Entries in Robot (4)


Vomiting Robot Helps Researchers Understand Norovirus

Hemera/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- In a study that could make you lose your own lunch, researchers have created a projectile-vomiting robot to research how far the highly contagious norovirus particles travel when somebody with the illness throws up.

Norovirus causes severe projectile vomiting and diarrhea in those infected for up to three days starting 12 to 48 hours after exposure. The symptoms can last up to 62 hours. On average, someone infected with norovirus spreads it to about seven other people through direct touch or contaminated surfaces and food. The virus sickens as many as 21 million Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading to 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths.

Researchers at the Occupational Hygiene Unit at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Britain created “Vomiting Larry” to get a better idea of how the virus is able to spread so easily and quickly from person to person.

Vomiting Larry consists of a cylinder body filled with water mixed with florescent liquid, a head with an open mouth, and a pump to shoot the water through the mouth, similar to projectile vomit.

After Larry throws up the florescent water, researchers measure how far the airborne vomit particles travel.

“Under normal lighting, you can only see the main area where Larry actually vomited,” Catherine Makison-Booth, Larry’s creator, told ABC News. “However, under UV light, you can see the particles spread much further than that – in excess of three meters.”

That means the area that needs to be sanitized when someone with norovirus throws up is bigger than previously thought.

Earlier studies indicate the virus could live for 12 days or longer in the environment where somebody vomited, so the entire area needs to be cleaned with bleach as soon as possible after the vomiting occurred in order to stem the spread of the illness.

Because norovirus spreads quickly and easily from person to person, it can rapidly infect hundreds of people in a short amount of time.

“It can knock out a whole school, hospital, military base or off-shore rig, and there is currently no vaccine for it, so you really just have to let it run its course,” Makison-Booth said.

Makison-Booth said she doesn’t know of any illness that spreads quite the way norovirus does, because it takes so little for a person to contract it.

“One only needs to ingest 20 to 25 viruses to become ill, compared to the hundreds of viruses it takes to contract influenza,” Makison-Booth told ABC. “When someone with norovirus vomits once, that’s millions of viruses.”

Norovirus is also resistant to many typical cleaning products, like the kinds generally used to clean kitchens and bathrooms, as well as normal hand sanitizer. In order to really clean up after someone with norovirus throws up, “bleach is definitely the way to go,” Makison-Booth said.

People infected with norovirus should try to stay away from other people for at least 48 hours after the symptoms stop.

The studies could soon become especially relevant, with news that norovirus cases in England this winter are up 72% from last year, according to the Health Protection Agency, including on ships making transatlantic crossing to the United States.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


'Ekso' Robot Helps Wheelchair-Bound Patients Walk Again

Jody Bank/Kessler Foundation(NEW YORK) -- Chris Tagatac thought he would never walk again.  He fell 25 feet from his Vermont roof in July 2011, and was paralyzed from the sternum down.

But six months later, with the aid of a wearable robot called "Ekso" (short for exoskeleton), he took his first steps -- 52 of them, to be exact.

"The first thing my mother did was put her hand to her mouth and said, 'amazing,'" Tagatac, 49, told ABC News.  "When my daughter saw me walk for the first time after six or seven months, she looked at me and said, 'I forgot how tall you were.'"

Tagatac is one of 12 patients using the Ekso for a study under Dr. Gail Forrest, who directs the Kessler Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network.  Her preliminary findings showed that patients took in more oxygen when they were standing and walking compared with the resting position, in addition to other health benefits.  She also saw increased muscle "firing" or electrical activity in paraplegics' lower legs, but that's because muscles are being stretched, not because they are becoming functional again.

"We're going from these being just perhaps gimmicks that allow people to stand and walk, and we're starting to see that people using these things could actually benefit from them," said Dr. Trevor Dyson-Hudson, the director of spinal cord injury research at Kessler Foundation.  "These are all very early results, but it's a huge potential that these things could perhaps be incorporated into rehabilitation."

Versions of the Ekso have been around since 2010, and 11 other centers are using it.  Forrest said her new research involves attaching external electrodes to patients' bodies to record data about how they respond to the device.  After collecting data for a few months, Forrest is already seeing evidence that patients benefit physically from the Ekso -- not to mention the emotional boost patients get from being able to look people in the eye.

Forrest presented her findings Monday at a meeting in Las Vegas, and is continuing to research patients' cardiovascular, muscular system and circulatory systems, among other things.

