R1, il primo robot per le famiglie

fonte: questo articolo de La Repubblica

R1“Sarà un robot rassicurante e piacevole”. Con queste parole, un anno e mezzo fa, Giorgio Metta annunciava a Repubblica l’inizio di un grande progetto: portare i robot umanoidi nelle case degli italiani. Oggi, sotto il suo coordinamento, quel sogno ha un nome: R1 – your personal humanoid è il primo robot sviluppato a basso costo, concepito per raggiungere il mercato di massa. Un team di 32 ricercatori e designer dell’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), polo d’eccellenza in Italia e nel mondo, sono riusciti nell’intento di creare un umanoide al costo di una tv di ultima generazione. E per completare l’obiettivo manca solo un passaggio: la produzione in serie. Ma non ci vorrà molto, al massimo 18 mesi e lo vedremo scorrazzare in giro per il mondo.

Un tuttofare con rotelle. R1 sarà un amico fidato che ci aiuterà nelle faccende domestiche o nel lavoro da ufficio. Lo vedremo in hotel dietro il banco della reception o in ospedale in aiuto di infermiere e caposala nella gestione di cartelle e dati. All’inizio gli dovremo insegnare tutto: dalla planimetria dell’ambiente alla collocazione degli oggetti. Ma in poco tempo sarà in grado di muoversi in autonomia, riconoscendo ambienti, volti e voci e compiendo azioni al posto nostro. Come fare un caffè o prendere il telecomando al posto nostro, senza farci alzare dal divano.
R1 body“Noi ci siamo spremuti le meningi per abbattere i costi mantenendo alta la qualità. – spiega Metta – Abbiamo cercato di rendere il tutto meno dispendioso utilizzando materiali economici, come polimeri e plastiche, che richiedono processi produttivi meno costosi rispetto a quelli tradizionali”. Il prezzo finale dipenderà da quanti robot verranno costruiti. “Per i primi 100 prototipi abbiamo individuato un target di prezzo che si aggira sui 25mila euro. Superata questa soglia, il prezzo inizierà a scendere e continuerà a calare man mano che diventerà un prodotto di consumo. La fascia, più o meno finale, di prezzo sarà di 3mila euro, quanto il costo di un moderno televisore al plasma”.

I precedenti. R1 è il risultato di un lungo percorso di sperimentazione e ricerca che raccoglie la conoscenza acquisita dai ricercatori con la creazione di altri robot, in particolare di iCub: l’umanoide costruito per gli studi sull’intelligenza artificiale, oggi presente in tutto il mondo con 30 prototipi. Rispetto a lui e agli altri umanoidi in circolazione, però, le differenze sono tante: “iCub è un prodotto di ricerca in cui il prezzo non era importante. R1 invece è un tentativo di approcciare il mercato di massa in cui il prezzo diventa questione fondamentale”, spiega Giorgio Metta.

R1 armE anche con il famoso robot umanoide Pepper, che da poco è stato adottato sulle navi da crociera, il confronto non regge perché R1 ha il dono della presa. In Pepper le mani servono solo per indicare o fare dei gesti ma non per compiere azioni. Per realizzare R1, invece, i ricercatori si sono concentrati proprio sulla possibilità di farlo interagire con l’esterno attraverso l’uso degli arti superiori, donandogli la capacità di afferrare oggetti, aprire cassetti o porte. Un valore aggiuntivo rispetto alle alternative già esistenti sul mercato, che gli assicurano un posto d’onore tra i tuttofare di casa. Le mani e gli avambracci di R1 sono rivestiti di una pelle artificiale, con sensori che conferiscono al robot il senso del tatto, permettendogli di ‘sentire’ l’interazione con gli oggetti che manipola. Il disegno delle mani è stato semplificato rispetto a quello di iCub per garantire robustezza e costi contenuti, pur consentendo l’esecuzione di semplici operazioni domestiche. Hanno la forma di due guanti a manopola e il polso è sferico, aspetti che gli permettono di sollevare pesi fino a 1,5 kg e chiudere completamente la presa attorno a ciò che afferra, specialmente oggetti cilindrici come bicchieri e bottiglie. Ma non è tutto.

