University Of Wyoming Team Trains 'Rehab Robots' To Help With Physical Therapy

Oct 2, 2020

A trunk exoskeleton worn by a study participant.
Credit Domen Novak

A University of Wyoming team is exploring how robots can help with physical therapy.

The technology is meant to help with recoveries after a stroke and lower back injuries. UW associate professor of electrical engineering Domen Novak said these two problems are all too common.

He said his team is developing a game for stroke patients that will encourage them to move their injured arms in a way that improves motor skills. They are also developing an exoskeleton robot that runs along the outside of the spine.

"What we would like to do with an exoskeleton is basically provide support so that people who are doing, like heavy lifting, are less likely to get injured and people who already have an injury are going to be able to perform rehabilitation more effectively," said Novak.

He said the technology might make rehab more fun and therefore more effective for patients on their own.

"There have been big clinical trials comparing effectiveness that have basically found that robots will outperform usual care, they will not outperform an expensive therapist that you pay to just do one-on-one work with you," he said.

Novak said the robots are a big up front investment, but will eventually pay for themselves because the maintenance is cheaper than physical therapy specialists. The team is currently teaching the robots how to receive feedback from the user. The goal is for the robots to learn to adapt to whatever assistance the patient needs.

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