Monday, February 6, 2012

One Per Cent - Robotic walking stick lends users some balance

Paul Marks, senior technology correspondent

(Image: USPTO)

Car maker Toyota has invented a robotic walking stick that offers users a way to right themselves when they begin to fall, or which lets them get a bit of rehabilitative exercise. It also looks like quite a lot of fun.
Working with the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Toyota engineers in Erlanger, Kentucky, placed a bidirectional,chunky rubber wheel that is driven by motors at the foot of a stick that is packed with balance-sensing accelerometers. The hand grip has a force sensor with which the user controls the strength of the wheels forward motion or backspin.
If the user starts to fall forwards, gripping the handle causes the wheel to slowly-but-strongly push back on the user's arm, hopefully righting them. If they start to fall backwards, the multi-axis accelerometers sense the direction needed to push them back upright. If the user has back problems, Toyota suggests they can use the stick to lean on and supply backpressure repeatedly, allowing them to exercise muscles that don't normally get a work out.
You could, of course have a lot of fun driving rollerblades or a skateboard electrically with this robotic cane. But so could others - so to prevent anyone borrowing it, Toyota suggests the handle incorporates fingerprint recognition. Sneaky.

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