When we talk about technologies that really change life, we often talk about technologies that offer accessibility and autonomy to disabled people.
Maybe none of these will be part of the lives of almost all readers of this article, but for those who need them they will be really decisive.
One of these is developed by Kinova Robotics and it's called Jaco. It is a carbon fiber robotic arm that can be connected to any electric wheelchair available on the market.
Jaco can be controlled by the user and has three fingers and six axes of movement: it can be used for many everyday tasks.
"The arm connects directly to the chair's battery and can be controlled by any system with which the user controls the chair"Says Sarah Woolverton, marketing director of Kinova.
“It can be a joystick, a wind mechanism or anything else. It is very, very easy to use because it is a simple extension of the chairs already available ”.
The best technologies are always decisive, and in Jaco's case the problem was very close to its creator. Charles Degu's uncle, Kinova's co-founder (guess what's his name? Exactly, Jaco) suffered from muscular dystrophy.
This terrible and well-known degenerative disorder causes fatigue and paralysis of the skeletal muscles. There is no cure, and severely compromises patient autonomy.
"This inspired our CEO to create something that could assist people with movement restrictions in the upper limbs," Woolverton continues. “This is why Jaco was born, the robotic arm. It was 12 years ago. Since then we have been working hard to improve the product more and more ”.
Today Kinova Robotics has offices in Canada, Germany and the United States. His robotic arm has improved tremendously, especially in precision movements.
“It allows people to perform everyday actions that may seem simple to many of us. Think about having a drink, opening a door or putting on makeup. Previously, such things were completely impossible for anyone to do. It really does provide more independence - we've collected stories from people who are proud of what they managed to do in just a few days. It is moving ”.
One of these stories is about Mary Nelson, an 11 year old with spinal muscular atrophy, who uses his Jaco robotic arm to look after the horses on his family farm (in the picture)
“True, younger users learn at supersonic speed. I recently saw a 7-year-old boy master the robotic arm in minutes to have a drink. Even on older patients, however, learning is quite easy and quick, " says Woolverton.
The golden age of assistive technologies
The biggest challenge, however, is not to teach patients what they can do with a robotic arm. It is to equip as many patients as possible. In Germany it is simpler, because devices such as Jaco are covered by the medical and insurance system. Elsewhere, not everyone can afford it.
Jaco has a rather high price: € 35.000, a figure that is not sustainable for many patients.
Yet things are changing: the market will slowly but surely open up to such solutions. The cultural issue will affect the economic one, prices will drop and insurance companies from other countries will also include such solutions in their packages. Health systems will also evaluate Jaco in relation to its cost-benefit ratio: in the long run it can save money, for example on Caregiving.
Another solution, in the meantime, is to make a low-cost version of Jaco. They are working on it, even if the problem in this case is having to sacrifice something in terms of capacity and speed.