(Pictured above is the company's ARKE lower body exoskeleton, which is what the companies plan to use as the base of the new product.)
Bionik Laboratories Corp. officials announce a joint development project with Wistron Corp. Pursuant to the agreement, the two companies will partner to design, engineer, and manufacture low-price, lower-body assistive robotic technologies for mass commercial sale within the consumer home products market.
The companies plan to base the new consumer exoskeleton products off Bionik's ARKE lower body exoskeleton, currently in clinical development for use within rehabilitation environments, as well as incorporating other important intellectual property relating to Bionik's acquired or licensed assistive robotic technologies. The companies intend to target the Asian market initially, where the aging/elderly population is projected to hit 983 million by 2050, increasing the need for affordable assistive technologies during the next half century.
Wistron, which designs and manufactures technology products for global distribution with annual revenue exceeding $20 billion, will co-develop with Bionik a consumer exoskeleton product, which will be sold under the Bionik brand name and at a price point so they can be more widely available to the mass consumer market.
"Wistron is a highly significant organization within the manufacturing industry, so having an opportunity to combine our industry-leading expertise within the robotics industry with their product development resources is incredible for us," says Peter Bloch, CEO, Bionik. "Our years of experience in medical robotics has provided us with strong clinical data and technology to help us access this growing market of robotics technologies in the area of human assistance. We intend to continue to seek out additional partnerships that will allow us to bring our technology to a mass audience within the consumer products sector."
The medical robotics market is projected to be worth $12.8 billion by 2021, up from $4.9 billion in 2016, according to a recent report. This provides a significant opportunity for Bionik to partner with larger manufacturers and provide technical expertise to develop products for distribution at larger scale within a high growth market.
The industry has seen a rise of robotics and smart technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning within the medical field, but much of that innovation is within a clinical setting. As such, there exists a tremendous opportunity for disruption within the consumer space, as Bionik does not believe that there are currently options that are both viable and affordable.
Wistron is one of the world's largest original design manufacturers, and has worked with some of the world's largest companies to design and manufacture consumer technology products and bring them to market. Upon completion of the design of any new product conceived within the framework of the Agreement, Wistron would be the sole manufacturer.
"This partnership with Wistron represents a tremendous opportunity for Bionik to bring our technology to a massive consumer audience. When it comes to the commercialization of consumer tech products – design, engineering, and manufacturing – Wistron is a leader," states Michal Prywata, co-founder and COO of Bionik. "Our leading robotic technologies are already available in more than 200 facilities across the globe, but this partnership with Wistron will allow us to provide access to a much larger consumer market."
The Electronics and Computer Science Department of Southampton University, in the UK, has chosen South African-manufactured Vesconite Hilube for various parts of an innovative low-mass sensor-rich prosthetic hand.
The polymer’s lower density (compared to alloys) was an important influencing factor in the decision to use it.
“A main constraint in the design of a hand for the replacement of a lost natural hand is that its mass should be kept as low as possible,” notes primary investigator Paul Chappell.
As a result, the Southampton-Remedi hand uses carbon fiber sheet and Vesconite Hilube, with metals only being used on the actuators of the electric drives, he elaborates.
Not only does the University’s prosthetic-hand research program use Vesconite Hilube for the thumb of the hand, it has also used the polymer as the bearing material for the ends of the worm and wheel shafts at the base of the fingers and thumb.
Vesconite Hilube’s self-lubricating properties mean that the gearbox does not require additional bearings at the end of the shafts. The Southampton-Remedi hand has four motors that move the fingers and two motors that allow for flexion (movement towards the palm), and extension (movement away from the palm) as well as rotation of the thumb. The hand can grip and grasp objects securely and, when electrical power is turned off from the batteries, a stable grip should be maintained using worm-wheel gearboxes. In addition, the current generation of the hand also incorporates touch, position, slip, texture, and temperature sensors.
“Battles have resulted in hand-loss and this trauma has led to the development of artificial replacements,” Chappell says. “In the sixteenth century, Götz Von Berlichingen who was a German warrior, and Ambriose Paré, a French surgeon, made hands from metal components,” noting the early origins of prosthetic hands.
Various developments followed, including the split hook – a device that attached to the shoulders with leather straps and used the shoulder muscles to open the hand against a spring. WWI and WWII as well as current conflicts have seen advancements in the design of prosthetic hands, Chappell comments.
The Southampton-Remedi Hand has been developed over several decades and has been the subject of several PhD programs.
Southampton University has been at the forefront of some significant work on artificial limbs, and is also well known for the Southampton Hand Assessment Procedure, which assesses hand function.
In a proof-of-concept study, North Carolina State University engineers have designed a flexible thermoelectric energy harvester that has the potential to rival the effectiveness of existing power wearable electronic devices using body heat as the only source of energy.
Wearable devices used to monitor a variety of health and environmental measures are becoming increasingly popular. The performance and efficiency of flexible devices, however, pale in comparison to rigid devices, which have been superior in their ability to convert body heat into usable energy.
"We wanted to design a flexible thermoelectric harvester that does not compromise on the material quality of rigid devices yet provides similar or better efficiency," says Mehmet Ozturk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and corresponding author of a paper describing the work. "Using rigid devices is not the best option when you consider a number of different factors." Ozturk mentioned superior contact resistance - or skin contact - with flexible devices, as well as the ergonomic and comfort considerations to the device wearer.
(left) Liquid metal in the flexible thermoelectric device allows for self-healing. Rigid devices do not have the ability to heal themselves. Photo courtesy of Mehmet Ozturk, NC State University.
