Patients recovering from stroke or spinal cord injury demonstrate improved gait performance with a new and smart robotic support environment. Scientists from TU Delft, together with colleagues from Switzerland, report on their findings in Science Translational Medicine this week.

Robotic support environment

Often taken for granted, gravity—the force that keeps you on the ground—becomes a notable challenge during rehabilitation from injury. Scientists and doctors from the Netherlands and Switzerland have now realized a robotic training environment that defies gravity to test whether individually tailored upward and forward forces, applied to the torso via a harness, can help improve locomotion of recovering patients. Amongst others, TU Delft worked together with the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich, EPFL and ETHZ. 

Clinical trial

Patients recovering from stroke or spinal cord injury demonstrated improved gait performance with the smart robotic support. An important component of the gravity-assistive approach is an algorithm that adjusts the forces provided by the robotic device according to the patient’s needs. Patients unable to walk without assistance (non-ambulatory) were able to walk naturally with the system, whereas ambulatory patients exhibited improved skilled locomotion such as balance, limb coordination, foot placement, and steering. A clinical trial using this robot-assistive rehabilitation approach for patients with spinal cord injury is currently under way. The main contribution from TU Delft to the paper, especially coming from Heike Vallery, was the co-development of the robotic experimental environment.

RYSEN

Now that the researchers understand better how to apply forces to the trunk in order to facilitate walking in people with gait disabilities, they are building a device that will enable implementation of this smart walk assist: the new rehabilitation robot RYSEN. The robot is a follow-up device that TU Delft is developing together with the Dutch company Motek, EPFL, the Swiss company G-Therapeutics and the rehabilitation hospital CRR SUVA in Sion, within a collaborative Eurostars project. A prototype of this robot is under development in the ‘gait lab’ at the Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering in Delft (another one is in Sion, Switzerland). Together with postdoctoral researcher Michiel Plooij, dr. Vallery is involved in the entire development of this new robot (concept, hardware and control). Motek is also making development of the RYSEN public this week at the ICORR 2017, the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics in London.

More information: Heike Vallery, h.vallery@tudelft.nl