Leveraging research and development to shape the future
Leveraging research and development to shape the future
Whether it’s wheelchairs or prosthetics – there is an ongoing effort to continuously improve auxiliary aids and services. As a result, the standards of medical equipment also continue to change - always based on the latest developments and research results. That’s why REHACARE.com has taken a closer look at how trends like digitization and creative minds impact this industry sector.
3D printers have long been part of the basic equipment of every research laboratory. At present, work is even underway to make organs for transplantation come out of the printer.
The first electromechanical binary programmable computer was created by the German inventor Konrad Zuse in 1941. It was the size of a living room cabinet and weighed more than a ton. These days, we carry mini-PCs in our pockets that aren’t just many times faster, but are also far more powerful than their predecessors. Whether this has to be the latest iPhone X or a Nokia model largely depends on the habits and needs of users or – let’s face it- the size of their wallets. Much of what we take for granted today used to cost a fortune or simply was only accessible to a small part of society.
Does innovation have to be affordable right away?
Innovation, inspiration and inclusion – those where the pillars of this year's REHACARE. "A thrilling mixture of established mid-sized companies, dynamic inventors and company founders won over visitors with their innovative solutions for almost every disability and area of life. Exhibitors presented products that are already available on the market, as well as prototypes that will soon be ready for market," as Wolfram N. Diener, Managing Director of Messe Düsseldorf enthusiastically characterized the event.
Yet some trade visitors also voiced criticism and stated that much of what they saw at REHACARE was essentially not made for them as they are unable to afford the innovations. Though that may be the case, one should also point out that REHACARE wouldn’t be the type of trailblazing trade fair it is if it only showcased items that health insurance companies cover as a standard benefit. After all, isn’t the point of research and development to set new standards? It goes without saying this is an expensive endeavor at first and costs a lot of money. However, ultimately these developments benefit all people.
The objective of the REHACARE trade fair is to create a venue where people and future users can interact with researchers and developers, future and already successful companies to stimulate action and inspire each other thanks to a mutual discourse. Whether this pertains to the customization of crutches or wheelchairs people can even get married in, or whether a resourceful engineer finds a way to reinvent the wheelchair or make the day-to-day life of people with disabilities a lot easier in other ways – at the end of the day, the goal is for everyone to benefit. And sometimes that might take a few years. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The Emscher Lippe hoch vier Project aims to prove that research and technology clearly benefit everyone and shows how people can personally get involved. The project embraces the open-source mindset of the maker scene and makes all the prototypes that have been created during the project by laymen in collaboration with experts available free of charge. Learn more about the FabLab and find out why especially people with disabilities stand to benefit from digitization in our interview with project manager Lukas Hellwig titled "FabLabs: Learning digital competence and promoting participation"
Bionic prostheses have long been en vogue. The current focus is on neurofeedback and more intuitive control via muscle impulses. The new prostheses are intended to give the wearer a more immediate feeling of his artificial limb and thus also alleviate phantom pain.
Magic cure neurofeedback - how modern prosthetics fight phantom pain
There are currently many innovations in modern prosthetics. Vincent Systems GmbH has made a giant innovation leap in hand prosthetics for example. The company’s most recent product, the VINCENTevolution 3, allows users to choose different grip patterns. These are solely controlled via muscle signals of the wearer. The startup, which was founded in 2009, aims to design hand prostheses that come ever-closer to replacing a natural hand. After all, any progress made in this area improves the quality of life of people who need a prosthetic device. Learn more about the startup and its ultra-lightweight and intuitive prosthetics in our interview with company founder D. Eng. Stefan Schulz.
The Karlsruhe-based company is not the only prosthetic developer that uses muscle signals from the patient. Other designers also rely on the wearer’s ability to communicate naturally with his or her new artificial limb. This way of communication reduces or prevents phantom or residual limb pain, and increasingly blurs the boundaries between prosthetics and real body parts. An international team of researchers led by ETH Zürich and Lausanne-based startup company Sensars recently conducted a feasibility study, testing a neurofeedback system of a bionic leg prosthesis with two volunteers. The researchers developed an interface to connect a leg prosthesis with the volunteer's thigh, thus providing sensory feedback. The neurostimulation prompted one of the study participants to no longer experience any phantom pain, while it significantly reduced the pain experienced by the other participant. Learn more in our news.
Myoelectric prosthetics are no longer pie in the sky. The work of orthopedic technicians does no longer "just" require craftsmanship and empathy for their clients. In addition to a technical understanding of their own equipment, knowledge of biomechanics such as the programming of processor-controlled knee joints is now also part of their job description. Learn more about the work of orthopedic technicians in our interview with Frank Purk.
Technical innovations – whether they come from universities or companies like Ottobock, Össur or startups like Vincent Systems – help people regain some of the mobility they've lost along with a limb.
Blind people in particular benefit from digitization. Sometimes, however, it goes beyond the target. And something else is happening as a result of increasing mechanization: more and more people affected are virtually unable to read Braille.
When technology inadvertently becomes an obstacle
There are also innovations abound for people with sensory impairments. Digitization is the driving force behind this development as well. That being said, blind people have actually experienced some setbacks in this setting. In our "Accessible software is the be-all and end-all" video, Conny Rippe reveals that touchscreens prove an almost insurmountable hurdle for her if they lack a mechanical keyboard and speech output. Rippe wished, "people would understand and accept that not everyone is perfect."
The increasing use of speech output and other types of assistive technology is also the reason fewer and fewer people have the ability to read Braille. Find out how this development affects the active participation of blind people and how two projects try to reverse this trend with brand-new Braille displays in our article "Two Innovative Ideas Expected to Breathe New Life into Braille".
It’s clear that the development of ever newer and innovative assistive technologies can be both a blessing and a curse. Maybe that’s why it is so critical to have trade fairs like REHACARE, where people who need auxiliary aids and services encounter people with the skills to invent, produce, or customize them. This creates synergies that ultimately allow everyone to benefit - similar to the idea behind a Fab Lab. And maybe with this in mind, we shouldn’t simply vilify new technologies and complain about skyrocketing costs, but try to do our part in improving our daily lives. The maker culture and open source mindset illustrate that creating tools and resources doesn’t need to be expensive. Having said that, research institutes and developers are also tasked with shaping the world of tomorrow. And who knows? Maybe today’s prototype might just be tomorrow’s standard benefit. After all, health care systems also tend to evolve and succumb to forces of change in society and digital technology.
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com