One of the most inspirational scenes in the movies is the one in which a paralyzed patient painstakingly relearns how to walk. In real life, however, it’s often hard to find enough qualified therapists to provide timely rehabilitation. The solution may lie in robotics. With the help of neurophysiologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are developing a robotic stepper device that can speed rehabilitation of spinal cord and stroke patients. Taking the place of up to four therapists, the prototype treadmill device is equipped with robotic knee braces that attach to a patient’s legs. Sensors continuously monitor 24 distinct data elements, such as force, speed, resistance, and number of steps. These measurements help therapists evaluate progress and adjust the stepper device accordingly. The experimental device could enter clinical trials at UCLA within three years.
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