Canadian tech company Kinova Robotics’ Jaco arm is the newest addition to robotics for those with accessibility needs. The new lightweight, carbon fiber arm attaches to a power wheelchair, giving the user a transformative life experience by using the technology for everyday life. Jaco comes with three fingers and six degrees of freedom. Kinova Robotics offices are located in Canada, Germany, and the U.S., and their technology has improved over the years, especially when it comes to fine grain movements. Currently, without medical insurance codes, the product sells for $35,000.
Jaco offers a unique opportunity for those who strive to seek independence. (Image Credit: Kinova Robotics)
Co-founder of Kinova Robotics, Charles Deguire, found inspiration in the Jaco robotic arm from his uncle, who suffered from muscular dystrophy. The muscle degenerative disease weakens skeletal muscles and eventually causes a breakdown. There is no cure for muscular dystrophy at the present time, and the disease takes away mobility and freedom of motion for those it affects.
“That inspired our CEO to want to create something that could assist people with limited upper mobility,” Sarah Woolverton, head of marketing and communications at Kinova said “He went into engineering and, along with our co-founder, developed the first Kinova Jaco. That was 12 years ago. Ever since, we’ve been working hard to improve on the product.”
An eleven-year-old girl, Mary Nelson, a patient with spinal muscular atrophy also uses the Jaco arm to tend to and care for her horses on her parent’s farmland. “It’s certainly true that younger users catch on particularly quickly,” Woolverton said. “I was at a trade show recently and within minutes, a seven-year-old was using the arm to pick up a glass and drink from it. But we’ve not seen any resistance from older users, either.”
An eleven-year-old uses Jaco to tend to and care for her horses. (Image Credit: Kinova Robotics)
At the moment, one of the main issues is granting access to patients who may require it. It’s actually a lot easier to give the robotic arm to users in Germany because their medical insurance codes cover the expenses. In the United States, users will have to purchase Jaco, and the costs are simply too high for them, so affordability is the main issue.
However, there are signs that things are progressing toward change. The company is being accepted by medical insurance companies more often, opening up the market for Jaco in the future. It’s also important for medical insurance companies to recognize how Jaco can provide independence for users and help with costs on other expenses, like caregivers.
The team also has more room for growth with the technology. They’re in the process of working on a more affordable version of the robotic arm. However, it also may come with some unwanted issues, like functionality and would mean the team may have to sacrifice things like payload and speed.
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