R1 faceAnatomia di un robot. Dalla testa alle rotelle, R1 è un concentrato di tecnologia avanzata. Il volto è uno schermo LED a colori su cui compaiono delle espressioni stilizzate: pochi, semplici tratti per un modo semplice e veloce di comunicare con l’uomo. All’interno, invece, lo schermo ospita i sensori per la visione, due telecamere e uno scanner 3D, quelli per l’equilibrio e per la generazione e percezione del suono. Il corpo è allungabile e ‘snodabile’, con il busto che si estende fino a 140 centimetri e il torso che si torce anche lateralmente. Stesso discorso per gli arti meccanici, che possono guadagnare fino a 13 cm. Nella ‘pancia’, invece, trovano posto tre computer che governano le capacità del robot, dal calcolo al movimento della testa, sino al controllo di tutti i sensori. Una scheda wireless permette al robot di collegarsi alla rete internet, ricavando informazioni utili all’interazione con l’uomo e gli aggiornamenti del software.

La memoria di una vita.
L’idea è che queste macchine diventino il centro di tutta la nostra comunicazione digitale: mantengano l’agenda, ci aiutino a ottimizzare la pianificazione, diventino la nostra interfaccia con altri strumenti di uso quotidiano. “Man mano che il robot starà con noi, inizierà ad avere memoria di tutto ciò che facciamo e che abbiamo fatto insieme. Magari, un giorno, avrà memoria di tutta la nostra vita e gli potrò chiedere di accedere a ricordi, tra foto e video”, conclude Metta. E a questo punto è il caso di dirlo, la rivoluzione sarà entrata in casa.

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Knee Surgery… there’s an app for that!

app

Nowadays “there’s an app for that” could be the 11th Commandment … there is a bunch of apps for everything, even for the most stupid daily activities.

vks1A friend of mine told me to have a look at this one: Virtual Knee Surgery. It is a very realistic game that follows all the basic steps of a Total Knee Replacement surgery. The user is invited to interact with the surgeon in order to perform the necessary operations.

After living this experience in a real operating room, personally I’ve found this app a really nice and clear explanation 🙂 If you want to spend ten minutes to learn the basics of TKR, I definitely can say it’s worth it!

vks2

CORTEX 3D-printed cast

source: this website

cortex13D-printed casts for fractured bones could replace the usual bulky, itchy and smelly plaster or fibreglass ones in this conceptual project by Victoria University of Wellington graduate Jake Evill. The prototype Cortex cast is lightweight, ventilated, washable and thin enough to fit under a shirt sleeve.

A patient would have the bones x-rayed and the outside of the limb 3D-scanned. Computer software would then determine the optimum bespoke shape, with denser support focussed around the fracture itself. The polyamide pieces would be printed on-site and clip into place with fastenings that can’t be undone until the healing process is complete, when they would be taken off with tools at the hospital as normal. Unlike current casts, the materials could then be recycled.

cortex2

Jake has just graduated from the Architecture and Design faculty at Victoria University of Wellington, with a Major in Media Design and a Minor in Industrial Design. After working with the orthopaedic department of his university on the project, he is now looking for backing to develop the idea further. “At the moment, 3D printing of the cast takes around three hours whereas a plaster cast is three to nine minutes, but requires 24-72 hours to be fully set,” says the designer. “With the improvement of 3D printing, we could see a big reduction in the time it takes to print in the future.”

cortex4After many centuries of splints and cumbersome plaster casts that have been the itchy and smelly bane of millions of children, adults and the aged alike, the world over, we at last bring fracture support into the twenty-first century.

The Cortex exoskeletal cast provides a highly technical and trauma-zone-localised support system that is fully ventilated, super light, shower friendly, hygienic, recyclable and even stylish!

cortex_end

other sources: one and two

how do our eyes move ?

Imagine you’re watching a tennis match. Or better, imagine you’re the chair umpire. You must focus on the yellow ball, decide whether or not it is in and continuously follow its trajectory. At the end of the match, your eyes will “feel tired”. That’s because you made them work a lot while following the small yellow moving target. Which kind of movements do our eyes perform while tracking a moving object?

us open 2007

So, the situation is that the tennis ball moves quickly from one side of the court to the other and you want to continuously look at it. You have two possibilities: either you follow the ball by rigidly turning your whole body (or just your head) without changing the direction of your gaze, or you move just your eyes by performing really quick changes of direction. In the first case, you’d look quite weird and at the end of the match you’ll be completely sweat; in the second case, which is the solution we normally adopt in all similar daily life activities,  you’d properly employ your extraocular muscles in order to optimize the control of your eye movements.

extraocular musclesWhen our eyes quickly jump from a position to another, they are performing the so-called saccades. To have an idea, pick the triangle and the star on the left (in the middle, the extraocular muscles are shown!) and jump with your eyes repeatedly from one to the other, as quick as possible: you’re just performing saccadic eye movements (video at the end of this post). Their maximum angular speed is proportional to their length (the distance they have to cover) and can attain up to 1000 deg/sec. A saccade takes 200 milliseconds to initiate and then lasts from 20 to 200 ms. This makes it the fastest movement produced by the human body, even faster than blinking (300-400 ms). Thanks to specific neuronal mechanisms connected to our eye muscles, time-consuming circuits are bypassed and everything works quite automatically (you don’t actually have to think about how to follow a moving object with your eyes, you just do that). All such amazing neuronal mechanisms are so natural and, in a sense, involuntary that saccades appear even in the opposite case, that is for fixational eye movements.

Tennis-Ball-LineYou, the chair umpire, are not sure whether the ball was in or out. Thus, you take the slow motion of the match and you stop the video on the exact instant when the ball touched the ground. Now you start staring at the still yellow target, which is still. After some seconds of prolonged visual fixation, some small, jerk-like, involuntary eye movements, similar to miniature versions of saccades, will occurr. They are called microsaccades and participate to the maintenance of visibility, even if their precise role in visual perception is is still largely unresolved.

Now imagine you’re watching the dvd of your favourite tennis match and you accidentally push the button that slows the video down . Instead of the real velocity, you’re watching the match at 0.2x speed. The ball has a really slow motion and you try to follow it with your eyes. You can perform smooth movements of your pupils, something that is completely different from the saccadic jumps you were obliged to during the match! This voluntary gaze shift to closely follow a moving object is allowed by smooth pursuit eye movements, which are asymmetric: for example, most humans and primates tend to be better at horizontal than vertical smooth pursuit.

Saccades and pursuits are just two of the main types of eye movements (you can find a complete list here).

sources: i, ii, iii, iv

3D-printing human body parts

In a previous post we saw how new technologies aim at printing human body parts by means of 3D printers. Recently, an amazing result has been achieved by some Doctors at the University of Michigan: they managed to print in 3D a tracheal splint for a 20-month-old patient in order to restore his bronchus functionality. This website offers the description of the surgical operation they performed, step by step.

Abstract – Tracheobronchomalacia in newborns, which manifests with dynamic airway collapse and respiratory insufficiency, is difficult to treat. In an infant with tracheobronchomalacia, we implanted a customized, bioresorbable tracheal splint, created with a computer-aided design based on a computed tomographic image of the patient’s airway and fabricated with the use of laser-based three-dimensional printing, to treat this life-threatening condition.

Description – At birth at 35 weeks’ gestation, the patient did not have respiratory distress and otherwise appeared to be in normal health. At 6 weeks of age, he had chest-wall retractions and difficulty feeding. By 2 months of age, his symptoms progressed and he required endotracheal intubation to sustain ventilation. The workup revealed the following:

  • an anomalous origin and malposition of the pulmonary arteries, with crisscross anatomy;
  • right pulmonary-artery hypoplasia;
  • compression of the left mainstem bronchus between an abnormally leftward-coursing ascending aorta and an anteriorly displaced descending aorta;
  • air trapping;
  • postobstructive pneumonia.

Despite placement of a tracheostomy tube, mechanical ventilation, and sedation, ventilation that was sufficient to prevent recurring cardiopulmonary arrests could not be maintained.

stepsAB

We reasoned that the localized tracheobronchomalacia was the cause of this physiological abnormality and made a custom-designed and custom-fabricated resorbable airway splint. Our bellowed topology design, similar to the hose of a vacuum cleaner, provides resistance against collapse while simultaneously allowing flexion, extension, and expansion with growth. The splint was manufactured from polycaprolactone with the use of a three-dimensional printer.

