Improving Independence with Exoskeletons

 

Researchers are studying the ways that wearable robotic technologies can help people with spinal cord injuries, strokes and other conditions that can affect mobility.

Whether it’s sudden or degenerative, limited bodily mobility can lead to a lack of independence and can lessen quality of life. A new research grant awarded jointly to the Kessler Foundation and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) may further promising robotic technologies for people with spinal cord injuries (SCI), Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and stroke.

The institutions are using the $5 million dollar grant to focus on the next generation of wearable robotic exoskeletons by combining robotic engineering expertise from NJIT with biomechanics and neuromuscular physiology research from the Kessler Foundation.

  • One area of focus will expand on previous efforts to link robotic exoskeletons with virtual reality platforms.
  • Two other projects will work on enabling the user to control the movements of the exoskeletons. The first will take information on movement intention, signaled by the user’s hands and fingers, to create a more natural stride. The second project seeks to provide anti-gravity support and counter-friction to help individuals with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy to create arm movements with their limited muscular strength.

Robot-assisted walking technology may eventually enable users to improve their own physiological functions, as researchers study the effects of combining the exoskeletons with electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. The hope here is that the combination promotes voluntary muscle firing and user-generated walking.

Usually news today is centered on how robots are precluding the need for manual effort in certain jobs, but this is one application where a shift back to manual movement is welcome.

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