Stevens-Developed Robotic “Training Wheels” May Help Stroke Patients Recover Faster
Recovery from a stroke is often a long and arduous process, requiring intensive rehabilitation as an individual relearns how to control muscles. Now Stevens professor Damiano Zanotto is testing a novel idea: to help these patients recover more quickly with the assistance of robotic “training wheels.”
In collaboration with Kessler Rehabilitation Center, Zanotto and his Stevens students are developing a new robotic ankle-foot orthosis, or AFO. The goal is to decrease total rehabilitation time and enable stroke patients to return to typical activities of daily living sooner, and without device assistance.
“We are not looking at robotics as personal aid,” stresses Zanotto. “The ultimate goal is not to have something that works as a walker, cane or smart-assisted device. Our goal is to design a device that can help [patients] recover faster, so that after they are done with training they don’t need the device anymore.”
Stroke is primarily a control problem, Zanotto notes, and some patients struggle with ankle dorsiflexion (pointing the foot upward in a lifting motion to clear the ground while walking). Current types of AFO support the foot, but resist plantarflexion — the downward movement that contributes most of the force required for forward locomotion.
Uniquely, Zanotto’s version of an AFO provides motorized assistance for both dorsiflexion and plantarflexion.
The AFO is worn under the foot and over the calf, with a sensing and actuation unit that minimizes the weight of the device and allows for greater mobility and more comfortable use.
“We want to find or explore new types of intervention to help patients recover better and faster,” says Zanotto, who will continue testing the device.