FEDERAL LABORATORY CONSORTIUM FOR TECHNOLOGY TRANSFERNOVEMBER 1999 VOL. 15, NO. 12Assistive Technology “Miracles” atVA Centers of ExcellenceAstroke patient at the Palo AltoVA Rehabilitation R&D Centerof Excellence on Mobility is learningto walk again on a treadmill with theDifferential Pressure Walking Assistant(DPWA). At the Cleveland VA MedicalCenter of Excellence for FunctionalElectrical Stimulation (FES), a youngman with quadriplegia uses theFreehand System—a medical electronicimplant—to answer the phone for thefirst time since his diving accident.Miracles like these happen everyday for disabled veterans (and othersas a result) at 172 VA MedicalCenters—oftentimes because of theresearch performed at the Departmentof Veterans Affairs’ (VA) nineRehabilitation R&D Centers ofExcellence. Thanks in part totechnology assistance from federallabs, these physically limitedindividuals are regaining theirindependence and increasing theirquality of life.Improve the Dialogue“There is lots of room for growth”in developing assistive technologies(AT)—and enormous opportunities forlabs—says Sal Sheredos, ProgramManager, Technology Transfer, VARehabilitation R&D Service.According to Sheredos, the network isthere, but “we need to improve thedialogue between the researchers in theVA Centers, the researchers in the [nonAT] federal labs, and the FLC so thatwe can access their technologies andtranslate them into future assistivetechnologies and procedures.”One opportunity includesassisting the Atlanta VA MedicalCenter for Geriatric Rehabilitation inits search for telemedicine technologiesand tracking projects to help monitorand find older veterans. The center iscurrently investigating several areas—cellphone location technologies, differentialglobal positioning systems (GPS), andWheeled Mobility Project: CanYou Contribute?Acurrent “demand pull” technology transfer project sponsored by theRehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer(RERC-T2) and the FLC’s Mid-Atlantic Region is seeking technologies for thewheeled mobility industry (e.g., manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs,scooters)—especially in the areas of charging systems, battery monitors, gearedhubs, tires, motors, and transmissions.Representing the “flip” side of technology transfer, “demand pull”projects focus on identifying technology needs within an industry segmentand then finding technology solutions to meet those needs. (By contrast,“push” tech transfer occurs when new applications are found for existingtechnologies. See the article on p. 3 for more info on pull tech transfer.) Thewheeled mobility project is the first of six to be undertaken as part of a fiveyear program. In 1999-2000, RERC-T2 will partner with the RERC on HearingPlease see WHEELED MOBILITY, p. 3Miracle Workers: Workers at the Palo Alto VAMedical Center help a patient walk with theDifferential Pressure Walking Assistant, whichwas developed by researchers from theDepartment of Veterans Affairs and NASA.dead-reckoning systems—toincorporate into its AT devices. Theyare also working with NASA on thetechnology that monitored JohnGlenn’s activity in space. The center’sspecific need is a device that is smallenough to sew into a shoe tongue butable to track the activity andwhereabouts of mentally-impairedolder persons. A number of companiesare addressing the problem, andPlease see VA MIRACLES, p. 2I N S I D EThis month’s NewsLink focuses onASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES (AT). Nextmonth will focus on agricultural biotechand food processing.Survey on AT Industry Needs .Demand Pull Tech Transfer .Technology Watch .Quick Takes on AT Issues .DC Dispatches .Tech Transfer on the Web .2000 Editorial Calendar .2345677
PAGE 2NOVEMBER 1999VA MIRACLES from p. 1potentially useful technologies from the federal labs areinvited too.Down-to-Earth TechnologiesAt Cleveland’s FES Center of Excellence, projects focuson everything from restoring bladder function to helpingparaplegics walk. The Freehand technology mentionedearlier (which was developed with help from NASA, CaseWestern Reserve University, and MetroHealth MedicalCenter) helps the brain control muscles below the point ofinjury. Acting like a pacemaker without batteries, the devicegenerates electrical signals on lead wires implanted under theskin. Receiving command inputs from sensors, the system ispowered by an external signal and controlled in real-time byexternal control units on the back of a wheelchair. Approvedby the FDA, this new class of commercially available neuralprosthetics can restore basic hand function—and grant newlevels of independence to a paralyzed individual in theeveryday tasks of eating, grooming, and personal care. So far,more than 100 individuals have used the technology—withmany able to return to work, school, and home.The Palo Alto VA Medical Center has collaborated withNASA Ames Research Center to develop technologies thatincrease mobility, including technologies originally used tofacilitate exercise in the microgravity of space. The DPWAand other devices reduce or increase effective body weightduring altered gravity locomotion simulations on earth. Thedevice uses air pressure around the lower body (via aninflatable skirt) to comfortably support patients’ weight asthey walk on a treadmill, while a computer controls thepressure to adjust the lifting force. More comfortable orconvenient than water immersion or the overhead liftingharnesses often used to assist patients with mobilityproblems, the DPWA gives physical therapists more freedomto focus on gait training.Network Use VitalFrom his Baltimore office at the VA Headquarters’Technology Transfer Section (where he oversees and assistswith tech transfer activities in the 100 field centers),Sheredos stresses the need for labs to be aware of the kinds ofassistive technologies the VA—and, in particular, the ninespecialized centers—develops. Dialogue is critical foroptimizing the screening and matching of technologiesavailable for potential use—whether the goal is to improvecommunication devices, use telehealth monitoring forveterans in a community, or make wheelchairs smarter, easierto use, and more comfortable.The ingredients are all there—the idealistic research, thenecessary technologies, the AT engineering expertise, and thebusiness savvy. But the network “is only as good as its use,”Sheredos says. “When the labs put in their requests, call, orshare their information with the centers—that’s when thingsstart to happen.”For more info: Sal Sheredos, 410-962-1800, x267, email@example.comPalo Alto VA: Charles Burgar, M.D., 650-493-5000 x63614,firstname.lastname@example.orgNASA Ames: Robert Whalen, Ph.D., 650-604-3280,email@example.comCleveland VA: Jon Gray, 216-231-3257, firstname.lastname@example.orgAtlanta VA: David Ross, 404-321-6111, email@example.comFor a list of the VA Centers of Excellence: www.vard.org/cent/centindx.htmSurvey to Identify Assistive Technology NeedsWith access to cutting-edge technologies, smalltechnical companies in the assistive technology(AT) industry have a better chance of developing improvedand less expensive products for persons with disabilities.And with thousands of unused technologies, the federallabs may already have the innovative technical devicesthese firms need for their AT products. Working together,these companies and labs could improve the quality of lifefor a number of people with physical or mentallimitations.A comprehensive nationwide assessment of the ATindustry will soon help to make those partnershipsavailable. Initiated by the Department of Commerce’sBureau of Export Administration (BXA), the Departmentof Education’s National Institute on Disability andRehabilitation Research (NIDRR), and the FLC, the studywas sent to approximately 1,700 AT companies to learnabout their involvement in tech transfer activities, thekinds of technologies manufacturers could use, and theoverall state of the AT field.Needs and Framework EstablishedAccording to Margaret Cahill,Trade and Industry Analyst at BXA,the long-term project objective is tomake technologies from the federallabs available to these businesses andto establish a framework for a moreconsistent and less complex transfer offederal technologies into the ATindustry.The AT industry consists of a fewlarge companies and many smallbusinesses—some with only severalemployees. These small companies oftendevelop customized technologies as aresult of a personal or family need andare willing to develop additional AT devices ifthere are support and market interest for their efforts.Please see AT SURVEY, p. 6
PAGE 3NOVEMBER 1999WHEELED MOBILITYfrom p. 1Enhancement and Assistive Devices to target the hearingindustry.Project ParticipantsIn addition to the FLC Mid-Atlantic Region andRERC-T2—which is part of the University at Buffalo’sCenter for Assistive Technology and supported by theDepartment of Education’s National Institute onDisability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)—otherproject participants include: the RERC on WheeledMobility (located at the University of Pittsburgh),Research Triangle Institute (an independent researchcenter that serves government and industry), AZtech, Inc.(a market research and consulting firm specializing inassistive technology), and the Independent Living Centerof Western New York (aconsumer-based agency thatrepresents the consumerperspective).Project GoalsThe project has three specificgoals:Problem StatementsThe information gathered during the forum served asthe foundation for the project’s problem statements,which will help scientists and engineers in federal labs,research organizations, and advanced technologymanufacturers assess their ability to meet the statedtechnology needs, either through the application ordevelopment of advanced technology. Each problemstatement includes information on: why the technology is needed (e.g., customer needs, market,business opportunity) the “state-of-the-practice” for the technology in thewheeled mobility industry parameters and specs for the technology being sought.As mentioned earlier, theproblem statements focus on sixspecific areas—charging systems,battery monitors, geared hubs, tires,motors, and transmissions—and areposted on the web fm). After reviewingthe statements, researchers withapplicable technologies can submitnon-confidential technologyresponses using an online ). All submissions are thenevaluated for applicability based on: identify importanttechnology needs within thewheeled mobility industry establish parameters andspecifications for technologyStakeholder Forum: More than 100 manufacturers,solutions to meet thoseresearchers, clinicians, consumers, and government officialsneedsgathered at the Wheeled Mobility Stakeholder Forum in May facilitate the transfer of these state of development and cost/timeto identify technology needs and possible solutions.solutions to manufacturersto completewithin the wheeled mobility industry. potential impact on the need area limitations of the technologyThe first two project goals were accomplished at a possible barriers to implementation and commercialization.Stakeholder Forum, which was held in May in Pittsburgh,PA. At the forum, various stakeholders—including morethan 100 manufacturers, researchers, clinicians, consumers,government officials, and advanced technologydevelopers—worked to identify customer needs, businessopportunities, specifications for new technologies, andbarriers that might impede the transfer or development ofnew technologies.If more detailed information is required, a nondisclosure agreement can be executed. If the technologylooks promising, a project team member will contact thesubmitter to discuss the technology and possible linkageswith the wheeled mobility industry.For more info: www.rti.org/technology/wheelchairsSix Steps for Demand Pull Technology Transfer ProjectsThe RERC-T2 Wheeled Mobility Project is an excellent example of “demand pull” technology transfer, which identifies technology needswithin an industry segment and then finds technology solutions for those needs. Here are some basic steps for implementing such projects.1. Industry Selection—identify an industry segment with thepotential for applying advanced technologies2. Expert Interviews—define the state-of-the-practice andrelated technology limitations via interviews withrecognized industry experts3. Validation Forum—convene representatives from allstakeholder groups to validate limitations of existingtechnologies and to establish parameters for desiredimprovements expected from breakthrough technologies4. Problem Statements—translate technology parameters intoproblem statements (i.e., technical requirements/specifications)5. Technology Search—disseminate the problem statements to awide range of public and private technology producers toidentify potential solutions to problems6. Technology Transfer—screen candidate technologies andimplement a process for transferring breakthroughtechnologies to manufacturers
PAGE 4NOVEMBER 1999TECHNOLOGY WATCHFederal laboratory technologies available for technology transferNew NIST Device Turns E-Booksinto BrailleElectronic books (e-books) soon may find a new audience.Engineers at the National Institute of Standards andTechnology (NIST) have developed a Braille reader that cantransform the text of e-books into Braille. NIST researchersdeveloped the Braille prototype as a possible low-costalternative to conventional electronic Braille readers. NISTspent about 200 on materials for the machine. (Braillereaders typically carry price tags ranging from 10,000 to 15,000.) Much of the cost savings is the result of a newdesign approach—the NIST reader uses only 12 actuators(the mechanical devices that form Braille letters); commercialBraille readers usually have hundreds. The NIST reader usessoftware to translate text into Braille and features variablespeeds to allow people to readfaster or slower. NIST is nowseeking to transfer thetechnology to the private sectorto bring the benefits of e-booksto the blind and visuallyimpaired.The project is supported in part by a 1.4 millionCooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA)from the DOE’s Initiatives for Proliferation PreventionProgram.For more info: Mort Lieberman, 505-844-5458,firstname.lastname@example.orgORNL Focuses on Method to Detect Brain InjuriesPeople with head injuries may one day be screened atthe accident scene for brain damage using a portableinstrument and a technique being developed at the DOE’sOak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Using a focusedbeam of ultrasound waves, doctors can quickly andaccurately evaluate the extent of a head injury and latermonitor the patient’s condition, said Tuan Vo-Dinh, agroup leader and corporate fellow inORNL’s Life Sciences Division. Thetechnique should save time and livesby giving rescue teams vitalinformation to make effective earlytreatment decisions in those vital hoursfollowing an accident.For more info: Philip Bulman, 301“After the initial injury, bleeding975-5661, email@example.com swelling can cause dangerouspressures to build up in the brain,blocking blood flow through theAmerican and Russianbrain,” Vo-Dinh