Modular, customizable exoskeletons for patients with neurological disorders

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The Biomechanical Engineering Lab (BIOMEC) of the Research Centre for Biomedical Engineering (CREB) is participating in the project TAILOR: Personalized Robotic and Neuroprosthetic Modular Wearable Systems for Assistance of Impaired Walking. The aim of this project is to develop exoskeletons and modular neuroprostheses that can be adapted to the specific walking impairments of each neurological patient.

The objective of TAILOR is to conceive and design an exoskeleton as a platform comprised of modules, each for one joint of the lower limb (hip, knee or ankle), with actuators and sensors selected to meet the requirements of the device. The project is focused on a “user-centred design” approach. Consequently, the final users of these systems, including people with neurological disorders, clinical staff and carers, are involved in all stages of the project: from the definition of the initial requirements to the final assessment, with close interaction during the prototype design phases.

TAILOR has three sub-projects, each with a three-year duration. The Spanish National Hospital of Paraplegics (HNP) leads the first of the three parts of the project, in which the Guttmann Institute of Barcelona also participates. It focuses on the development of walk metrics to adapt them to each person’s specific walking impairments, and to implement user-centred design strategies to analyse the requirements, preferences and expectations of final users, in order to incorporate them into all phases of the development and analysis of systems.

The Neural Rehabilitation Group of the Cajal Institute (CSIC) is working on the second part of the project to develop modular neuroprostheses. In other words, it is focusing on the design and connection in network of robotic modules to cover the functional electrical stimulation of the musculature. This enables modules to be combined to mobilise different joints through stimulation. In addition, the idea includes hybrid control strategies to assist the user’s walk which effectively combine stimulation of the musculature given by the neuroprosthesis with a robot actuator.

The aim of the third part, carried out by the Biomechanical Engineering Laboratory (BIOMEC), is to develop the modular exoskeletons and the simulation platform.

In addition, as part of TAILOR, BIOMEC is investigating the possibility of virtually simulating on a computer the effect of robot assistance on the patient’s mobility. To achieve this, the walk of the patient in movement is captured, the modules (exoskeleton and/or neuroprosthesis) are integrated into the simulation software and the effect of the system on the patient’s walk is verified. The simulation tool enables customised assistance technology to be designed for the walk of each patient, to create lighter and more affordable systems, and to reduce the time it takes for patients to adapt to the assistance device.

The project is funded by the Spanish National Research and Development Plan of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, and is coordinated by the National Hospital of Paraplegics of Castella-la Manxa. Other participants are BIOMEC of the CREB, the Cajal Institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Guttmann Institute of Barcelona.



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