The next generation of a robotic aid to help patients regain movement after a stroke is nearing completion as a result of an internationally collaborative initiative involving researchers at the University of Melbourne.
For several years the Royal Melbourne Hospital has been running trials using a commercially available robotic rehabilitation platform to help patients ‘relearn’ upper-body movement.
Participating patients play video games as part of their practice routines. The robotic aid provides support for the patients’ arms and assistance with the arm movements needed to complete the game cycles.
Associate Professor Ying Tan, from the university’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, has been leading the university’s interdisciplinary research team, which also includes researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Faculty of Medicine.
Her own research has focused on improving the controller for the robotic device, along with alternative designs for the device to reduce its weight, make it easier to use and also cheaper to manufacture.
According to Professor Tan, the newly designed controller is intelligent, in that it is able to fuse information from both the video games and the motion sensors to activate robotic assistance for the patient at appropriate times, without compromising the practice routines.
Our research in the past five years has shown that, if a task is very challenging, patients tend to give up, while if it is too easy, they would not put in enough effort to make the practice effective. Since every patient is different, the controller needs to adjust the level of assistance accordingly to match the needs of different patients, says Professor Tan.
Along with the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the stroke rehabilitation research also involves researchers from Imperial College and the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.