Tools to Help SMA Individuals: JACO, a Robotic Arm Solution From Kinova

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by Kevin Schaefer |

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While there are many different types of adaptive equipment that can help people with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and other forms of muscular dystrophy, one in particular is designed for people with limited upper body mobility.

Developed and manufactured by Kinova, the JACO Robotic Arm is specifically designed for power wheelchair users who have little to no use of their arms and hands. The arm replicates the natural movements of a human arm, a six-movement axis, corresponding to shoulder, elbow and wrist. The arm can be mounted to the side of a power wheelchair and operated by the chair’s native control system.

How it works

Kinova’s robotic arms are lightweight and energy efficient, easily mounted to a chair’s power supply and following the tilt movement of the seat. The positioning of the arm minimizes the chair’s width and maximizes the arm’s reach. When the chair needs to be charged, simply remove the arm by turning it off and unplugging it from its cords. It can then be placed back in its case while the wheelchair is charging.

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Kinova’s robotic arms can be used for a multitude of functions to assist in the user’s daily life. It’s great for eating and drinking, as the arm is designed to help users reach many objectives as defined by the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), such as grabbing a glass to drink and sandwiches, fruit, or vegetables to eat. It’s also possible to use a fork, directly with the three-finger gripper or with a utensil attachment designed to stabilize eating

Yet, there are dozens of other capabilities the arm offers beyond eating and drinking. It can pick up most small objects, and because of its joint flexibility it can lower all the way to the ground to pick up an item from the floor. The user can also use it to scratch an itch, put on makeup, adjust their glasses, or wipe themselves with a napkin or tissue. Once the user becomes accustomed to the arm’s functions and capabilities, they can get creative and figure out all of the ways for it to meet their daily needs.

Flexibility and capabilities

There are five basic modes on the arm that allow the user to move it up, down, sideways, turn the hand, adjust the fingers. and to return it to a fixed position so that the user can drive their chair. The joint capabilities make it easy for the user to adjust it and use it for different functions. Just like getting a new wheelchair, it does take some time to get used to, but because it’s fully controlled by the wheelchair’s native control system and a lightweight mode switch, it’s easy for SMA individuals to use.

To learn more about the JACO robotic arm, go here.

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