capable of independently adapting to these changes,” she continued. “Our model includes intelligence joints which alter the brace's rigidity automatically and adapt to the symptoms of each individual child at whenever required."


A Young Amputee Has Received A 3D Printed Prosthetic To Play Basketball

3D printed prosthetics are a new and interesting use of the technology, with prosthetic attachments being designed and printed for every possible use. Some programs have even allowed children to design their own. This particular one was a collaboration between AIO Robotics and 3D For Everyone, designed for a young amputee to use to play basketball.

The prosthetic has a three-finger design with rubber tips that are able to grip onto a rubber basketball. It also has a pretty badarse name -- the arm is based off a 'Raptor' hand, but this particular version has been dubbed the 'Spock'. Not printed as a whole, the prosthetic has almost 30 individual parts that are held together with nylon wire and screws.

You can see a video of Logan using his hand here, along with a couple of other photos.


Vodafone Is Helping To Make Exoskeltons

Meet the world's first and only exoskeleton approved for use with both stroke patients and spinal cord injuries -- the Ekso GT from Ekso Bionics. Strapped over your clothing, the exoskeleton enables you to achieve mobility, strength, or endurance not otherwise possible.

Vodafone's network and global Internet of Things (IoT) SIM will be responsible for communicating diagnostics and improved access to patient data in the ready to wear, battery-powered robots.

The Ekso GT is currently offered in more than 150 rehabilitation institutions around the world and has helped enable people to take more than 50 million steps. The suit can provide adaptive amounts of power to either side of your body, and allows physical therapists to mobilise patients earlier, more frequently and with a greater number of high intensity steps -- all which will aid recovery.

"The Internet of Things is enabling all types of medical devices to be connected anywhere in the world," said Vodafone Group's Head of IoT for the Americas, Andrew Morawski. "The focus that Ekso Bionics has on helping stroke and spinal cord injury patients to increase mobility is making a significant impact on the quality of life for its users."