Strathclyde involved in creating ‘robotic trousers’ to assist elderly and disabled

(8) robotic trousers dr arjan buis

Strathclyde involved in creating ‘robotic trousers’ to assist elderly and disabled

By Émer O’Toole, News Editor


Strathclyde University is part of a project that has created a soft-robotic pair of trousers to assist the elderly or people with disabilities in regaining mobility.

Researchers believe that the wearable prosthetics could give patients “bionic strength” while standing up, climbing stairs and walking.

They could replace the stair lift in the home and have the potential to be an alternative for many wheelchair users.

The team includes scientists from seven UK universities- Southampton, Nottingham, Leeds and the West of England and Loughborough University- and is led by Bristol University.

Their goal is to create a prosthetic that is comfortable to wear and easy to put on without assistance.

The team combined soft-robotic technology with 3-D printing and nanotechnology to create a reactive exoskeleton that works in conjunction with the patient’s own muscles.

The clothing will be equipped with functional electrical stimulation and full-body monitoring technologies that can react and adapt to circumstances to provide the most suitable assistance.

According to the researchers, many devices designed with a similar purpose pose certain health risks such as poor circulation, skin pressure damage, or increased risk of falls.

They believe their soft materials could alleviate these potential problems.

Dr Arjan Buis, of Strathclyde’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is among the researchers.

He will be leading the evaluation of biomechanics part of the project that will contribute to the control algorithms and final evaluation of the technology.

Dr Buis said, “We want to help people not only to become more mobile but to have power behind their mobility. We also want to ensure they have dignity, by being able to put on this clothing themselves and not to have to change it during the day.”

A spokesman from Age Scotland, a U.K. charity devoted to assisting the elderly, spoke to the BBC in support of the project and about the ways technology might be used to assist patients with reduced mobility.

“Reliance on helpers to move around the house or get out and about can limit people’s options in the life they would like to lead so anything that increases the opportunities for independent living is positive.”

This project was one of the three to be awarded a total of $8 million by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) last February.

The robotic trousers were allocated a total of $3 million to fund a three year study.

Phillip Nelson, chief executive of EPSRC, said the three projects would “improve patient’s lives, allow greater independence and benefit patients with a wide range of mobility and co-ordination difficulties.

With the U.K.’s aging population and a rise in disabilities, this highlights one area of EPSRC investment in healthcare research which had a national impact.”

The project is one of three to receive funding after being developed using EPSRC’s creative workshop approach, known as a sandpit.

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