September 18, 1978 12:00 PM

MIT’s articulated knee is learning to dance

Using one type of artificial leg for every amputee is “like trying to develop one standard pair of eyeglasses for everyone with a vision problem,” says MIT engineering professor Woodie Flowers, 34. Ten years ago Flowers began thinking about something more versatile. He and two fellow researchers, computer whiz Derek Rowell (right), 35, and biomedical engineer Robert Mann, 53, have now developed a prosthetic knee that adjusts to each amputee’s individual walking pace.

The “smart knee” relies on a minicomputer slung over the amputee’s shoulder. (“Eventually all the equipment will be inside the leg,” says Rowell.) Ten control levers adjust the movement of the lower limb to the gait of the amputee’s real leg. Even with the latest design, an amputee can’t run, do the hustle or climb stairs. “But,” says Rowell confidently, “we’re working on it.”

There’s no need for keys in the computer car

Ever parked your car and walked away with the engine running, or the lights on, or the windows down? Well, that’s why three Phoenix engineers have just developed a compact computer and remote-control device. With it, the motorist can push the “off” button and automatically cut his car’s engine, shut the power windows, lock the doors and trunk and extinguish the headlights from as far away as 250 feet. Or just as easily, say, turn the air conditioning on before entering.

The computer “is no more difficult to install than a car stereo,” boasts Sound Unlimited President Skip McFarlin (left), 31, who, along with Dave Ramsperger, 23, and Henry Van Elder-en, 29, designed the device. Since the minicomputer eliminates the need for door locks and ignition keys, they note, it makes the family car virtually burglarproof. The system now sells for $1,500, but mass production should bring the cost to the consumer down to $750.

Who controls TV? Not the kids but Big Mother

“Each individual parent’s a Fred Silverman,” proclaims Joanne Dobson, 40. As a mother of four and a graduate schoolteacher (on TV and its impact on kids) at New York’s College of New Rochelle, she realizes that the average school-age child tunes in four hours a day. But Dobson thought there must be “some kind of technology to control the technology.” So, with John Braun, 41, a Coopersburg, Penn. engineer and family friend, she produced Big Mother, a computerized TV proctor that allows parents to monitor family viewing a week in advance. Husband Ray, 42 (at left en famille), is planning the marketing. Big Mother will go into mass production early next year, at about $160 per. Once the 5″ x 10″ box is attached to the set, parents can select “approved” shows by punching buttons to indicate date, channel, time and length of watching. Of course, a special key allows Mom and Dad to unlock the set and flip the channels at will when the kiddies are in bed.

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