By Barb Darrow
August 8, 2017

A Canadian-American robotics company is turning to the popular Amazon Alexa-Echo combo to help people with spinal or lower-body injuries be more mobile and autonomous in their homes.

Bionik Laboratories is integrating the tech giant’s Alexa voice assistant and Echo connected home speaker with its robotic gear that aims to help people with spinal cord or other injuries walk and perform other physical functions they might not otherwise be able to do.

Other Bionik technology is already used in Veterans Administration facilities and the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., but this integration should let the company offer an assistive robot for in-home use, says Michal Prywata, co-founder and chief operating officer of Bionik, based in Toronto and Boston.

Related: Amazon Alexa Could Help Autistic People

The company has worked with the APIs Amazon makes available for Alexa to enable this integration and is now testing the devices. The idea is that a person at home could initiate movement by telling Alexa what he or she needs. As in: “Alexa, I’m ready to take a step.”

Pending successful trials and FDA approvals, the products should become broadly available in the foreseeable future. “It’s hard to predict but we think it could be on the market in 18 months,” Prywata says.

Overall, Bionik offers two basic types of robotic technology: One helps victims of strokes or other ailments recover motor functions using data to assess how much they can do and offering just as much resistance or help as needed. The other is assistive robots to help those with spinal injuries function more independently.

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The exoskeleton gathers data from sensors on the user’s feet and joints to measure angles, inertia, how weight is distributed, and combines that with information about the upper body to allow him or her to take a step, according to the company.

Related: Healthcare Robot Nudges People to Take Their Meds.

Bionik’s idea here to come up with an affordable home-version of the exoskeleton, with finance options available.

“There is a huge trend now in healthcare to make things more affordable and efficient and to keep people out of the hospital,” Prywata says.

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