Exploiting telerobotics for sensorimotor rehabilitation: a locomotor embodiment
Min Hyong Koh, Sheng-Che Yen, Lester Y. Leung, Sarah Gans, Keri Sullivan, Yasaman Adibnia, Misha Pavel, Christopher J. Hasson
Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Background Manual treadmill training is used for rehabilitating locomotor impairments but can be physically demanding for trainers. This has been addressed by enlisting robots, but in doing so, the ability of trainers to use their experience and judgment to modulate locomotor assistance on the fly has been lost. This paper explores the feasibility of a telerobotics approach for locomotor training that allows patients to receive remote physical assistance from trainers. Methods In the approach,
... trainer holds a small robotic manipulandum that shadows the motion of a large robotic arm magnetically attached to a locomoting patient's leg. When the trainer deflects the manipulandum, the robotic arm applies a proportional force to the patient. An initial evaluation of the telerobotic system's transparency (ability to follow the leg during unassisted locomotion) was performed with two unimpaired participants. Transparency was quantified by the magnitude of unwanted robot interaction forces. In a small six-session feasibility study, six individuals who had prior strokes telerobotically interacted with two trainers (separately), who assisted in altering a targeted gait feature: an increase in the affected leg's swing length. Results During unassisted walking, unwanted robot interaction forces averaged 3−4 N (swing–stance) for unimpaired individuals and 2−3 N for the patients who survived strokes. Transients averaging about 10 N were sometimes present at heel-strike/toe-off. For five of six patients, these forces increased with treadmill speed during stance (R2 = .99; p < 0.001) and increased with patient height during swing (R2 = .71; p = 0.073). During assisted walking, the trainers applied 3.0 ± 2.8 N (mean ± standard deviation across patients) and 14.1 ± 3.4 N of force anteriorly and upwards, respectively. The patients exhibited a 20 ± 21% increase in unassisted swing length between Days 1−6 (p = 0.058). Conclusions The results support the feasibility of locomotor assistance with a telerobotics approach. Simultaneous measurement of trainer manipulative actions, patient motor responses, and the forces associated with these interactions may prove useful for testing sensorimotor rehabilitation hypotheses. Further research with clinicians as operators and randomized controlled trials are needed before conclusions regarding efficacy can be made.