Since Tagatac had the natural body awareness of an athlete before his accident, and his injury was recent enough that standing doesn't cause the dramatic change in his blood pressure common with long-term wheelchair-bound patients, he was invited to participate in an Ekso study three days a week.

"I consider myself extremely lucky to be chosen," he said. "After being told six months before that I'll never be able to walk again, and to be able to take that that first step six months after being injured was amazing."

At his last session, Tagatac walked 3,000 steps in one hour.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Open Heart Surgery of the Future

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- More than half a million people in the U.S. undergo heart surgery every year. It has become a common and mostly successful surgery, where surgeons open the chest wall to get to your heart, cutting through the upper part of a patient’s breastbone to get there.

For the past 75 years these surgeons -- many who now do more than one surgery a day -- have been using an ancient-looking hand crank that winds open the chest, bit by bit -- a tool that requires some muscle by the surgeon.

Chuck Pell, the chief scientist at Physcient, a new surgical device company based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., talked to ABC News while at the 2011 TEDMed Conference on innovation in science and medicine. He explained that not only is the hand crank technology just plain old, but the cranking can really damage the tissue in the chest wall. A surgeon can break the sternum or ribs, damage cartilage or cause long term back pain.  

So Pell’s company set out to solve this problem.  Physcient has created a motorized retractor, i.e., a robot, to open the chest wall that a surgeon operates from a hand-held battery-powered controller. The device creates a smooth movement so that it is a lot less damaging to the chest tissue.  Pell describes it as “anti-lock brakes” for chest retraction.

As the chest opens, the smart device senses when the tissue is tearing and stops until the tissue settles. The prototype is currently on an iPhone interface and seems very simple to use (meaning it won’t require surgeons hours of training like many other robotic- surgery-assist tools). But that’s not the way the product will be presented in operating rooms. Pell says that Apple actually discourages the medical community from using the iPhone during surgery because it doesn’t believe the phone is precise enough for something so important.  

As for the cost, Pell said it would run a hospital about $500 per use, but he anticipates a huge cost savings by not having to treat other problems that arise from potential tissue damage in the long-term. The device still has a way to go -- it has only been tested on pigs. Sheep are next, and then, finally, humans. It will be about 18 months before the robot is submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Robots Used To Help Children with Autism

Robotics Research Lab at University of Southern California(LOS ANGELES) -- An endearing little robot named Bandit may be the newest technology to help children with autism better understand social cues and emotional behavior.

Researchers at the Robotics Research Lab at University of Southern California have created studies for children with autism to interact and play with Bandit, a small human-like robot with movable eyebrows and mouth, and motion sensors that allow him to back away or move forward.

The designers hoped to create a balance between human and robot so that he is approachable and engaging without being too realistic or intimidating.

In initial pilot experiments with the robots, Maja Mataric, co-director of the Robotics Research Lab at USC, and her colleagues found that children with autism exhibited unexpected social behaviors, including pointing, initiating play, imitating the robot and even showing empathy.

"One of our successes is the development of software that can analyze the movement of the child interacting with the robot and determining, automatically, whether the child is having a positive, desirable interaction or not," said David Feil-Sefer, a PhD student who has worked on all the autism studies with Mataric.

Mataric said she first became interested in using technology for developmental treatments when she realized that it could be used to fill the "care gap" in personalized medicine.

Many populations consist of individuals who need one-on-one personalized care, she said, but that care can require many hours per day, for years or even a lifetime.

About one percent of American children ages 3 to 17 have an autism spectrum disorder and it is the fastest-growing developmental disorder, according to the Autism Society.

Eye tracking research has shown that children with autism prefer looking at objects rather than human faces. They have difficulty understand facial expression and even sometimes recognizing a person's identity. Debra Dunn, outreach director for the Center for Autism Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, says the lack of experience in reading faces could be contributed to that difficulty in facial recognition.

But, Dunn warned that, in a world where children with autism tend to retreat into a world of objects, robots may not be the best solution.

"Being engaged while playing with a robot and gaining skills from using it are two different things, and research is needed to test the effectiveness of this and any new intervention," said Dunn.

Mataric and colleagues have already expanded Bandit's assistance beyond children with autism. Researchers said they plan to test Bandit out in other populations, including Alzheimer's patients, stroke survivors and in elderly people living alone.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio