REHABILITATION ROBOTICSDavid Brown, Ph.D., director of the UAB Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Sciences program, along with HDT Robotics and engineers from Northwestern University, has designed, developed and built an innovative method of therapy for people with locomotor control problems.
The KineAssist-MX, delivered to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in February 2014 after debuting at the American Physical Therapy Association annual meeting, is the first-of-its-kind in the world. The system provides clinicians with evidence-based tools and treatment guidelines to get participants back into the community, moving with greater confidence and more capability than can be achieved using other therapy approaches.
"This device provides the most comprehensive look at how well people walk and what is limiting their walking ability," said Brown. "We want to study the brain after a stroke or after an injury and because walking is so complex it requires a special device to assist and measure and that is what we have created with the KineAssist."
THE KINEASSIST-MXThe KineAssist-MX provides unobtrusive support to participants, allowing them to walk on their own, or with variable levels of support. Participants can constantly challenge themselves, and even lose their balance, without any risk of falling, hitting the ground and harming themselves. The result is a faster and more complete recovery.
The research supporting the system has been presented both nationally and internationally.
Unlike other therapy treadmill devices, the KineAssist is an “activity center” that is 100% user intent-driven. Sophisticated sensors on the device “feel” when the person intends to walk, and will move at exactly the speed desired. This, combined with the completely comfortable body-weight support mechanism, allows people to practice a wide variety of exercises and skills that simulate real-world activities while safely catching them during any unintended loss of balance.
Knowing that the device is completely safe, people are more comfortable during practice with very challenging activities and will work harder and faster to improve their performance.
PARTICIPANTS IN CONTROLThis device caters to participants of many different physical abilities. Those who have difficulty going up stairs can use the novel and sophisticated lift chair attached to the KineAssist. The chair can be placed in any position to help the participant enter the device. It goes up, down, sideways and rotates to help the transfer process, eliminating any need for stairs to get into the very safe device.
“The ideas is that if a participant was very weak and could barely stand up we could provide body weight support and hold them up and have them practice standing,” says Brown. "Many participants we work with have trouble controlling their descent when they are sitting so they just plop down but the KineAssist controls their descent to help improve their sitting and standing.”
The participant is in complete control of the speed and direction of the belt; users can determine if they want to walk forward or backwards. The KineAssist allows participants to self-select the speed of the belt, so users are always walking within a comfortable walking speed. Plus, the belt moves as the participant moves so it will speed up, slow down or stop in relation to the subject's actions.
INTERACTIVE REHABILITATION ENVIRONMENTOnce connected to the KineAssist, a participant is given tasks to complete. These tasks range from walking unaided to walking with random tugs backwards.
“The KineAssist can be used for people ranging from the lowest level of ability all the way up to people who are almost athletic with their disability,” says Brown.
The physical therapist or other researchers can provide body weight assistance at any time if needed. The KineAssist is equipped with powerlift elements, known as PT Rings, that allow the therapist or researcher to raise a participant using only two fingers. Brown explains this technological advancement in musical terms.
"The PT Rings work much like an electric guitar. If you turn the amplifier off you hear very little, but when you turn the amplifier on the sound becomes exponentially louder,” says Brown. “The rings are force sensors that measure the force I provide and then amplify that signal and sends the signal to a motor that provides the extra assistive force necessary to lift the participant."