It’s one thing to be wowed by Amazon’s Alexa and her ability to turn off Katy Perry, or turn on the lights. But what if the voice-activated artificial intelligence could help control a robotic device designed to help people walk?
That’s the hope of Bionik Laboratories, which announced Tuesday that it has integrated Alexa into its ARKE lower body exoskeleton. The product is in clinical development, and the future goal is for individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury or are otherwise severely impaired in their lower body to gain mobility such as standing and walking.
Bionik says Alexa helps to activate multiple sensors located throughout the ARKE, allowing users to say, “Alexa, I’m ready to stand” or “Alexa, I’m ready to walk.”
“We are excited to complete the integration of Amazon’s Echo and Alexa into our ARKE exoskeleton, combining the power of Amazon’s voice-activated technologies with our powerful assistive robotic solutions for the next evolution in treating consumer immobility,” Bionik co-founder and COO Michal Prywata said in a news release. “In building ARKE, we had one goal in mind — to empower the user to take back their mobility and regain the ability to complete tasks that the rest of us deem normal, like walking to the refrigerator or going to get the mail. This pairing of our robotic technologies with the power of Amazon’s Alexa further pushes the boundaries of what technology can do within the home healthcare industry, and we believe we will help many impaired individuals regain the mobility they once lost.”
The Verge points out a few caveats when it comes to using Alexa in this manner, including the fact that the exoskeleton has no built-in microphones, so a user would need to access Alexa via nearby Echo or Dot device, or though the Alexa app on a mobile device.
Alexa would also have to stand up to the strict guidelines of medical certification, Prywata told The Verge. “Alexa is designed for use in consumer applications. It’s a completely different risk profile compared to medical use. You have to make sure everything is perfect [as] you’re dealing with peoples’ lives,” he said.