Bionic arms at a fraction of the cost of high-end prosthetics were among the innovations at the Expand North Star conference for start-up businesses on the sidelines of Gitex in Dubai.
The conference is the first time entrepreneurs and emerging businesses have been given their own arena at Dubai Harbour to show-off innovations to attract regional funding and new product launches.
South Korean robotics firm Mand.ro promises to revolutionise the field of prosthetic limbs by offering 3D-printed devices that can be controlled by sensors, so there is no need for an expensive surgical implant.
Ultrasonic sensors from a band worn on the forearm continuously send sound pulses into the muscle tissue, which then relays commands to the prosthetic hand triggering movement in real time.
“Usually if someone lost their arm and they still have muscle there, we can attach sensors on to the arm to control the prosthetic,” said Sangho Yi, founder and chief executive of Mand.ro.
“It captures the electromyography signal easily and the muscle contracts.”
Mr Yi said the company manufactures limbs using 3D-printing and customises the bionic limb using precise scanning and modelling.
“There is no surgical implant at all,” he said.
More than 600 people are currently using the device in South Korea, and a further 100 patients have been fitted with the bionic hand at a clinic in Jordan.
One of them is Raphael, a Kenyan police officer who lost his hand when he was attacked with a machete while he was trying to make an arrest.
Since having a myoelectric hand fitted, he has been able to return to active duty.
Mand.ro can create a custom made replacement hand for just $4,000, compared to usual costs of up to $100,000 for a robotic prosthesis.
It could provide a solution for areas hit by natural disaster or conflict, where crush injuries are common.
“We had an office in Jordan, so people from Syria, Iraq and Palestine could visit us in Amman so that we fit them for the prosthetics,” said Mr Yi.
“Unfortunately, because of Covid, we had to close.
“We would like to expand our work in the Middle East and other countries, as there's a big demand for this kind of prosthetic.”
Expand North Star hosts exhibitors from across the world, offering plenty of new applications for the latest technology, including artificial intelligence.
DeepBrain AI uses generative artificial intelligence to create humanoid avatars that can integrate to commands, in a similar way to ChatGPT or Google Bard.
“An avatar will never complain or ever lose its smile,” said Michael Jung, chief financial officer and head of business development at DeepBrain AI.
AI newsreading avatars
DeepBrain AI has already distributed the technology to the hospitality sector and in education where video avatars have been delivering lectures in English.
TV networks are also snapping up the technology, to replace human newsreaders with computer generated humanlike avatars.
A 10-minute video presented by a generated avatar costs around $30.
“The media has a wider coverage than ever to share their content, and not only on television, but they cannot use the same budget,” said Mr Jung.
Visitors to the show were offered a look at how robots are fast developing to replace manual tasks undertaken by humans – including in the world of sport.
A full-sized humanoid robot named Artemis – which stands for Advanced Robotic Technology for Enhanced Mobility and Improved Stability – developed by UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering, shows how a team of machines may one day take on the World Cup-winning football team.
At almost 1.5 metres tall and weighing 38kg, Artemis can run at 2.1 metres a second – making it the fastest walking robot developed to date.
It’s capable of walking on rough and unstable surfaces, as well as running and jumping and remains steady even when strongly shoved, say developers.
“For robots to be useful in everyday life, we believe that the role is to be human shape and size because this environment is designed for humans,” said Dennis Hong, a UCLA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the director of RoMeLa – Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.
“It's the third human robot in the world that actually can run, meaning that both feet lift off the ground.
“There's a competition called Robocup International Autonomous Robot soccer competition.
“The goal is by the year 2050 to have a team of robots play soccer against the human World Cup champions and win.”
An earlier version called Thor – Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot – was designed specifically for disaster relief applications at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
Artemis is made from aluminium, carbon fibre and titanium, with AI used to develop the mechanisms to drive the legs – a process called topology optimisation.
“We developed this robot for that particular application where it can drive a car, climb upstairs, open doors, close valves and eventually rescue people and fix things,” said Mr Hong.
“We want to build better arms and hands for manipulation, and you cannot really make it fall down so it's stable.
“And we're only using 40 per cent of our power right now. This is just the beginning.”