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David Fazio

  Harmony at Work

11/06/2012

Nanotechnology Bridges Big Gap to Live, Work and Play for Individuals of all Abilities - Part 1

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The Russian Innovation Week that took place in October 2012 highlights the breakthrough capabilities and outcome of developing nanotechnology to aid persons with disabilities.

Russian Innovation Week kicked off at Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum in late October this year. Among the highlights, were breakthrough partnerships in developing nanotechnology. I am reminded of the possibilities that this field has created, as my colleague from California’s Office of Business and Economic Development attends to the strengthening of these partnerships with our hi-tech industry.

Nanotechnology proves to be an instrumental component in achieving “harmony at work,” with both practical and commercial applications. It crosses both the organic and inorganic boundaries of science, engineering and technology. It’s an extremely small-scale thinking with precision engineering conducted at the nano-scale. To give you perspective, 1 nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter.

Nanotechnology is used across virtually every science field: chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering. It allows us to realize the best of what used to be science fiction.

Image: Woman demonstrating the Ekso exoskeleton

Image: Ekso is a wearable robot or exoskeleton that enables people with lower-extremity paralysis or weakness to stand and walk.

Companies like California-based Ekso Bionics have harnessed the driving force of nanotechnology to create livable solutions that allow the billions of disabled citizens of this planet to meaningfully participate in society. Ekso is a wearable robot or exoskeleton that enables people with lower-extremity paralysis or weakness to stand and walk. It is a ready-to-wear, battery-powered, bionic device that you strap over your clothing. The user provides the balance and proper body positioning and Ekso allows them to walk.

Ekso Bionics is a prime example of how “inclusive” engineering leads to broader market penetration. Today, Ekso Bionics realizes that pioneering the field of exoskeletons to augment human mobility and capability has an application that far transcends the disability market alone, as is the case with any design with inclusion in sight.

Exoskeletons can be designed to assist and protect soldiers and construction workers, or to aid in the survival of people in various (physically challenging) environments. The fruition of this technology is a game changer for not only the future of prosthetics but also other industries, such as search and rescue work. Exoskeletons can aid rescue workers in collapsed buildings, allowing them to lift heavy debris, while simultaneously protecting them from falling rubble.

There is a cross-functional impact when you design for inclusion to allow the disability community further opportunity to share in the same experiences as the rest of the world. Commercial technology giant Apple has embraced nanotechnology to create products that push the limits of our imagination. Think iPod, iPhone, iPad. Exciting as these products may be for entertainment or for their sheer lifestyle value, they also have practical uses that penetrate the billion-plus size disability market.

On the practical side, the iPad has given kids with autism a new pathway of engaging with peers and adults; where speech, occupational and behavior therapies have not. The iPad’s harmony at work principle has empowered autistic children to communicate better, especially when they find speech difficult or are completely non-verbal and have no way of expressing opinions, desires, or feelings.

The iPad wasn't the first tablet computer and isn't the only one in the market today that caters to the community. However, Apple’s inclusive design propelled it almost immediately to become the overwhelming market leader. It has given children with autism a sense of control that they never had before. They understand that when they touch it, something is supposed to happen. They understand that they don’t need to cry they can just point and tap.

Therapy centered on this device and available software apps allows autistic children and adults to put together sentences, and hold entire conversations that would have otherwise been impossible. These same applications serve a cross-functional purpose as an education tool for developing children. GPS apps on the iPhone and iPad allow blind users to travel further than ever imagined before.

Read Part 2 of David's blog!

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Related News

Related Blog: Achieving Inclusion through Gesture, Touch and Voice by Robert Pearson | Read the blog

Related Publication: Economic Benefits of Disability-Inclusive Development | Download free PDF.

Related Event: DEEP 2012 - Designing Enabling Economies and Policies | View event proceedings.