Rice University students started Stewie, their robotic steed, several years ago, but now he has come to fruition, and they believe Stewie will be able to help individuals who have neurological or movement disorders, according to Rice University.
The robotic horse is said to be more comfortable and controllable for riders and could help patients with coordination, balance and posture with 3D movement, known as hippotherapy, an equine-assisted therapy. This therapy increases availability for people without access to a real horse.
“Often, it’s simply an aid to put a patient in a relaxed state to do other therapies,” said Kelsi Wicker, one of the senior engineers at Rice University working on this project.
Stewie uses six computer-controlled motors that attach to aluminum legs giving the saddle free movement in six degrees: latitude, longitude, vertical, pitch, roll and yaw. A computer manipulates the motors, which allow the students to tweak the saddle movements so they match an actual horse.
“It’s similar to what you would see on flight simulators at NASA,” said Wesley Yee, a senior mechanical engineer student working on Stewie.
Stewie is designed to hold the weight of up to a 250-pound rider. Tentatively, the horse could hold up to 500 pounds, but they want to ensure it does not break. They have also designed an additional saddle that is adaptable for riders with different physical builds.
The students have left their design and code as open-source, so anyone who wants to duplicate or improve their research can. They hope Stewie continues to be experimented with to better impact individuals with movement disorders.
Feature Photo Credit: Rice University students presented their version of a mechanical horse for hippotherapy at the George R. Brown Engineering Design Showcase, where they won an Excellence in Capstone Engineering Design Award. From left: Jijie Zhou, Kelsi Wicker, James Phillips, Matthew O’Gorman, Wesley Yee and Sebastian Jia. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)