Robotic Cane Shown to Improve Stability in Walking

By including electronic devices and calculation technology to an easy cane that has actually been around considering that ancient times, a group of scientists at Columbia Engineering have actually changed it into a 21st century robotic gadget that can offer light-touch help in walking to the aged and others with impaired movement.

A group led by Sunil Agrawal, teacher of mechanical engineering and of rehab and regenerative medication at Columbia Engineering, has actually shown, for the very first time, the advantage of utilizing a self-governing robot that “walks” along with an individual to offer light-touch assistance, much as one may gently touch a buddy’s arm or sleeve to keep balance while walking. Their research study is released today in the IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

“Often, elderly people benefit from light hand-holding for support,” discussed Agrawal, who is likewise a member of Columbia University’s Data Science Institute. “We have developed a robotic cane attached to a mobile robot that automatically tracks a walking person and moves alongside,” he continued. “The subjects walk on a mat instrumented with sensors while the mat records step length and walking rhythm, essentially the space and time parameters of walking, so that we can analyze a person’s gait and the effects of light touch on it.”

The light-touch robotic cane, called DOG, functions as a cane-like mobile assistant. The gadget enhances the person’s proprioception, or self-awareness in space, throughout walking, which in turn enhances stability and balance.

“This is a novel approach to providing assistance and feedback for individuals as they navigate their environment,” stated Joel Stein, Simon Baruch Teacher of Physical Medication and Rehab and chair of the department of rehab and regenerative medication at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, who co-authored the research study with Agrawal. “This strategy has potential applications for a variety of conditions, especially individuals with gait disorders.”

To evaluate this brand-new gadget, the group fitted 12 healthy youths with virtual reality glasses that developed a visual environment that shakes around the user—both side-to-side and forward-backward—to unbalance their walking gait. The topics each strolled 10 laps on the instrumented mat, both with and without the robotic cane, in conditions that evaluated walking with these visual perturbations. In all virtual environments, having the light-touch assistance of the robotic cane triggered all topics to narrow their strides. The narrower strides, which represent a decline in the base of assistance and a smaller sized oscillation of the center of gravity, suggest a boost in gait stability due to the light-touch contact.

“The next phase in our research will be to test this device on elderly individuals and those with balance and gait deficits to study how the robotic cane can improve their gait,” stated Agrawal, who directs the Robotics and Rehab (HOLLER) Lab. “In addition, we will conduct new experiments with healthy individuals, where we will perturb their head-neck motion in addition to their vision to simulate vestibular deficits in people.”

While movement disabilities impact 4% of individuals aged 18 to 49, this number increases to 35% of those aged 75 to 80 years, decreasing self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and lifestyle. By 2050, it is approximated that there will be just 5 youths for each old individual, as compared to 7 or 8 today.

“We will need other avenues of support for an aging population,” Agrawal kept in mind. “This is one technology that has the potential to fill the gap in care fairly inexpensively.”

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