Innovative walking aid acts as unique mobile assistant for people with reduced mobility
A team of researchers from US-based Columbia Engineering have combined electronics and computation technology with a simple cane to provide light-touch assistance for people with restricted mobility.
The innovative research could pave the way for a new assistive device to help provide additional support to elderly and disabled people through improving their balance and stability.
Led by Sunil Agrawal, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at Columbia Engineering, the research team demonstrated the benefit of using an autonomous robot that “walks” alongside a person to provide light-touch support.
“Often, elderly people benefit from light hand-holding for support,” explained Sunil. “We have developed a robotic cane attached to a mobile robot that automatically tracks a walking person and moves alongside.
“The subjects walk on a mat instrumented with sensors while the mat records step length and walking rhythm, essentially the space and time parameters of walking, so that we can analyze a person’s gait and the effects of light touch on it.”
The robotic cane, called CANINE, acts as a mobile assistant to individuals with mobility impairments and enhances their self-awareness in space, during walking, which in turn improves stability and balance.
During the testing phase, the research team fitted 12 healthy young people with virtual reality glasses that created a visual environment that shakes around the user to unbalance their walking gait. The participants each walked 10 laps on the instrumented mat, both with and without the robotic cane, in conditions that tested walking with these visual disturbances.
In all virtual environments, use of the robotic cane caused all subjects to narrow their strides, which pointed to an increase in gait stability due to the light-touch contact.
“The next phase in our research will be to test this device on elderly individuals and those with balance and gait deficits to study how the robotic cane can improve their gait,” Sunil added.
The study – ‘Effects of a person-following light-touch device during overground walking with visual perturbations in a virtual reality environment’ – has been published in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.
To watch CANINE in action, watch the video below: