From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ergonomics Roundup: Ergonomics and Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society often collaborates with Discoveries & Breakthroughs Inside Science to produce topics that are then picked up by news organizations and television stations. As I was reviewing a couple of their latest projects, I saw quite a few that are directly or indirectly related to ergonomics. This first one caught my eye after I recently spoke to an old friend who’s brother had lost his leg below the knee following an automobile accident. I was amazed to hear that he was recovering well and has been skiing — telemark skiing, no less — with his new prosthetic leg. Prosthetic technology has come a long way. For example, in this Bionic Hands story, Cheryl Douglas lost all four limbs due to an immune system problem, but thanks to great technology, she didn’t let this stop her:

"You can go home lie in bed and feel sorry for yourself," Douglass said. "The other option is to just get up and do things which is what I opted to do."

And according to her doctor:

"[Her bionic hand] replaces virtually all of the movements that our natural hands can do," Dr. Dromerick explained. "I grew up on Star Wars and it almost looks like that hand that Luke Skywalker had."

See the full article, including video …


A Solution for Medication Errors? (Pill Picker, Med Sorter, Life Saver!)

We’ve reported on the unnecessary, and, frankly, inexcusably high rate of medication errors that lead to death and injury to tens of thousands of patients each year, so we’re always looking for design solutions (ergonomics, that is) to this problem. According to this story,

Medication errors cause at least 7,000 deaths in the United States each year. It’s a problem that health care systems work hard to prevent. Now a new technology is helping prevent mediation mistakes. 

 The story describes a robotic system that sorts medication for patients:

The robot places single doses of medication in small plastic bags. Each bag has a bar code identifying the drug. A nurse will scan the bar code along with a bar code on the patient’s wristband. If the computer detects a wrong drug or wrong dose, a warning will appear and the computer will sound an alert.

"The pill picker prevents the wrong medication from being given to the patient at the bedside," Dr. Ilic said.

This all sounds good, but I can’t help wondering what happens if the "robot" is provided with incorrect information? The article doesn’t touch on that, but as ergonomists, we should be looking at the entire system and process, not just a single component, like this robot, in isolation. So, good idea, but implement with care by applying ergonomics principles to the entire process.

See the full article, including video …


An ‘Intelligent’ Walker

Developing assistive technology for the disabled is something ergonomists can contribute well to, and this particular device uses the human-machine interface to improve upon the traditional simple walker design:

"When I’m walking, I’m exerting forces on the walker and the walker is detecting my forces and then it correct me," Cortes said. "For example, I can let it go and it will stop."

It also responds to the environment … while walking downhill, brakes slow a person down.

Technology like this could help prevent injuries for the 47,000 Americans treated in the ER each year after falling while using walkers.

See the full article, including video …


A Pioneering System Allows Autistic Children To Communicate With Their Environment

According to this story,

It’s estimated one out of every 150 babies born in the United States will develop autism. A new case is diagnosed every 20 minutes. One of the biggest challenges for parents and therapists is understanding what an autistic child is feeling or thinking. Now video games and even robots are closing the communication gap.

While studying the best way for autistic kids to communicate, system informatics researchers and ergonomists have created specialized software for Nintendo systems. It helps autistic kids express sadness, happiness and basic wants and needs.

Robotics seems to be a theme in this series of Discoveries & Breakthroughs Inside Science stories, even for helping with autism:

"The amazing thing is you can put it all together and learn what a child is feeling," Wendy Stone, Ph.D., a psychologist at Vanderbilt University, said.

The robot predicted the child’s emotional state correctly more than 80 percent of the time — about as good at identifying a child’s feelings as an experienced therapist.

See the full article, including video …


And Much More

There are many more interesting stories at the website, including the role of the mulitifidus muscle in back strength and back pain, a "smart alarm clock" smartphone application that is designed to assist people who have trouble sleeping, computer biometrics technology that could help with computer privacy and HIPPA compliance, and more.