Monday, April 2, 2012

Weightless Problems

In this day and age, an unfortunately high number of people deal with being overweight (in the "first-world" at least). I think it's unnecessary for me to go into the numerous reasons why that might be a problem. However, on the other end of that spectrum (no not anorexia), being weightless poses a number of problems as well! For astronauts in space, being weightless is quite an issue. The lack of gravity related stimulation leads to both atrophy and muscle loss, especially in the lower body. In order to combat this, astronauts do exercises on a treadmill while wearing a harness which increases their body weight in space to an amount proportional to their body weight on Earth. 
The harness came with its own set of problems. The harness is limiting to the astronaut, reducing his or her ability to actually perform more effective exercises; it's uncomfortable and can cause a significant amount of chafing. Problems. 
Problems. While studying the biomechanics of exercise, a scientist at the Ames Research Center by the name of Robert Whalen proposed the idea of using air pressure to simulate body weight. Solution.
Oddly enough, this creative idea from Whalen did not turn out the way he thought of it initially. He patented his technology in 1992 and licensed it to Alter-G Inc. in 2005 to develop a product to help patients who need support (re)learning  to stand, walk, or run. From that, came the AlterG Anti-Gravity treadmill!

This piece of equipment is definitely beneficial and can be proven creative using Csikszentmihaly's three elements (nodes) that are a part of considering creativity:  Individual Talent, Field, and Domain/Discipline. 

In terms of individual talent, there is no doubt that Robert Whalen came up with a remarkable idea that solves multiple problems and is beneficial in its domain. He hypothesized "that musculoskeletal maintenance in space requires Earth-equivalent functional loading (or weighting), which is loading bones and muscles with activities and force levels in space similar to daily activity on Earth" and devised a way of doing so that was different from the crude method of using a painful harness. He also recognized that his idea may be beneficial to the rehabilitation industry and licensed a company to use his technology to develop a piece of equipment that uses his technology to help in rehabilitation. 

Robert Whalen actually introduced his idea to two separate domains in a sense. His one domain could be considered as space travel and the other the world of fitness. His idea appealed to both domains, however, it seems as though it was better received in the world of fitness as a tool of rehabilitation. 

The G-Trainer was approved by the FDA in 2008 for medical use and since then, many institutions in the field have invested in the use of this product despite its high cost. The AlterG Treadmill has a rather impressive list of customers to its name despite it's high cost. So Mr. Robert Whalen, thank you for your creative contribution that has become greatly beneficial in the world of fitness and rehabilitation! 

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