SCIENCE – A seven letter word that has revolutionized the face of God’s earth. Science is the result of man’s unquenched thirst for knowledge. God gave him brains, and he used it to unravel the mysteries of His world.
Just imagine – a day with no electricity. Hard to envisage? Today, we cannot spend a minute without electricity, let alone a whole day! This is what science has done to the world. Electricity is just a minute example; science has given us almost everything surrounding us; we are practically living in a scientific world, created over the centuries, by some super brains amongst us. From wheels to cars, from huts to skyscrapers, from quills to ball pens, from letters to internet, everything that scientists have developed has metamorphosed the world we live in. Everyday, there’s a new technology being developed, a new study being conducted, a new research being carried on.
One branch of science which has always captivated man’s attention is Robotics. The general perception of a robot is some kind of a mechanized man that does mechanical, routine tasks on command. This is just one example of a robot. In true sense, any machine or mechanical device that operates automatically with human-like skills is a robot; yes, it means that even a child’s “remote waali” car, is a robot.
Robots and automated machines have always fascinated me; especially when they are used in conjunction with the human body. Rehabilitation Robotics is one such field where the focus is on usage of robots to help people recover from physical trauma; people suffering from stroke are exclusively benefited. This special branch of robotics is just a beginning to make serious inroads in the world of physical therapy. The field of rehabilitation robotics is an obvious direction for robotics to take, as machines have become more affordable, and their ability to autonomously aid human beings has increased.
Work in the field of rehab robotics was initiated in the 1970’s, and now it has developed to a point where the first commercially successful products are available. The 30 year gap is because of many factors – complex technology, uncertainty of purchase funding and limited return on investment to name a few.
In his paper, IEEE Transactions on Rehabilitation Engineering, Bolmsjö G, Neveryd H, Eftring H, writes, “Rehabilitation is an activity which aims to enable a disabled person to reach an optimum mental, physical, and/or social functional level. Thus, rehabilitation robotics deal with advancing robotics’ technology to provide physically disabled people with tools to improve their quality of life and productivity of work [Man-Machine Interaction].”
When compared to industrial robots, rehab robots are slower, and more compliant to facilitate safe usage. The use of robots here is quite different from industrial applications, where robots normally operate in a structured environment with predefined tasks, separated from human operators. Furthermore, industrial robots are operated with specially trained personnel with a certain interest in the technology. This may not be the case in rehabilitation robotics.
Thus, rehabilitation robotics have more in common with service robotics, which integrate humans and robots in the same task, requiring certain safety aspects, and special attention to man-machine interfaces. Therefore, more attention must be paid to the user’s requirements, as the user is a part of the process in the execution of various tasks. In rehabilitation robotics, the usefulness of robotic devices is largely dependent on the degree of independence which they provide to their operators.
Rehabilitation Robotics is a revolution in itself; combining medical science with engineering like never before. This is the growth of science; it has made machines that can help a man battle his physical disability, that too in less amount of time with more accurate results.