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October 15, 2018

Engineering soft robots for paradigm shift in rehabilitation

Harvard team is advancing soft, wearable robots with embedded sensors for hand and arm rehabilitation

Tim Gatautis suffered a spinal cord injury in a swimming accident nearly a decade ago, and he's had to use a wheel chair ever since. He'd like to be able to do more for himself and that's what brings him here to the Wyss Institute and the Biodesign Lab in the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University.

Gatautis is testing out new wearable robotic devices designed for hand and arm rehabilitation, and the experience is making him feel much more hopeful about living more independently.

That's one of the goals of designer roboticist, Conor Walsh. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Walsh and team are developing lightweight, soft, wearable robots that people can wear all day, every day, to help them regain use of their upper extremities. Walsh wants to shift the paradigm of rehabilitation from one where the therapist manipulates the fingers and thumb through some range of motion to one where a soft robotic glove can help the patient do the work themselves.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1454472, CAREER: Soft Robotics for Upper Extremity Rehabilitation. CAREER is NSF's Faculty Early Career Development program.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.