What’s New in Assistive Tech?


With the ever closer links between the health and technology fields (i.e. wearables etc), we are seeing assistive technology becoming another huge growth area in the digital world. Assistive Technology, often abbreviated to ‘AT’ refers broadly to types of technology which is adaptive, assistive and rehabilitative for people with disabilities. Often AT is about using technology which helps those with disabilities or cognitive difficulties maintain independence and offer day to day support.

Over the last year or so our Interactive Interlude’s (our Friday innovation emails which focus on exciting things happening out there in the digital world) have highlighted several examples. Back in March we looked at how researchers in America were using 3D printing to perform vital heart surgery on a newborn baby. Previously to that we showed how digital contact lenses were used to monitor glaucoma levels and virtual reality avatars to support with mental health issues.

There’s so much potential for technologies which adapt to the needs of the user rather than the other way round. The Alzheimers Society have been working with tech organisations for some time to develop solutions and devices for those at various stages with dementia, which help aid memory and prompt activities. Here’s a few other examples we’ve come across recently:

Eye tracking helps paralysed people communicate

A team at South California University are currently working closely with people with ‘locked in’ syndrome, meaning they are locked in their bodies, unable to move any muscles other than the eyes. Eye tracking (a growing form of technology, we wrote here about how it’s being used in the commercial world) translates eye movements. Upcoming applications include social media communications, special book readers and computer-generated speech.

Bionic eye helps blind man regain sight

A blind grandfather in America is gradually starting to regain his sight with the help of a new type of ‘bionic eye’. This new development is comprised of two parts, firstly glasses which are mounted with a video camera capture takes images and then transmits them to an implant in the eye. Secondly this implant is then able to relay messages to the retina and ultimately the brain. This invention is literally bringing light into a blind person’s world. Whilst he might not be able to see as clearly as you or I, he will be able to make out shapes, colours and movements.

The mind controlled bionic leg

This week we’ve also heard about a new breakthrough in bionic technology with researchers developing a ‘mind controlled bionic leg’, which uses implanted sensors to send wireless signals to the artificial limb’s built in computer. This enables real time subconscious movements which are more natural and fluid. Whilst prosthetics have been making use of technology since the 60’s, the outcomes have often been limited, with movements not able to replicate the natural, human ways.

To find out more about AT and its capabilities click here