Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Virtual Reality for the Feet

NASA Challenge: Space Pioneering – Achieving Earth Independence

I wrote the following up for this contest. I was rejected for a rather weird reason. Click here to find out why? Don't Go to Mars with NASA

What is virtual reality for the feet?

Virtual reality for the feet is a method for simulating much of the earth bound sensory experience of resisting gravity. Devices embedded with servo- mechanisms can stimulate the proprioceptors in the feet. 

Why virtual reality for the feet?

Pressure to the feet has a myriad of effects. One of the most important functions is to stimulate the postural muscles. The postural muscles have an impact on the organization of the body. Postural muscle stimulation on the metabolic system and the tone of the musclo-`skeletal system. Further the impact extends to mental functions such as depression..

How could you achieve virtual reality for the feet?

Simple pressure to the feet could be achieved in a number of ways. Changeable shoe beds is the simplest way. Simply insert them into the boots.  Pressure enhancers could take the pressure from the sole of the shoe and amplify the signal into the sole of the foot. Both these techniques have their drawbacks. 

Or you can embed servo-mechanisms in the inside of the colonist's boot to apply light patterns of pressure to sole of the foot.This is the method I favor. Although more of a technical challenge it affords you greater flexibility in what could be provided to the colonists. 

When would you use virtual reality?

I can see using VR for the feet during the waking hours. It could be that a lessened amount of pressure is used during the sleep cycle. 

VR of the feet could be used on the long space flight as well as once on Mars.

Who would employ virtual reality for the feet?

The colonist would manage the VR for the feet. However, it could be setup for remote monitoring and control. There could be remote commands to stimulate the colonists if they needed it. Ot it could even be used to perform actions like revival. 

Note: These are attempts to answer questions from NASA.

How does humanity facilitate, enable, and incentivize the establishment of a second home on Mars?

Health is a major factor in any space colony. Knowing that steps have been taken to maintain the health of the colonists would help recruitment. improve the health of the colonist and may be a way to hack into the nervous system to solve various health problems.

Weightlessness and reduced gravitational fields can lead to bone loss and muscle destruction.  The loss of proprioceptive senses can lead to disorientation and perhaps certain psychological states such as anxiety. 

Physical Issues of Space Colonization

The space flight to Mars will take 260 days during that time the colonists will experience zero gravity and the detrimental effects arising from that environment. Add to that the fact that that the fact that the gravity on Mars is only about 38% of the surface gravity on Earth.   

The neural network of the body is profoundly impacted by the lack of weight bearing activities of standing, walking and moving while here on earth. The bedridden and wheel chair bound experience muscle weakness and bone loss.

Recent research on earth bound prolonged sitting has found the serious health effects of not weight bearing on frequent enough intervals. The impact on metabolic functions can lead to serious disorders such as diabetes, heart/lung and even Alzheimers as  examples. 

Could being in a zero gravity or reduced gravity environment lead to effects similar to the effects of prolonged sitting or uninterrupted sitting? It is hard to tell since the longest time an  astronaut was 437 days. A mission to Mars would entail a lot more time.

But the lack of stimulation to the postural muscles on an extended stay on Mars may be similar. A whole array of metabolic problems could  arise with an extended stay of Mars. 

However the differences could be to the musclo-skeletal system. While distortions to the earth bound prolonged sitter is complicated by gravity effecting their muscles the Mars colonists may be different issues. Still complicated by lack of full earth-like weight bearing muscles and bones could be distorted.   

Cognitive decline is associated with prolonged sitting. This could be a potentially dangerous situation on a space colony. 

What if there was a way to simulate locomotive activities thrby triggering the postural muscles which would reset the metabolic system, stimulating cognitive abilities, relieving some of the strains experienced by the musclo-skeletal system and building ground awareness for physical and psychological purposes. 

The bottom of the feet are a potential portal to access the nervous system. By applying the proprioceptive signals to the feet there could  be a way to simulate the actions of the postural muscles in an earth environment. 

Boots containing servomechanisms tuned to the locomotive needs of the colonists could be a way to deliver much needed sensory input. Pressure to the bottom of the feet can be programmed in a variety of ways to simulate the weight bearing of standing, walking or other movement patterns. 


Standing simulation for space flight
Increased standing sensory input in a diminished environment like Mars. 
Walking simulation in space.
Enhanced walking on the surface of Mars. 
Movement simulation during space flight.
Movement enhancements once on Mars. 
Relaxation modules.
Healing modules.

Virtual reality for the feet means that basic metabolic, musculo-skeletal and cognitive abilities can be addressed by simulating the proprioceptive messages that are routinely received in the everyday activities of walking, standing and other movements. 

