Robotic Sleeves Could Help Children With Cerebral Palsy

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The main types of cerebral palsy (Credit: cerebralpalsyscotland.org.uk)

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability in children. The condition, which affects about 1 in 345 children, can make daily activities like walking, eating, or even lifting a cup difficult. A team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside (UCR) hopes to alleviate the daily struggles with robotic clothing that will allow kids with cerebral palsy to better control their arm movements.

Wearable robotic units, like exoskeletons, to help people with mobility issues have been around for many years. However, they are rigid and uncomfortable to wear. The UCR team plans to use lightweight materials to create a robotic sleeve that is cheap, durable, and, most importantly, comfortable to wear on a daily basis.

"Hard materials don't interact well with humans," said Jonathan Realmuto, UCR assistant professor of mechanical engineering and project lead. "What we're going for by using materials like nylon and elastic are essentially robotic garments."

A concept illustration of the UCR robotic sleeve (Credit: Jonathan Realmuto/ UCR)

The scientists envision the robotic sleeves to have sealed areas that can be inflated. When filled with air, they would become temporarily rigid and provide the force needed for movement. The clothing will be fitted with sensors to detect small muscle contractions and anticipate what the wearer wants to do. The inflated bladders will then help move the arm to complete the intended action.

"If we can help kids brush their own teeth, pour water or open doors, actions that others take for granted, it's a huge win for them," Realmuto stated in a press release. "But it's also a huge win for their families and caretakers."

The UCR engineers are not the only ones working on soft robotic clothing to help those with motor disabilities. San Francisco-based startup CIONIC is on a similar mission. The company's first product, the CIONIC Neural Sleeve, is designed to improve mobility for people with conditions like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and stroke. Jeremiah Robison, the founder of CIONIC, was inspired to develop the product after seeing his daughter struggle with cerebral palsy.

Resources: eandt.theiet.org, engadget.com.

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