Engineers are developing robots, tools, and prosthetics to help people with disabilities explore the world around them. IEEE resources to get members up to speed include videos, publications, and standards.
Several IEEE.tv videos are on assistive tech. “Accessing the Future” presents interviews with engineers and industry experts on the role technology plays in the lives of individuals with disabilities that include visual and hearing impairments, learning difficulties, and paralysis.
Also check out “Extreme Bionics: The End of Disability,” in which IEEE Member Hugh Herr [right] of the MIT Media Lab talks about his work on bionic limbs that mimic and enhance movement. Herr, an associate professor of biomechatronics, had his legs amputated from the knees down because of severe frostbite suffered during an ice-climbing trip in New Hampshire. He developed prosthetic feet that allow him to hike and rock climb at a more advanced level than was possible even before the amputation.
In January, IEEE Potentials magazine published a special issue called “The Hope of Assistive Technology.” It included articles on intelligent robotic wheelchairs, prosthetic legs, and tactile diagrams for the blind. The magazine, published six times a year, is mailed to IEEE student members.
Healthcare Technology Letters is an open-access journal that appears four to six times per year and frequently offers articles on assistive tech. In March, for example, it published “Pervasive Assistant Technology for People with Dementia” and “Disrupting the World of Disability: The Next Generation of Assistive Technologies and Rehabilitation Practices.”
Also in March, the quarterly IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine, from the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, featured “The Soft Robotics Toolkit: Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles to the Wide Dissemination of Soft-Robotic Hardware.” Soft robots, made of lightweight, wearable textiles, help people with mobility issues. The society plans to publish a special issue this year on assistive robotics.
Members can join the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society’s technical committee on wearable robotics, which focuses on human-machine interaction and wearable devices for physical rehabilitation. The society’s technical committee on soft robotics explores lightweight wearables that can help people with limited mobility grasp and manipulate objects, navigate rough terrain, and perform other tasks.
The technical committee on haptics, founded by the IEEE Computer and IEEE Robotics and Automation societies, has conferences, publications, workshops, and tutorials on haptics—the science of applying tactile sensation and control to robotic devices and computer applications. Researchers in this area have developed prosthetics that can restore the sense of touch for people who have lost hands and arms.
Two technical committees of the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society are involved with assistive technology. The brain-machine interface systems committee aims to help people with a prosthetic limb perform certain tasks. The virtual interface between the brain and the prosthetic mimics the way that able-bodied people see, hear, walk, and grasp an object.
There is also the society’s technical committee on companion technology, which promotes the development of robotic systems that sense and adapt to people’s needs, preferences, and emotions. The committee is organizing the IEEE International Conference on Companion Technology, to be held from 11 to 13 September, in Ulm, Germany.
The IEEE P1622.5 Standard for Election Systems Usability and Accessibility spells out ways to evaluate voting systems to ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities. Such voting systems include election administration and management, as well as vote-capture and tabulation devices that provide information to voters, poll workers, and election officials. The standard defines best practices for user-interface and interaction design, describes accessibility and universal design standards, and examines workflow and user needs.
The IEEE P2650 Standard for Enabling Mobile Device Platforms to Be Used as Prescreening Audiometric Systems establishes the performance, interoperability, and validation requirements of such systems for the hearing impaired. The platforms typically consist of a mobile phone, a portable or wearable device, and their software. For more information, visit the IEEE Standards Association website.
This article is part of our June 2017 special issue on assistive tech.