Paraplegics, in a project to design modular user-centered exoskeletons and neuroprostheses



The Biomechanics and Technical Aids Unit of the National Hospital for Paraplegics, a center dependent on the Castilla-La Mancha Health Service, participates in a project of the National R&D Plan called Tailor. Its objective is the development of modular exoskeletons and neuroprostheses that allow their adaptation to the specific gait deficits of each person.

The Tailor project uses an approach called “User Centered Design” in which the end users of these systems (people with neurological pathology, clinical staff and caregivers) are involved in all phases of the project: from the definition of the initial requirements to the final evaluation, with close interaction during the design phases of prototypes.

As reported by one of the coordinators of the initiative, the engineer Antonio J. del AmaTo achieve this objective, Tailor develops research in the following lines. On the one hand, the design line, in which different groups of users participate to analyze the requirements, preferences and expectations of end users, with the aim of incorporating them in all phases of development and evaluation of the systems, as reported the Board in a press release.

The development of gait metrics that allow the adaptation and customization of these technical aids to the specific gait deficits of each person. In this phase, we investigate how to evaluate gait function to extract objective data and configure the modules (robotic joints and number of channels of the neuroprosthesis) in a personalized way.

Another line from Tailor conceives and designs the exoskeleton as a module platforms, each for a joint of the lower limb – hip, knee, ankle – with actuators and sensors selected for different needs, plus additional fixation systems, which can be configured and assembled together to respond to a gait deficit of a particular patient.

The Tailor project also develops a new concept of neuroprosthesis that includes the design of the modules and their network connection to provide coverage for the stimulation of the muscles of a joint. The modules can be combined to mobilize multiple joints by stimulation.

This idea also contemplates hybrid control strategies to assist the user’s gait that effectively combines the stimulation of the muscles given by the neuroprosthesis, with a robotic performance.

Motion capture

On the other hand, the Tailor project investigates the possibility of simulating in a virtual way on a computer the effect that a technical aid would have on the patient. To do this, a gait motion capture From the same, the modules (exoskeleton and / or neuroprosthesis) are integrated into the simulation program and the effect that the system will have on the patient’s progress is verified.

The project corresponds to the National R + D Plan, specifically it was funded in the 2018 call: R + D + i Research Challenges projects. It is a three-year project whose completion will take place in December 2021 and is made up of three sub-projects. The National Hospital for Paraplegics coordinates the global project and leads the first of the three parts of the project, in which the Institut Guttmann of Barcelona also participates.

The project coordinators and main researchers for this first part are Antonio J. del Ama and Ángel Gil Agudo and, on behalf of the Guttmann Institute, Dr. Narda Murillo, Dr. Eloy Opisso and Dr. Joan Vidal, who collaborate in the conceptualization of the design and validation phase.

This first part will focus on the development of gait metrics and the implementation of User Centered Design strategies. The second of the three parts of the project aims to develop the modular Neuroprosthesis and hybrid control strategies, coordinated by the Neural Engineering Group of the Cajal Institute (CSIC), whose main researcher is Juan C. Moreno.

The third part aims to develop the modular exoskeletons and the simulation platform, and is carried out by the Biomechanical Engineering Laboratory of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya BarcelonaTech (UPC), with Josep M. Font as main researcher.

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