Mun Kyung-Ryoul (left) and Dr Yu demonstrate the robotic walker, which allows patients to practise gait movements by walking on ground, enabling physiotherapists to focus on assessment, training guidance and motivating patients. Credit: National University of Singapore.
A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has invented a robotic walker that helps stroke patients move better and more naturally.
Equipped with sensors and an intelligent control system, the walker will provide the right amount of support to help patients' walk naturally, according to NUS' media statement dated 21 November 2014. The walker's electrical stimulation unit will deliver targeted electrical current to stimulate the correct muscle at the right time to facilitate joint movement. It will also provide assistive force, resistive force and disturbance force depending on the training requirements set by the therapists.
"This robotic walker allows patients to practice their gait movements continuously to optimise their therapy," said Assistant Professor Yu Haoyong from the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering. "When patients repeat the movements in a natural setting, the routine can be imprinted into their brains, which gradually learn to correct from the damage resulting from their medical conditions."
Besides improving the quality of rehabilitation sessions, the robotic walker will also relieve physiotherapists from the physical strain of assisting patients with the exercises.
Currently, therapy sessions are labour intensive and time consuming as each patient requires one or two physiotherapists to support his/her body weight and trunk. An additional physiotherapist may be needed for patients with paretic legs. Since the walker will reduce the number of physiotherapists needed to conduct a rehabilitation session, it enables them to focus on delivering quality assessment and care, said NUS.
The team of NUS researchers will be conducting clinical trials next year at the National University Hospital to validate the training effects on patients and develop therapy regimes. They are also collaborating with homegrown company Hope Technik to fine-tune and commercialise the robotic walker by 2017. Assistant Professor Yu hopes that the robotic walker will soon be installed at outpatient clinics and rehabilitation centres, and will be refined enough to enable patients to perform exercises at home.
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