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Research Team Developing Robotic Prostheses to Restore Balance

Photograph courtesy of Texas A&M College of Engineering.

A research team in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University is developing robotic prostheses and therapy devices to restore people’s balance. Pilwon Hur, PhD, and his team in the Human Rehabilitation Group focus on the biomechanical and neuromechanical aspects of human walking and balancing. They are investigating the possibility of creating robotics that can walk like a human and help in the event of an unexpected slip or trip based on customized algorithms the device learns from the human’s behavior.

Hur and his team have subjects with normal walking and balancing ability walk across an oily surface that causes them to slip and experience a controlled fall. Sensors attached to each muscle collect data on the falls and recoveries by measuring muscle activity. Because the researchers believe a neurological command regulates balance, using this data will help them separate the activity into several subcomponents, which will help the group program assistive devices to fit individual walking habits.

In addition to this project, the group is working on a balance device that uses similar biomechanical and neuromechanical understanding to retrain the balance of patients who are prone to falls. It uses a handheld control that stimulates the skin when the body becomes unbalanced, training the brain to recognize imbalance and correct it.

“Human walking and balancing are extremely robust and optimal considering the significant neural delays and information processing times,” Hur said. “There are abundant insights that we can learn from human behaviors and motor controls. Bridging the gaps between bio/neuromechanics and robotics is one of the most crucial steps that my research is focusing on to maximize the outcomes from rehabilitation robotics.”

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Texas A&M Engineering.  

Hur, center, discusses the robotic prostheses with students. 

Photograph courtesy of Texas A&M College of Engineering.