To integrate and to empower: Robots for rehabilitation and assistance

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Science Robotics  31 May 2017:
Vol. 2, Issue 6, eaan5593
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aan5593

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Guang-Zhong Yang

Robert Riener

Paolo Dario

When Oscar Pistorius (often known as “Blade Runner”) became the first amputee sprinter to compete with able-bodied athletes for the men’s 400 m at the 2012 Olympics in London, the achievement raised the question of whether disabled athletes would ever outcompete their able-bodied counterparts. Now the German long jumper Markus Rehm, who uses a carbon-fibre bladed prosthesis for his amputated right leg and is outperforming more and more able-bodied athletes, is the notion of “cyborg,” coined over 50 years ago to describe part machine and part human, becoming a reality?

Those of us working in the field of robotics and prothesis are more cautious, because what has been demonstrated represents years of incremental advances in biomechanics and prosthesis design. Human biomechanics is only one aspect that the research community is trying to address—extending human sensory experience, physicality, and cognition are fundamental advances that we strive to achieve. One big hurdle is whether research findings can be translated into safe, effective, and—more importantly—accessible technologies that benefit the population at large. Between disabilities arising from health conditions and those caused by trauma, there is …

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