said. “WithNuclear Labs Developconventional technology, doctors takeArtificial KneeCAT scans and monitor the patient’sinjury using surgically implantedA new prosthetics projectUltrasound Lifesaver: Oak Ridge National Labsensors. The ORNL proprietary methodamong the Department ofresearchers Tuan Vo-Dinh (left) and Joel Mobley areuses a non-invasive, portable, easy-toEnergy’s (DOE) Sandiadeveloping a system that uses a focused beam of ultrasounduse, and relatively inexpensive device toNational Laboratories, awaves to determine the extent of a head injury.accomplish the same task. If aRussian nuclear lab known ashemorrhage, clot, or tumor is present, the symmetry ofChelyabinsk 70, and the Ohio Willow Wood Companyultrasound echo patterns in the brain may be distorted,(a prosthetics company in Mount Sterling, OH) will focusindicating an abnormality.”on developing an artificial knee. The Russians will designThe key to the success of the system, being developeda titanium housing; Sandia robotics researchers will designfor the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materielthe knee’s internal workings and electronics; and OhioCommand, is in the proprietary method for penetrating theWillow Wood will define the parts requirements andskull using different types of ultrasound to obtain a moreperform final lab and clinical tests.complete picture of what is occurring inside the head.The project helps out the prosthetics industry, which isVo-Dinh expects a prototype system to be ready for patientdominated by small companies with relatively little technicaltesting later this year.support. Although prosthetic companies certainly haveworked to improve their devices, says Sandia project leaderFor more info: Ron Walli, 423-576-0226, firstname.lastname@example.orgMort Lieberman, they lack the resources to perform the typeof testing possible at both nuclear labs.Method of Detecting and TreatingOther prosthetics proposals have been submitted toInflammatory Diseasevarious organizations by Sandia and Chelyabinsk 70 researchers.The proposals deal with the creation of sockets that can adjustA new diagnostic tool for screening resistance orto the swelling and shrinkage of an amputee’s stump, knees thatsusceptibility to certain forms of inflammatory diseasehelp prevent falling when a wearer stumbles, and micro(including Alzheimer’s, systemic lupus erythematosis,processor-controlled prosthetics to obtain a more natural gait.sarcoidosis, scleroderma, and arthritis) has been identified by
PAGE 5NOVEMBER 1999TECH WATCH continuedthe National Institutes of Health (NIH) using a mutation ofthe Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) gene. Themutation in the ACE cDNA was associated with a high levelof ACE activity and resistance to exudative inflammation.Related mutations could confer or predict susceptibility tothese diseases. Drugs designed to interact with the enzyme, orat the active site near the mutation, could be used to treatsuch illnesses. This could have important implications in thestudy of human populations with related inflammatorydiseases and may be linked to a variety of autoimmune andinflammatory diseases. It is available for immediate licensing,and research collaborations via CRADAs will be considered.For more info: Kai Chen, 301-496-7735 x247, email@example.com that it is feasible to make endoprostheticdevices from carbon or carbon-reinforced composites—greatly improving joint mobility and reducing the risk ofjoint failure. The researchers have also developed processesfor increasing the strength, density, and wear of carbonbased prosthetics.The researchers are currently testing half-size, all-carbonprosthetic hip joints for strength and fatigue. Theseprosthetics may one day replace hip joints currently made ofvarious metals and alloys. Approximately 250,000 hipreplacement surgeries are performed each year in the U.S.In addition, Ascension Orthopedic, Inc. of Austin, TXhas signed a CRADA with LANL to develop all-carbon hips.For more info: David Devlin, 505-667-9914, firstname.lastname@example.orgCarbon-Based Prosthetic DevicesAnyone who has ever had a finger joint replaced with aprosthesis due to serious injury or disease such as rheumatoidarthritis knows about the trade-off involved: The implantmay eliminate the pain, but the recipient invariably losesstrength and agility in that finger. These small prostheses,typically made of silicone rubber, also pose wear problemsand may require replacement. Now, however, researchers atthe DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) haveDon’t see what you’re looking for?Are you looking for a specific technology or solution to atechnical problem? Submit
The RERC-T2 Wheeled Mobility Project is an excellent example of “demand pull” technology transfer, which identifies technology needs within an industry segment and then finds technology solutions for those needs. Here are some basic steps for implementing such projects. Six Steps for Demand Pull Technology Transfer Projects 4.
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