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Research update


Harmony is a first-of-its-kind, robotic rehabilitation exoskeleton that can provide data-driven and precise upper-limb therapy for people who’ve sustained spinal-cord or neurological injuries.
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2015

A team of graduate students could provide a new method of high-quality to patients with SCI/D

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Robotic Harmony

It looks like something out of Tony Stark’s lab in the popular Iron Man movies, but the new device built by researchers at the University of Texas (UT) isn’t science fiction and could soon be a therapy for people with spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D).
Researchers at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a first-of-its-kind, two-armed, robotic rehabilitation exoskeleton called Harmony.
Created by mechanical engineering researcher Ashish Deshpande and a team of graduate students from the Rehabilitation and Neuromuscular (ReNeu) Robotics Lab, Harmony could provide a new method of high-quality, data-driven therapy to patients who’ve sustained SCI/D or neurological injuries.

Precise Therapy

Harmony is designed to deliver full upper-body therapy with natural motion and tunable pressure and force, enabling the robot to feel weightless to patients.
Its software will give therapists and doctors the ability to deliver precise therapy while tracking and analyzing data.
The researchers believe Harmony will be used to help patients recover strength and motor skills after injuries, and it could help patients recover coordination for daily activities such as eating and dressing.

“Harmony is the culmination of years of research and development in the ReNeu Robotics Lab,” says Deshpande, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “It was specially designed to offer customized therapy for optimal efficacy. Not only does the exoskeleton adjust to patient size, it can also be programmed to be gentle or firm based on the individual’s therapy needs.”
The Entire Upper Body

Harmony’s design accommodates the entire upper body, setting the robot apart from existing technologies that focus on only one arm and limit bi-lateral training possibilities.
It connects to patients at three places on each side of the upper body and features 14 axes for a wide range of natural motion. The UT research team built and tested the first of several Harmony prototypes in 2011. They worked with Meka Robotics in 2013 to select the hardware and construct the robot.

The robot is equipped with a suite of sensors that collect data at 2,000 times per second. This data is then fed back into the robot’s program for an instantly personalized robotic interaction.
With input from physical therapists and doctors, the Cockrell School researchers designed Harmony’s shoulder mechanism to facilitate natural, coordinated motions, particularly the scapulohumeral rhythm. That’s a critical coordinated rotational motion necessary for upper-limb movements and long-term joint stability.

Reducing Recovery Time

It’s believed by researchers that Harmony could reduce a patient’s recovery time because it can adapt to the specific, corrective ways humans learn.
High levels of force control and torque control enable Harmony to gently course correct a patient during an improperly performed robot-guided exercise.
Additionally, Harmony can be programmed to gradually increase exercise difficulty levels. Physical therapists can use the data that Harmony collects during those exercises to chart patients’ progress and tailor regimens to the individual.

Rehabilitative upper-body exoskeletons have been shown to aid in the recovery of strength and motor skills after injuries. However, experts debate about exoskeletons’ abilities to help patients recover the coordination needed for daily activities.
Harmony’s shoulder mechanism assists in a range of motions that are very close to those required for daily activities and the eventual incorporation of a screen or gaming environment to simulate such activities may lead to successful relearning.

What’s Next

Now that Harmony is complete, the researchers are continuing to develop the software and prepare for an upcoming trial period later this year.
Enrollment for the study at the UT campus in Austin, Texas, began in June. The researchers plan to follow it with a study with stroke and spinal-cord injury patients that will compare Harmony’s efficacy with conventional rehabilitative therapy.
For more information, visit utexas.edu.

Ashley Lindstrom is Communications Coordinator for the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas.   n
Harmony is a first-of-its-kind, robotic rehabilitation exoskeleton that can provide data-driven and precise upper-limb therapy for people who’ve sustained spinal-cord or neurological injuries.

 

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