Engineering soft robots for paradigm shift in rehabilitation – Science Nation

[♪] Mile O’Brien:
Tim Gatautis suffered a spinal cord injury in a swimming accident
nearly a decade ago. He’s been in the chair
ever since. He’d like to be able
to do more for himself. That’s what brings him here
to Harvard University, where he helps test new
wearable robotic devices designed for hand
and arm rehabilitation. Tim Gatautis:
I’ve been telling people about it
because it’s pretty exciting. It has given me hope. It seems like it’s inspired me
to get out and try to do things that
I didn’t think I can do before. Conor Walsh:
So, basically every week or so, we’re testing
a new type of glove, a new type of sensor,
a new type of control scheme and using this kind of feedback
from our participants in our study to understand if we’re moving
in the right direction or not. Mile O’Brien:
With support from the National Science Foundation, designer roboticist Conor Walsh
and a team are developing inflatable, soft robots to help people
like Tim regain use of
their upper extremities. Conor Walsh:
When someone suffers an injury such a stroke or spinal
cord injury, they lose function. So, one of the things
that we’re thinking about doing is how do we help
restore their functions so that we can enable
these people to be able
to be more independent. Our approach in doing that
is creating very lightweight and soft wearable robots that people could potentially
wear all day, every day. Mile O’Brien:
Walsh says some patients could use these wearable robots
short-term to rehab an injury. Others with more serious
conditions might use them as assistive devices
on a long-term basis. Conor Walsh:
Yeah, so I think the field definitely recognizes that some devices are maybe
better for assistance, and some are better
for rehabilitation. But, there’s definitely
a gray area between those two, and where if you’re
wearing a device that’s an assistive device
all day, every day, maybe that’s actually
helping you get better. Mile O’Brien:
The challenge is making the robots comfortable
to wear and intuitive to use. Sensors control
the movement. Kate Zhou:
If we tap on the palm sensor, this is the mode
where we help our wearers like open up
their hand first, and then if you maintain
the contact or tap again, that will help you grip. During our design
we also put a soft release. The idea was that
some of our participants could reach across and hit
the sensor to release, but we also incorporated
another external button. Mile O’Brien:
They are made of layered textile materials, with balloon-like bladders
stitched inside. Conor Walsh:
On the top part of the glove, we might have textiles that
can stretch a little bit more, on the inside part, maybe textiles
that can stretch less, and it’s that difference
in the mechanical properties of those textiles
that when it gets inflated that causes it to have
the motion that it has. Mile O’Brien:
Team member and physician Sabrina Paganoni is testing
new treatments for people with the degenerative muscle
disease A-L-S. Conor Walsh:
Could you see this becoming part of clothing
that you might want to wear? Mile O’Brien:
She sees a growing need for these robots. Sabrina Paganoni:
The need for assistive devices is going to continue
to increase because people will live
longer – which is great – as we develop new treatments.
But, at the same time, we need to be able to give them
not just longer lives, but more fulfilling,
more productive lives. Mile O’Brien:
Tim has been working with the robots
for just a couple of months, but he’s excited
for the future. Tim Gatautis:
It’s easy to get discouraged and think
that you can’t do things, and now that, like I said, with this glove
and the shoulder harness, I just see
different possibilities that it just seemed
like way out of the ballpark. And, now it seems like, I literally have things
in my reach. Mile O’Brien:
Designing wearable, soft robots to help people with disabilities
help themselves – For Science Nation,
I’m Miles O’Brien.


  1. Ivory said:

    So cool

    October 12, 2018
  2. SomeAssemblyRequired said:

    Great to hear Miles O'Brien again!

    October 27, 2018

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