Robotics projects for stroke rehab receive major federal grants

November 18, 2008

Breakthrough robotic technology from Northeastern University has once again received funding from the National Science Foundation. Two inventions for stroke rehabilitation by engineering professor Constantinos Mavroidis and his team will be funded over the next three years with the amount totaling more than $1 million.

In partnership with the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s Motion Analysis Laboratory, Northeastern’s Robotics and Mechatronics Laboratory will develop the Robotic Gait Rehabilitation (RGR) Trainer and the Active Knee Rehabilitation Orthotic Device (AKROD) for rehabilitation of the pelvis and the knee, respectively.

While the RGR Trainer will provide a study of patient-robot interaction via haptic and visual feedback provided through the pelvis in post-stroke patients, the AKROD project will build upon the technology of a knee rehabilitation device with resistive force developed by Mavroidis and his team during recent years. As part of the current project, the team will develop and test a device with an active component for gait rehabilitation for stroke sufferers with knee problems.

“Robotics and mechatronics offer the promise of sensitive, objective measurements and mobility assistance by using wearable, portable, computer-controlled active devices,” said Mavroidis, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University. “These projects will provide major advancement of gait retraining in stroke patients and significant improvement of orthotic intervention during normal daily activities,” added Dr. Paolo Bonato, director of the Spaulding lab and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

The RGR Training device will generate force-fields applied at the patient’s pelvic area to facilitate treadmill gait retraining in patients with abnormal gait patterns (see picture).

Under the AKROD project, the team will use data from both normal volunteers and hemiplegic stroke survivors to create training programs for the knee orthosis to assist patients in re-establishing a natural gait pattern. Containing a resistive (variable damper) and an active (torque actuator) component, the AKROD is intended to train stroke patients to correct knee hyperextension during stance and reduced knee flexion during swing.

Both projects include planned educational activities, such as the initiation of undergraduate students (including students from under-represented groups) to do research in robotics applied to rehabilitation; industry internships; establishing collaborative projects in biomedical engineering and robotics with the Massachusetts high schools to attract new students in this field; and organizing conference and seminar series and creating websites to showcase information on robotic rehabilitation devices.

In collaboration with Northeastern’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship, the AKROD project will also include a one semester student project on market analysis and business planning for new technologies on wearable active knee orthoses.

In addition to the partnership with Spaulding, the AKROD project includes an industry collaboration between Northeastern and WGI, Inc., a Massachusetts-based leading supplier of precision parts and assemblies for aerospace, industrial and medical applications. Last year, the university and the company signed an R&D licensing agreement for Electro-Rheological Fluid (ERF) – otherwise known as “smart fluid” – technology. ERF is the foundation of a series of devices invented by Mavroidis and his team, including AKROD.

For more information, please contact Renata Nyul at 617-373-7424 or at r.nyul@neu.edu.

For more information, please contact Renata Nyul at 617-373-7424 or at r.nyul@neu.edu.

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