Thursday, December 4, 2008

iWalk: Cambridge's quietest start-up?

I'd really heard absolutely nothing about iWalk, a Cambridge start-up that has been around for a couple years now, until I was doing some research for a robotics panel this week at MIT.

One of my panelists was MIT prof Hugh Herr, who also serves as founder and chief scientific officer of iWalk. The company is commercializing a robotic prosthetic device developed in Herr's lab that does the job of a foot and ankle for people who no longer have their own. They call it "PowerFoot One," and according to the Web site:

    "Two powerful microprocessors and six environmental sensors evaluate and adjust ankle position, stiffness, damping and power thousands of times a second. Control algorithms generate human-like force while traversing level ground, slopes and stairs, providing active amputees with near-normal gait and lower energy expenditure compared to state-of-the-art passive prosthetics."

Seed funding for the company came from Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte and other angel investors. HBS prof Bill Sahlman serves on iWalk's board.

Herr told me that two years ago, the company raised $5 million from WFD Ventures in New York. Right now, Herr said, iWalk is trying to raise another $7 or $8 million to get the first product finished and ready for sale.

In addition to Herr and CEO Richard Greenwald, the start-up has five employees, I'm told.

More on the technology here.

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday's Globe column: Dean Kamen is out to reinvent the prosthetic arm

Today's Globe column focuses on the next-gen prosthetic arm being developed by DEKA Research and Development, Dean Kamen's skunkworks, up in Manchester, NH. It's being funded by DARPA, the nice folks who brought you the Internet.

From the piece:

    When Kamen, one of America's best-known inventors, first spoke with officers at the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, they told him they were looking for a research and development group that could build a prototype of a new prosthetic arm. Kamen was expecting to hear a list of technical specifications, such as how much the arm would need to lift and how many moving joints it would require. Instead, Kamen says, the Pentagon officials told him they wanted to create an arm that could "pick up a raisin or a grape from a table, know the difference without looking at it, and be able to manipulate it into the person's mouth without breaking it or dropping it."

Here's the video, which includes Kamen's perspective on the project, as well as a lot of demo footage.

DEKA also is working on another DARPA project, which we didn't talk about when I was there in late September: a project called PowerSwim, the goal of which is to increase the speed and efficiency of human swimmers (ummm, Navy SEALs, perhaps?) by about 50 percent. More on that here and here.

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