Monday, March 19, 2007
U036367L Khoo Wei Chuan http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12497049/ Eldery and disabled patients who suffer from movement difficulties have long been subjected to many inconveniences be it at home or outdoors. Despite the invention of wheelchairs and their automated counterparts being able to resolve this problem partially, it can be seen that it has introduced many new problems too. Most significantly, wheelchairs occupy a large amount of base area which in turn requires equally large movement paths. In the context of middle and low incomed Singaporeans whose houses are usually small and compact, this introduces a significant amount of movement difficulty especially through corridors. In addition, as wheelchairs function through the use of two wheeled movement, it is typically incapable of performing acute turns and more importantly, movement through staircases is also impossible. The robotic legged movement aid developed by Professor Atsuo Takanishi is targeted at resolving these conventional problems faced by wheelchairs. With this replacement movement concept, Takanishi hopes to create a two-legged robot that can fully operate in a human environment, specifically being able to climb staircases and travel along rough surfaces like any normal Homo sapiens do. The concept in general is very well though of. However, in my opinion, there is one major implication that the developing team has to resolve, which is the overall height increment of the user. As seen from the attached image and linked article, the robotics legs are longer than the length of the user's knee to foot. Despite the user being in a sitting position, it is evident that he is still overall taller than the people around him. Without doubt, increased height will introduce movement difficulties in areas with lower ceilings but more importantly, we need to look at the psychological impact on the user owing to this increased height. By itself, being tall will not induce any negative feelings. However, since the users of this robotic legs are generally elderly and disabled patients, it must be understood that the height increment will more or less serve as a publicity of their movement difficulties. Hence, this may adversely affect the commercial potential of the product. Nevertheless, I do believe that the developers are aware of this issue but probably due to the necessity of using extendable 'limbs' in replace of joints for stable movement through staircases, such a limitation has continued to exist.