Robot-aided rehabilitation represents a step forward for patients with walking difficulties. However, its high price, together with some adaptation and transfer problems, keep limiting its use at present.
In this regard, the Embedded Systems Engineering Group of the University of Malaga, specializing in the design of physical devices to aid users, such as a smart wheelchair, has developed a mechanized cane that can measure patients’ rehabilitation process without any impact on them.
This is a low cost device, adapted to users and accessible to anyone, since the researchers have uploaded its designs, algorithms and electronic diagrams of its pieces to the Internet under an open license.
This cane monitors users’ weight-bearing while walking, providing individualized information on their progress, by means of two embedded pressure sensors placed at two different depths in the tip of a regular cane so that they don’t affect cane ergonomics. Likewise, so as to simplify its use, it includes a wireless charger, and data can be collected by a mobile phone via Bluetooth.
“We seek a minimal interaction with patients, to avoid any cognitive load and prevent any impact on their daily routine”, explains Cristina Urdiales, Head of the Department of Electronic Technology.
Furthermore, promoting direct transfer to the industry is another objective of this project, shared under an open license and published in the scientific journal Sensors. “We have managed to keep the cost of manufacturing the cane below €100”, says Joaquín Ballesteros, the designer, who adds that, thus far, it has been downloaded by more than 150 researchers, from the USA and France mainly.
Experts explain that, in contrast to smart bracelets or watches already on the market which are based on statistics for healthy users, this device developed at the UMA, in collaboration with ESS-H Profile at Mälardalens University (Sweden), adds real measurement of step parameters.
But apart from its medical applications, which enable specialists to control each patient, the cane is also aimed at promoting active ageing. In fact, it is already being tested in the so-called Active Participation Centers.
Adding intelligence by developing a neuronal network, capable of processing and interpreting data collected in the cane, to predict more complex indicators, is the next stage of the project, which represents a step forward in the functionality of walking aids.