Talk to Robert Stromberg and Guy Primus, two of the co-founders of the Virtual Reality Company, and you get a vision of the future that stretches from the internet of experiences to the fountain of youth, and the choice to experience life again.
“For people going through tragedies or traumas, it will give them a way to escape and/or relax. The possibilities are really endless,” describes Stromberg. “I know that sounds very grand, but there will be the opportunity — not for VR to take over your life — but to give you a choice to experience life again. In a sense, you could look at some experiences of VR as a fountain of youth, as a way to rekindle energy and relive events and things that you experienced when you were young.”
Within the next two to two-and-half years, as up and coming technologies come into their own – virtual reality and beyond – the possibility to “relive” will become available in a number of forms and functions. Beyond gaming and beyond traditional entertainment, there will be both life enrichment and life enhancement in a way that would have been unimaginable even a year ago.
Think: a confluence of VR software, hardware and wearables along with exoskeletons, passive (non-powered) bionic devices and innovative approaches to surgery and repair. Not the dystopian world of Ready Player One, but technology used to enhance quality of life through an alternate but immersive new version of it. Not just looking at a moving image, or a moving 3-D or 360-degree image, but actually moving while doing so; actually walking, actually running.
The Rise Of The Exoskeltons
Over the past few years, powered exoskeletons have emerged, offering a glimpse of a future when wearable robots are commonplace. As Prateek Jose described in a SnapMunk piece from earlier this year,
“Exoskeletons first made the transition from science fiction to feasible technology in military and industrial applications. These are domains in which there’s enough funding that $100,000 proxy frames make economic sense. But exoskeletons can also go a long way in helping the everyday person with paraplegia, muscular disorders and motor disabilities regain mobility, and SuitX hopes to make the technology available to them at much lower costs.”
The Phoenix, SuitX’s powered exoskeleton, weighs only 27 pounds. It is one of the lightest exoskeletons ever built. It can be worn while in a wheelchair, and has an interface that facilitates transitioning from a seated position to getting up and walking.
The SuitX prototype for paraplegics comes with an Android app in which movement parameters can be set. Batteries on board can sustain four hours of continuous walking and last eight hours with intermittent use. At a price point of $40,000 SuitX is half the price of closest competitor ReWalk, which prices its exoskeletons between $69,500 and $85,000.
Putting A Bounce Back Into Your Step With Bionics
The potential market for a knee brace that reduces strain and enhances biomechanical efficiency and performance is massive. 52.5 million Americans suffer from arthritis and with rising life expectancies our risk of knee osteoarthritis is a crippling 45%.
Levitation, from Canadian startup Spring Loaded Technology, is the world’s first bionic knee brace and it launched earlier this year. Levitation works and feels like a shock absorption system and is aimed at preventing injuries by protecting and supporting the knee. According to the company website, “Spring Loaded’s bionic knee braces use a mechanical hinge mechanism that works by storing energy when you bend your knees and releasing that energy as you straighten your legs. The result is a unique product that can assist the quadriceps muscles to provide the user with enhanced strength, power, and endurance.”
Levitation is constructed from ultra-thin, lightweight carbon fiber, and is available in various sizes, from extra small through to extra-extra large. Given its modest size, it is claimed that it can also be worn under clothing. Spring Loaded raised more than $208K on Indiegogo and although the campaign has closed, the device can be pre-ordered for $1,750 through the company website.
Clothing, Confluence and More In 2018
So far we’ve been connecting the dots; let’s go to where the dots are headed and fast forward to 2018. Let’s imagine a world where passive bionic devices are now so down-gauged that they are not only light enough to be worn under clothes, but they are affordably incorporated into clothes; for example, active wear.
Remember when SnapMunk ran an article in early 2016 about four workout clothes startups to keep an eye on? One of the companies, Physiclo, makes compression tights with built in resistance bands. This design provides tights that make even simple movements like walking and stretching a lot more arduous; the brand’s tests show a 14 percent increase in calories burnt and 23 percent greater muscle activation.
Now imagine Physiclo-type active wear, not suppression-centric, but rather, spring loaded. In other words, imagine the Levitation, or a device designed on similar principles, already built in to a pair of pants. For those of us who have lost mobility to injury or illness or who have simply gotten old, the life enhancing possibilities of bionic braces incorporated into everyday wear – or even just active wear – cannot be underestimated.
These technologies represent complex engineering that offers a chance to experience simple pleasures of life in both old and new worlds. Given the direction in which we are headed and the pace at which we are headed there, it won’t be long before we can do things we never thought possible in versions of our worlds we never knew existed.
Gail is a Chicago-based food scientist who writes for leading US and European food and technology publications. A devotee of all things shiny, electronic and buzzing, with a passion for building on-line communities and conservation, she is an entrepreneur and founder of a sustainability and social media startup who moonlights on weekends as DJ Moongirl on Moonalice Radio. Clients range from rock bands and media companies to high-tech startups.