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News

Robots with patients

ABB Automation Technologies : 01 March, 2007  (Company News)
ABB robots will soon help stroke patients overcome paralysis by standing in for busy physiotherapists. Stroke often results in permanent paralysis to one side of the body with 80 percent of survivors facing significant impairment and one in three requiring daily assistance.
Repeated flexing of paralyzed limbs by a physiotherapist is known to trigger a recovery of feeling but it requires an investment of time that many therapists can’t spare.

A paralyzed arm, for example, will require at least 40 minutes of flexing twice a day for a month, followed by many more months of continuing attention.

The good news is that ABB robots have been enlisted to help with this repetitive motion, and their patients are enjoying a marked improvement.

In 1999, researchers at Hungary's Budapest University of Technology and Economics became the first to adapt a line of mass-produced, industrial robots to treat one-side paralysis.

The REHAROB Therapeutic System is programmed using an initial demonstration with the patient.

The REHAROB Therapeutic System uses two ABB industrial robots, IRB 140 and IRB 1400, working in tandem to mimic the required human motion.

The physiotherapist programs the robotic system by doing exercises with the patient and tailoring each movement as needed. The order of exercises, speed and number of repetitions can be fine-tuned in a complex program.

The system measures each move for force and torque. It previously relied on two S4C Plus control units but will soon be installed with a new gene- ration of ABB control software, IRC5 Multimove and ForceControl, for faster response.

Supervisors need not apply
Although the robots would never replace the therapist, the robot of the REHAROB Therapeutic System can administer the program without personal supervision by medical staff.

Patients in trials found the exercises performed by robots were just as effective and calming as the ones by a physiotherapist.

And the robots will keep detailed records of physical responses to the exercises, which will help the therapist to monitor progress and refine the treatment.

Safety first
Like their counterparts in non-medical roles, these two-armed ABB robots are reprogrammable manipulators that move through a prescribed path at a defined velocity and orientation.

With patient safety in mind, their maximum speed has been reduced from 3 m/s to 0.25 m/s. The custom-made braces that hold a patient’s upper and lower arm, for example, are equipped with a safety release that is immediately triggered by an emergency signal from the patient, therapist, or REHAROB system.

Funded by the European Commission and Hungarian Medical Research Council, the prototype has been tested in 270 hours of robotic therapy without adverse incidents. The first trial demonstrated safety, reliability, and ease of operation for therapists.

REHAROB project coordinator Dr. Gusztav Arz expects to obtain medical certification in 2007, following the upcoming retrofit with new IRC5 control options ForceControl and MultiMove, and then see the system installed for regular use in hospitals. “Embryonic business plans” are already in place, he said.
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