Ozturk says that he and colleagues Michael Dickey and Daryoosh Vashaee wanted to use the best thermoelectric materials used in rigid devices in a flexible package, so that manufacturers wouldn't need to develop new materials when creating flexible devices.
Ozturk notes one of the key challenges of a flexible harvester is to connect thermoelectric elements in series using reliable, low-resistivity interconnects. "We use a liquid metal of gallium and indium – a common, non-toxic alloy called EGaIn – to connect the thermoelectric 'legs,'" Ozturk says. "The electric resistance of these connections is very low, which is critical since the generated power is inversely proportional to the resistance: Low resistance means more power.
"Using liquid metal also adds a self-healing function: If a connection is broken, the liquid metal will reconnect to make the device work efficiently again. Rigid devices are not able to heal themselves," Ozturk adds.
Ozturk says future work will focus on improving the efficiencies of these flexible devices, by using materials and techniques to further eliminate parasitic resistances.
Dickey, Vashaee, Francisco Suarez, Dishit P. Parekh and Collin Ladd co-authored the paper, which appears in Applied Energy. The group also has a pending patent application on the technology.
Funding for the work comes from the NC State's National Science Foundation-funded Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) Center under grant (EEC1160483) and from other NSF support under grants ECCS1351533 and CMMI1363485. The mission of the ASSIST Center is to create self-powered wearables capable of long-term multi-modal sensing without having to replace or charge the batteries.
IFS, the global enterprise applications company, reveals the findings of its Digital Change Survey that polled 750 decision makers in 16 countries to assess maturity of digital transformation in sectors such as manufacturing, oil & gas, aviation, construction and contracting, and service.
Strong willingness to invest
Nearly 90% of firms surveyed have adequate or advantageous funding for digital transformation, indicating a strong willingness to invest and an appetite to evolve their business in order to stay competitive and grow. When asked about prioritized investment areas, the top three choices were IoT, ERP, and Big Data & Analytics.
“It is apparent that companies today understand the urgency of focusing on digital transformation,” IFS VP of Global Industry Solutions Antony Bourne says. “Technologies such as big data and analytics, enterprise resource planning and internet of things are paramount to transforming a business. Companies need to apply innovative technologies hand in hand with their relevant industry expertise to succeed and gain a competitive edge. It is this combination that makes digital transformation both meaningful and powerful,”
Lack of talented employees
Alarmingly, more than a third of companies (34%) feel either slightly or totally unprepared to deal with digital transformation due to talent deficiency. When asked to name the areas that will experience the greatest deficit in talented staff, 40% cited business intelligence and 39% cyber security. Other areas of concern are AI and robotics (30%), Big Data/analytics (24%), and cloud (21%).
“Although new technology is key to digital transformation, it is clear that change communications and access to the right talent are principal catalysts to succeed. It is alarming that more than one in three companies are not staffed to manage digital transformation. These organizations need to focus on concrete talent investment plans to make sure that they establish what roles are critical to success in their industries. After that the key is both to find and attract new talent as well as training and re-skilling existing staff,” Bourne adds
“Industrial IoT investments offer excellent ROI which is driving adoption,” states ARC Advisory Group, VP Enterprise Software, Ralph Rio. “But, talent is a constraint as the IFS survey shows. Hence, IoT users partner with companies like IFS that offer leadership IoT solutions.”
Major differences across industries
When asked about the digital transformation maturity level of their organizations, meaning actual progress, 31% of the respondents consider their business to be in the two highest levels of maturity on a five-graded scale. The aviation industry is the most progressive with 44% of respondents considering themselves advanced in their ability to leverage digital transformation. Runner up is the construction and contracting industry, 39% of whom identified themselves as mature. At the other end of the spectrum is the oil and gas sector, where only 19% of the respondents consider themselves able to benefit from digital transformation.
“The differences in digital maturity levels across industries are notable. The highly competitive nature of the aviation industry, together with its rapid adoption rate of new technologies such as predictive maintenance and 3D printing for spare part manufacturing, are key drivers of its successful digitalization,” Bourne states.
Drivers and investment focus
Forty-three percent of respondents identified internal process efficiency as the number one driving force behind digital transformation. Accelerating innovation (29%) and “growth opportunity in new markets” (28%) were recognized as the second and third most significant drivers.
Obstacles to digital transformation
Despite the practical and technical complexities of digital transformation, the number one barrier to change is on the human side: aversion to change (42%). The second and third largest barriers are the more concrete security threats/concerns (39%), and absence of the right organizational and governance model (38%).
Which will be the most disruptive technologies?
When asked what technologies will be the most disruptive, Big Data tops the list with a score of 7.2 out of 10. Second is automation (7.0), and third is IoT (6.6). Although Big Data is ranked the highest overall, there is a significant minority who feel that automation will have the most dramatic impact. More than 40% rated the level of disruption by Automation as 8 or more out of 10, while only 32% gave such high ratings to Big Data. In the construction, aviation, and manufacturing industries 48%, 48% and 50% respectively consider the automation disruption score >8/10, which makes it the highest rated technology for those industries.
About the survey
This survey was commissioned by IFS to assess maturity of digital transformation across industries on a global scale. It was conducted as in-depth interviews by the research and content agency Raconteur Custom Publishing, who took in the views of 750 decision makers in 16 countries in the oil and gas, aviation, construction and contracting, manufacturing, and service industries. Countries surveyed were USA, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Germany, France, China, Japan, Australia, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, the Middle East, and India.
- 5 medical device innovations in 2017 or the very near future
- Top 5 players in wearable medical device technology
- Top 5 global ophthalmology medical devices market
- 2017 medical device outlook: Fast changing, profitable, full of growth
- Harnessing the possibilities of science, technology, and innovation