New robotic walker helps patients walk with a natural gait

The robotic walker moves with the user, instead of keeping them confined to a treadmill

It can be a laborious business, teaching people such as victims of strokes or brain injuries to walk again. Often, multiple physiotherapists are required to hold patients up while they walk on a treadmill, while also manually moving their legs to achieve the proper gait. Soon, however, a robotic walker developed at the National University of Singapore could make the process considerably easier.

Designed by a team led by Assistant Professor Yu Haoyong, the omni-directional platform supports the patient's body weight as they walk across the floor, while also providing powered support for movements of their pelvis and trunk. Force sensors detect the direction in which the patient wishes to move, and respond by moving the walker with them in that direction.

It additionally incorporates a network of body-mounted sensors, that it uses to determine the patient's current gait. In order to correct flaws that it detects within that gait, the walker delivers electrical stimulation to selected muscles, at key points within the stride. Therapists can also set the walker to provide resistive force, to provide patients with resistance training.

While all this is happening, the system collects data regarding the patient's gait and muscle activation patterns. Therapists can then view that data, to track the patient's recovery process.

Yu is now planning on commercializing the technology, via Singapore-based engineering company Hope Technik. "Our vision is for the robotic walker to be installed at outpatient clinics and rehabilitation centers to benefit patients who need therapy sessions," he said. "There is also a possibility that patients can perform exercises in the comfort of their own homes."

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