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A robotic ankle exoskeleton developed at the University of Michigan helps people regain limb function; it is controlled by the wearer's own nervous system.
As the subject attempts to walk forward, electrical impulses from the brain tell muscles how to move.
People with spinal injuries, as well as some neurological disorders, may have problems walking because these impulses do not arrive in a coordinated fashion, or because the impulses are too weak.
The robotic ankle exoskeleton uses the brain's electrical signals to know what to do and how to move.
Electromyography (EMG) signals are processed in real time by a computer; the signals are used to control air pressure supplied to the artificial pneumatic muscle.
"This could benefit stroke patients or patients with incomplete injuries of the spinal cord," said Daniel Ferris, associate professor in movement science at U-M.
"For patients that can walk slowly, a brace like this may help them walk faster and more effectively."
HOWARD, the Hand-Wrist Assisting Robotic Device is a robotic therapy device that may help people regain normal strength and use of their hands following a stroke.
Stroke causes more long-term disability than any other disease; more than 700,000 Americans suffer strokes annually.
The Hand-Wrist Assisting Robotic Device wraps around the hand and, in concert with a computer program, directs patients through a physical therapy session.
The user initiates hand movement on his or her own; HOWARD monitors the movement and provides assistance to complete each activity.
HOWARD does more than provide assistance for muscular development. The system helps the brain relearn how to perform tasks.
Also, HOWARD captures data from each session, providing an accurate assessment of progress.
Patients using HOWARD developed a 17 percent greater range of motion and a 20 percent increase in measured dexterity.
UCI researchers are already at work planning a "son of HOWARD" with improved hand-robot connections and more software options to individualize therapy and keep patients interested.