April 17, 2024
Product Launch & Innovation

Soft Robotic Apparel Helps Parkinson’s Patients Walk Steadily

Researchers at Boston University used wearable soft robotic apparel, which is a series of fabric wraps, cables, actuators, and sensors, to help Parkinson’s patients walk farther and faster.

Researchers at the Center for Neurorehabilitation at the university and a hub for Parkinson’s research, hopes this robotic garment may help people with the disease walk more smoothly and confidently.

The researchers had tried wearable robotic apparel with people recovering from a stroke, finding it helped some regain their pre-stroke walking speeds.

They used similar technology for Parkinson’s too. The garment was derived from a model developed for the military by Harvard University’s Biodesign Lab to increase service members’ endurance.

In most iterations, the robotic apparel looks like a highly engineered sports brace, using an algorithm to drive motors and cables that strategically apply forces to supplement muscles and joints.

The version the researchers tailored for the Parkinson’s study featured two bands of which one is around the waist and the other is around the thigh, each connected by a spooled cable.

When activated, the spool turns, retracting the cable and pulling the thigh up. It provides a little bit of force, which is perceptible, but at a very low level.

The robotic garment when first trialed on patients with Parkinson’s disease gave striking results.

When wearing the suit, the volunteer strolled easily down the corridor, arms and legs swinging with a natural confidence.

But when it was powered down, the change was almost instant. The patient staggered, stumbled, shuffled, and grabbed at the wall for balance.

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