Kin and Zach presented at the Undergraduate Research Synposium

Kin and Zach presented their summer projects at the Undergraduate research symposium. Kin’s project was funded by UROP where he developed a new mechatronic system to control our neck exoskeleton through eye movements (measured by a gaze tracker). This system will help us study human eye-head coordination behaviors and help people with head-neck mobility limitations to regain normal head-neck motions. Zach’s project was funded by the SPUR program. He developed a reconfigurable room for a biomechanical study where researchers were interested in optimizing room designs to reduce the risks of falls among hospital residents. They both have done excellent jobs to achieve their research goals. Congratulations to both!

Zach in front of his poster.

Zach presenting his poster.

Kin explain his project to a visitor.

Kin in front of his poster.

David Demaree graduated from the UWR Lab

On June 23rd, 2023, David successfully defended his Masters’ Thesis titled “A structurally enhanced neck exoskeleton to assist head movement in ALS patients”. He is the first graduate student graduated from the Utah Wearable Robotics Laboratory. Congratulations to David. We are very proud of his achievement and wish him the best for his future endeavors.

Senior Design Team Presented Their Smart Trainer on Design Day

Congratulations to the senior design team (Tyler Bartunek, Ja-Rey Corcuera, Benjamin Hugo, and Gonzalo Tello) for completing their senior design project and presented it on Design Day. The team was advised by Dr. Zhang during Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. The project was on integrating multimodal sensing and haptics to create a smart exercise training system for domestic use. The product the team developed has received interests from local healthcare industry and the team is planning on pursuing a patent application.

Senior design team (Fall 2021-Spring 2022): Tyler, Benjamin, Gonzalo, and Ja-Rey, from left to right

RATS: The future of neurorehabilitation research using animal models

RATS stands for Robotic Animal Training System, which is a modular, reconfigurable, and autonomous solution for animal neurorehabilitation research. Currently, the system is tailored to lab rats.

Rehabilitation using robots has shown promises in recent years. However, evaluating these robots with human subjects is expensive and time consuming. While translational research using animal models provides an alternative at a faster speed and a lower cost, the study process itself is often manual and labor intensive.

Our goal is to develop a wearable robot for animal research that could automate the research process. Such a robot system could also be used to evaluate rehabilitation principles with injured animals. The insights gained from animal research may be translated to human research and thereby shortening its testing cycle and lowering the cost.

Current System

In our paper published on Journal of Mechanism and Robotics (JMR), we have detailed the kinematics design, physical implementation, and a preliminary testing of the robot with three healthy rats. As shown in the images above, the robot uses a special parallel structure and controls the force and position at the robot tip, which is where the wristband is attached to the animal’s forelimb. A force/torque sensor is installed at the end-effector to measure the force/moments applied to the animal.

To use this robot for rehab training, we have developed multiple force controllers. As an example, a force, which is proportional to the deviation from a desired forelimb path (e.g., a straight-line) was previously tested:

The past, present, and future of the world-first powered neck exoskeleton

An Unmet Clinical Need

Head drop is a devastating condition in patients with a neurological disorder, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In ALS, the patients progressively lose muscle strengths and currently there is no cure. Due to weakness, a patient may have difficulty to hold the head upright or move it around. Head drop also blocks the airway of a patient, making it challenging to breathe, swallow, and speak.

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