stepsCD

windpipeThe institutional review board of the University of Michigan consulted with the Food and Drug Administration and approved the use of the device under the emergency-use exemption, and written informed consent was provided by the patient’s parents. After transposition of the right pulmonary artery and failed aortopexy, sutures were placed around the circumference of the malacic left bronchus splintand tied through interstices of the splint, and the bronchus was expanded. Subsequent bronchoscopy revealed normal patency of the bronchus without dynamic collapse and normal ventilatory variation in the size of the left lung. The partial pressure of carbon dioxide in venous blood decreased from 88 to 48 mm Hg. Seven days after placement of the airway splint, weaning from mechanical ventilation was initiated, and 21 days after the procedure, ventilator support was discontinued entirely and the child was discharged home with the tracheostomy in place. One year after surgery, imaging and endoscopy showed a patent left mainstem bronchus . No unforeseen problems related to the splint have arisen. Full resorption of the splint was estimated to occur in 3 years.

stepsEFG

This case shows that high-resolution imaging, computer-aided design, and biomaterial three-dimensional printing together can facilitate the creation of implantable devices for conditions that are anatomically specific for a given patient.

other sources: one and two

Repairing and Replacing Body Parts: What’s Next

A friend of mine sent me the link to this webpage. It’s an interesting article that I simply copy and paste here! Enjoy!

🙂

Advances in medical technology have helped us live longer. Now, researchers are exploring ways to repair, refurbish, or replace human organs that have been damaged by chronic disease, traumatic injury, heart attack, stroke, or just plain aging.

“Medicine is saving people who previously we weren’t able to save,” says Dr. Doris A. Taylor, director of regenerative medicine research at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. Even so, demand for donor organs exceeds the number available. “Each year thousands of people die while waiting for an organ,” Taylor says. That gap in supply and demand is one factor that has led researchers to ever more innovative treatments; at times these treatments can sound like science fiction come to life. Here’s a look at what repaired and replacement parts are available to patients now, which treatments are undergoing clinical trials, and what medical scientists are working to achieve in the future.

Eyesight

implanted eye telescopeHere’s a new take on magnifying glasses: Surgeons can now implant a tiny telescope within the eye, to help restore some of the vision lost to end-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that affects 1.8 million Americans and is the leading cause of legal blindness for adults age 60 years and older. The device—which the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2010 and which is becoming more widely available to medical institutions across the country—is implanted via an hour-long outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. It requires about a month of working with an occupational therapist to get used to, says Dr. Mark Mannis, director of the Eye Center at the University of California Davis Health System. “The reason is that this is not a simple restoration of vision,” he says. “It really requires the patient to see in another way, much in the same way that a patient who loses a lower limb and then gets a prosthesis needs to learn how to walk in a new way.” In this case, the patient learns to use one eye—the one with the implant—for detailed vision and the other for peripheral vision.

Regenerative Medicine

As director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Dr. Anthony Atala is researching treatments to repair or restore—or “regenerate”—damaged or failing tissues and organs by using the patient’s own cells and healing abilities. That can mean “boosting” healing by injecting stem cells, or by implanting tissues or organs that have been artificially bio-engineered in the lab starting with stem cells usually harvested from the patient, a strategy that minimizes the risk of the tissues or organs being rejected. “We’re working on about 30 different tissues and organs,” Atala says. Already a number of implants have been tried successfully in humans, including knee cartilage, skin, blood vessels, urethras, windpipes (trachea), and bladders. Clinical trials are underway to treat urinary incontinence by implanting cells to help boost functionality of the urinary valve and thus keep patients dry. Says Atala: “The future is focused on making sure that these technologies can get to as many patients and as many conditions as possible.”

“Printing” Body Parts

At Atala’s lab and other regenerative medicine research centers, 3-D printing is another experimental strategy being used to build bio-artificial body parts and organs. “We’ve printed ear lobes and nose parts and miniature kidneys and skin,” he says. “You are laying [down] the cells one layer at a time, and placing the cells right where you need them,” by customizing the different layers to form the necessary shape, he says. “If you think of your printer and your ink cartridge, instead of using ink you’re using cells and a gel.” Wake Forest is also investigating the possibility of “printing” skin cells directly onto burn wounds.

