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Therapeutic Robot in Development, Aims to Assist Motor Rehab in Children

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The Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) reports that its researchers are collaborating with other national institutions to design a new therapeutic tool for motor rehabilitation for children. According to a university news release, the interactive social therapist robot, built to be completely autonomous, is designed to perceive patients’ reactions and determine if they are executing their exercises correctly.

See the robot in action in this video

The technology has been developed as part of a scientific project known as Therapist and proposes a therapeutic method bolstered by a robot built to look like a toy to avoid any discouragement that may impede a child’s recovery.

The release reports that to date, more than 100 children have evaluated the social abilities of the robot, and some children with motor difficulties have also tried this therapy. The children and their parents, as well as the medical staff who work with them, have reportedly stated that the technology makes activities more fun and attractive for the patients. They also say the robot can serve as a key tool for improving the degree to which patients’ correctly follow rehabilitation treatment, as well as improving the evaluation process, according to an article appearing in the journal Revista Iberoamericana de Automática e Informática Industrial.

The UC3M, la Universidad de Málaga, la Universidad de Extremadura, and el Hospital Universitario Virgen del Rocío de Sevilla, all participated in the research process. The release says that the humanoid robot NAO, which is 58 centimeters high and weighs just over four kilos, was converted into a kind of personal therapist.

The idea is to “create a robot that doesn’t seem like a robot, which seems alive to children, and can socially interact with them,” says Fernando Fernández Rebollo, head of the project from the research group on Planning and Learning (Planificación y Aprendizaje – PLG) within UC3M’s Computer Science Department.

The release states that the second goal of the project centers on collaborating with the hospitals’ medical rehabilitation services in defining therapies in which this device could be used. The scientists emphasize in the release that there is no physical contact between the robot and the patient at any time, nor any risk to the child.

Researcher José Carlos Pulido, from the PLG group, explains that, “The main benefit is that the children see the robot as a friend; they like playing with it and they become uninhibited.”

The release says children at the pediatric unit at the Hospital Universitario Virgen del Rocío, responded affirmatively to the “Do you want to play with me?” that the robotic therapist asked to start the sessions.

Once the robot has asked questions to the child, it then indicates the rehabilitation exercises (a sequence of postures that the child must imitate), carrying them out itself thanks to its articulated body, the release says. When a child fails to carry out the positions correctly, the robot indicates this visually, by the color of its eyes. It then is engineered to use its voice and body movements to demonstrate to the patient how to do the exercise correctly.

UC3M’s work is focused on planning tasks and automated learning, factors that provide the robot the ability to decide which actions it wants to carry out at any given moment, according to Fernández Rebollo. The device also has the ability to adapt to the characteristics of the patient and the rehabilitation session, he says.

Additionally, the release says these robotic physical therapists will be “fine-tuning their performance” thanks to algorithms that Universidad de Málaga is working on and which, as José Carlos González, one of the other PLG researchers at UC3M who is working on this project, notes, will allow the robot to recognize the child’s gestures using a camera. This will allow the robot to recognize when the child is smiling, getting angry, or having a challenge with an exercise, the release states.

The researchers emphasize in the release that further work is necessary to define the metrics for accurately evaluating the degree of success of the new rehabilitation and determining the degree of interaction with the patient that the robotic physical therapist might reach. Its contribution to the evaluation and monitoring of the therapies must also be determined, the release reports.

[Photo Credit: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M)]

[Source: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M)]