High Hanging Fruit

The more I learn and have seen about the assistive technology field, the more I am shocked at its historical development. From a technological perspective, the disparity between the complexity of what is being researched, and the simplicity of the issues that people still face on a daily basis, is absurd. I fear that developers have gotten so caught up in what new flashy things can be done that they ignore problems that may be simple to fix.

As only one example of this, the wheelchair was invented in the late 1700s and has hardly changed since! With issues as simple as storage still troubling millions of people every day, it is riddled with imperfections which make life in a wheelchair even more difficult than it would otherwise have to be. And yet, despite this, millions of dollars are going into development of incredibly complex exoskeleton-like systems which will no doubt be inaccessible to all but the highest class of people with disabilities. With this class as an example of how important a technological solution can be even on a low budget, I am confident that if that same funding went into solving the more pressing, but less flashy issues, they could be easily resolved.

One of the few researchers working with these goals in mind is MIT’s own professor Amos Winter. Winter has been developing many new assistive technologies, all aimed for the developing world. It is precisely this low budget requirement that the developing world clientele necessitates which has forced Winter to create simple, elegant, mechanical solutions to the most pressing issues that the user’s face. These solutions are brilliant in their simplicity and truly make you wonder why they hadn’t been done before. I believe Winter’s work exemplifies need based engineering in its greatest form.


One Response to “High Hanging Fruit”

  1. Jeff Dusek says:

    This is a great point to bring up. I wonder if part of the reason for research directions is based on funding sources. Who would want to fund research on improving simple wheelchairs? for the exoskeleton, the obvious answer is the military, and tons of funding comes from defense contracts. I think Prof. Winter’s work is an excellent example of how the whole system needs to change, and proof that a product can be made successful if enough thought goes into it.

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