It would facilitate preventative health measures that would protect the colonists from the serious consequences of the travel to Mars in zero-gravity. And it would it would address the issues arising from a diminished gravity environment. 

Keeping the body toned by stimulating the postural muscles would enable the colonists to function in a better fashion and keep their body's toned up.

How do we become and maintain Earth independence while living away from Earth?

Health is a critical element in living independently from the earth. The effects of zero gravity on the human body is well known. On Earth the devastating effects of prolonged sitting on our metabolism increases the risk of metabolic disorders such as diabetes. If you could even sent a supply of insulin with a crew of 4-6 crew members how long would a supply last. And since the onset of diabetes is an ongoing problem prevention seems to be key. 

And moving on to muscle-skeletal problems from a lack of tone would the colonists face greater challenges from not being able to perform the tasks necessary for survival. We need a system that can recreate the locomotive function of walking and moving in a field of gravity. 

How do we shape NASA’s human exploration program to minimize what we must bring with us and maximize the value and utility of what we bring, and augment it with what is already there?

There is some gravity on Mars. But what is missing is the demands of gravity on the locomotive system. If NASA would value the human foot and it's interplay with other bodily systems such as the the internal organs and the organs of balance it would make it feasible to establish a colony on Mars. The lack of proprioceptive signals and the cascading effects that will ensue may not be offset by a space ship full of pharmaceuticals. Stimulation of the foot triggers effects throughout the locomotive system. It may be more cost effective and feasible to create virtual  reality for the feet. It could simulate ground awareness and weight bearing with simple techniques. 

What specific capabilities and operations need to be developed, and how can specific natural resources on Mars be used to achieve true Earth independence?

Virtual reality for the feet would require programming of servo mechanisms that would simulate walking and other weight bearing activities, these servo mechanisms would be embedded in the boot. Pressure to the bottom of the feet could be patterned to trigger the maximum effect on the postural muscles and the vestibular apparatus even when the colonist wasn't upright. 

What should be put in place so that this initial foothold can thrive, instead of just surviving? 

If you expand on the initial thought that pressure to the bottom of the feet is critical to the colonist's health then creating many forms of sub stainable technology could be developed. A boot for instance that by applying pressure in Mars's gravity amps up the pressure signal could be developed. 

Just like a space suit is monitored for pressurization so to could the tone of the body be monitor for vagal tone by measuring heart rate variability. It would also be important to monitor vagal tone in order to keep inflammation in check. 

So a heart rate variability monitor would be essential to see proper tone is maintained. 

How do can we make sure that the sustainable systems/capabilities that we choose to implement will really provide the best holistic approach to Earth independence?

Testing the capabilities of a virtual reality system for the feet would be fairly straight forward. C-reactive protein tests and heart rate variability tests would show if the technologies developed are effective. 

What do you need to bring with you?

Boots that are programmable, or manually developed. Testing equipment such as a heart rate variability monitor ( i assume this would all ready by apart of the equipment on board) C-reactive protein test kits. 

What will be established once you get there?What will be established once you get there?

Testing stations and protocols for stimulating the proprioceptors.

How does it operate and how can it be tested now?

The basic principal is to apply the proprioceptive signal to the plantar aspect of the foot. It could be a pattern that simulates standing or walking. Or it could be a random pattern that would simulate the random patterns encountered in rough terrain. 

A series of servo mechanisms under the footbed of the shoe would be electronically triggered causing an increase of a slight pressure to the sole of the foot. 

Certain highly innervated areas such as the metatarso-phalangeal joint could be targeted for special attention. This area of the foot is activated in the beginning of the toe off stage in the end of the stance phase in walking. It communicates through the brain with the opposite foot to coordinate the swing phase with the stance phase. 

 Directional areas on the foot such as the cuboid bone which has also been referred to as the variable sensor can be target with movement sequences that simulate moving across rough terrain. This bone and it's movement has a global effect on the foot. It effects the subtalar joint which is involved in maintaining an upright position in human stance. It also effects the mid-tarsal joint  and the mid-foot joint which adjusts for terrain.  

If you want something a little further out you could have programs to perform revival, recovery from stroke, spinal cord injuries and other disorders. 

You could test it here on earth. Metabolic functions could be monitored to see the impact of plantar stimulation. Functional MRI's could be used to show the impact of various parts of the brain. Of interest would be the prefrontal cortex and the insular cortex. 

Why is it sustainable? Is there recycle, reuse? How long will it last?

It is sustainable because the technology is straight forward and should be simple to repair.

How is it intertwined with other systems/capabilities?

It would be integrated into other life support systems. 

How will it be maintained? 

It would require some electronics and repair of the servo units. 

Kevin Kunz

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