Robots may help people with disabilities use their limbs significantly, according to a team of engineers and students from Rochester Institute of Technology.
The researchers say that their work is based on physiological information produced by the human body to improve the performance of external assistive devices, known as orthoses.
It may be noted that such devices enable people with physical disabilities-strokes or major spinal cord injuries-regain the use of their arms and legs.
"The data collected through this project will assist designers and engineers in developing more sophisticated assistive aids for individuals suffering from various neuromuscular diseases and musculoskeletal injuries," explains Edward Brown, assistant professor of electrical engineering at RIT and director of the Biomechatronics Learning Laboratory."
The researcher highlights the fact that people with ailments like muscular dystrophy have extremely weak muscles that waste away over time, and such patients find performing the simplest of physical tasks-like picking up a cup or holding a spoon-difficult.
Brown says that a robotic orthosis may take advantage of patients' residual strengths and any remaining physiological information in their limbs, such as an electromyographic signal produced in muscles, to enable them regain significant use of their limbs.
"Better orthotic technologies could ultimately help people suffering from this disease greatly enhance the quality of their life," Brown says.
The researchers are currently studying individuals with healthy muscles to develop a baseline.
They also have plans to test their robotic system on patients currently suffering from muscular dystrophy.
They say that the results from their project will be used to enhance the development of orthotics technologies, and also contribute to the broader field of rehabilitation robotics, including the creation of better prosthetic limbs.