Stem Cells for Stroke Recovery

Neurologist Dr. Lawrence Wechsler of the University of Pittsburgh’s Schools of the Health Sciences is in the early stages of exploring whether stem cells, injected directly into the brain, can aid stroke victims in their recovery. The first step—now being tested in a clinical trial—is establishing that it’s safe just to try the technique. If that goes well, Wechsler says, “then we can design a study that will more reasonably look at the issue of efficacy and clinical benefit.” Such therapies wouldn’t “unparalyze” patients, he warns. But small improvements in function could yield big improvements in quality of life. “If you can begin to use your hand to grip something and do some small tasks,” Wechsler says, “or gain enough strength in your leg to help you move from being in a wheelchair to walking in some way, that change is a huge benefit.”

Growing an Artificial Heart

Perhaps the ultimate goal of regenerative medicine researchers is creating and transplanting a functioning bio-artificial heart. Is it feasible? Building complex solid organs like the heart, liver, lungs, and pancreas is challenging, and a major issue will be “where do you get those hundreds of billions of cells to do this,” says Taylor of the Texas Heart Institute. But she adds, “we’re making huge strides,” and predicts that a transplant of one kind of bio-artificial solid complex organ will be possible within five years. “And if I have anything to say about it,” Taylor says, “I will be there when it happens.”

For more, see “On Beyond 100

we risk freezing down

Seriously, it’s too hot outside. All of a sudden I’ve turned the heating off in my small apartment, started watering plants daily and begun the countdown for the first bath of 2013!

weather

Inspired by such a summerish weather, I thought it could be interesting to read something about Hypothermia and its causes. Hope this post will help cooling down a bit – but not too much, it wouldn’t be nice to freeze down completely 🙂

The first notion to know is that of Body Temperature (BT), the temperature that a living being autonomously keeps more or less constant through biologic processes such as homeostasis or thermoregulation. BT is about 37 °C for a human being, 38.5 °C for a pig, 39 °C for cats and cows, between 34 °C and 40 °C for camels and dromedaries, 42 °C for birds (whoa!) and so on… There is a sort of threshold, different for each single species, for the minimum temperature required to allow normal metabolism and body functions. Now, cows hypothermia is for sure an awesome topic and could raise kind of interesting discussion, but we’ll focus on the human being. For a normal healthy man, the threshold value is 35.0 °C. If our core temperature (i.e. “the temperature of an organism at which it is meant to operate”) drops below such 35 °C, we start feeling bad since our body does not like working in suboptimal conditions.

body heat lossWiki says that “Hypothermia usually occurs from exposure to low temperatures, and is frequently complicated by alcohol. Any condition that decreases heat production, increases heat loss, or impairs thermoregulation, however, may contribute”.

That’s the point! We lose our body heat in many ways, as shown in this nice image. Or better, we continouosly exchange our body heat with every single thing that surrounds us in daily life. In a sense, we are nothing more that walking heaters. Our internal mechanisms, normally, are enough to keep a constant BT. But in the case of, for example, prolonged exposure to cold, our body might become unable to replenish the heat that is being lost. As a consequence, a drop in core temperature occurs. This change causes a host of characteristic symptoms (according to the hypothermia degree), such as:

  • shivering,
  • mental confusion (difficulty in speaking, sluggish thinking, and amnesia),
  • muscle mis-coordination,
  • cyanosis (exposed extremities become blue),
  • decreased heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure.

If you ever plan to swim or dive in cold water, to explore snowy landscapes, to drink alcohol and smoke outside at night (alcohol and tobacco -> vasodilatation -> sensation of warmth while, instead, heating loss is rapidly increasing), to chase russians in their homeland in 1812 and so on… well, you’d better take your time and think about all the risks you’re going to take.

A subject found in hypothermic conditions needs to be rewarmed. Rewarming can be achieved in three main ways:

  1. warm uppassive external rewarming: the subject is moved to a warm environment and provided with properly insulated dry clothing. Then, their own heat generating ability will be enough to restore proper BT conditions.
  2. active external rewarming: external warming devices, such as warmed forced air or hot water bottles placed in both armpits and groin, are employed to help the subject warming up faster.
  3. active internal rewarming: it involves the use of intravenous warmed fluids, irrigation of body cavities with warmed fluids or inhalation of warm humidified air.

In case of severe hypothermia, extracorporeal rewarming such as via a heart lung machine may reveal to be the fastest (and only) solution.

Watch out also for really hot environments! Hyperthermia, the opposite of hypothermia, can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

sources: one, two and google images