Bio-mechatronics and robotics

Rehabilitation technologies and prosthetics

iPAM

Our research in this area involves inspiration from biological systems to design and develop smart systems and devices for medical applications and to assist and support living. The research covers distributed smart sensors, actuators, machine intelligence and control, design and control, including kinematics and dynamics.

The human body combines intelligence with sophisticated sensors and actuators, which makes it a fascinating example of natural biomechatronics and the most logical source of inspiration and study when designing and developing similar intelligent systems. 

Our research focusses on the following areas:

  • Locomotion (human locomotion, locomotion aspect of robotic systems)
  • Intelligent control (artificial neural network, fuzzy logic, adaptive control)
  • Smart artificial limbs and other medical devices
  • Activity monitoring systems
  • Robotic rehabilitation devices
  • The study of prehension and inclusive design.

Our industrial collaborators include: Chas A Blatchford, the largest UK manufacturer of lower limb prosthetics; RSL Steeper, the leading upper limb prosthetics manufacturer in the UK; BAE systems and National Instrument.

Research projects include:

Smart bioLeg

A key feature of human locomotion is its adaptability and robustness to changing situations. For the cases of standing, walking, turning, ascending and descending steps/ramps, and sitting, the lower limb segments and body centre of mass require a sophisticated intelligent sensory-motor-control system to ensure adaptability.

 In close collaboration with our industrial partner research has been carried out in three key areas for the design and development of advanced lower limb prosthetic devices, including:

  • Improving lower limb prosthetic devices through a modelling and simulating approach
  • A mechatronic system for the optimum alignment of lower limb prosthesis
  • A novel biomechatronic above knee prosthetic device based on dynamic coupling effect between the body of the amputee and the prosthetics.

 A large EPSRC funded project is currently being carried out in collaboration with our industrial partner to design and develop the next generation of artificial lower limb: a smart biomimetic, self tuning, fully adaptable lower limb prosthetics with energy recovery.

Smart bioHand

One of the import areas in upper limb prosthetic systems is the control of the device in relation to user intent. This is achieved through the use of myoelectric signal, also called a motor action potential, which is an electrical impulse that produces contraction of muscle fibers in the body. In order to be able to control the prosthetic device the signal should be analysed and user intent extracted through pattern recognition. Research has been carried out in this area with focus on designing and developing an intelligent prosthetic hand using hybrid actuation and myoelectric control.

Smart bandage and activity monitoring

Pressure gradient in compression bandages play an important role in the treatment of venous leg ulcer. Research has also been carried out on the pressure mapping of medical compression bandages used for venous leg ulcer treatment (also relevant to prosthetic stump pressure mapping) with the aim towards smart bandages. Work has also been conducted on the activity monitoring in relation to leg ulceration. Research is currently being carried out in this area to design and develop smart bandages for A&E applications. This work is funded by Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and our industrial partner.

Intelligent pneumatic arm movement (iPAM)

One of our main focuses is on the development of devices to help restore motor function in those who suffer brain injury. Here, a project that has received particular interest is the development of an intelligent robotic system to deliver physiotherapy. Developed in collaboration with Rehabilitation Medicine, iPAM, is a dual robotic system that is designed to deliver programmes of physical therapy to adults who have suffered stroke, and is currently undergoing clinical trials.

Active gaming device for children with cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common cause of severe physical disability in childhood affecting 1 in 400 children. Difficulties with arm movement are common in children with CP. A low cost computer home based rehabilitation exercise system (HB-RES) based on joystick/video games has been developed for use with young children with CP. This allows the children to practice arm movements in an enjoyable game setting where the resulting exercise has potential for therapeutic benefit. A second grant has been awarded to develop the work further.

Prehension and inclusive design

We are researching into prehension (the act of grasping and manipulating objects) and how this influences the ability of individuals to participate in society. Prehension is one of the most valuable capabilities a human being can possess, and is intrinsic to many activities required to maintain independence and quality of life. Whether an object can be gripped and manipulated as intended depends on both the object’s physical properties, and the capabilities of the person using it. Where an individual’s capabilities do not fit with those assumed by those who design the environment and products we need in daily life, the consequence is design exclusion, in which individuals are effectively “designed out” of performing a given activity.

Our approach explores three routes for addressing this: therapeutic interventions, intended to aid skills acquisition and improve individual capabilities; the design of assistive technology to supplement an individual’s capabilities; and inclusive design – rethinking the way we design all products to minimise design exclusion. To this end, we undertake three core activities:

  • Studying the mechanics of prehension to identify how object properties (such as size, shape and surface) and individuals’ capabilities (such as hand size, grip strength, co-ordination) affect the ability to manipulate objects in the ways required by activities of daily living
  • Developing therapeutic and assistive technologies to improve individual’s prehension, with a particular emphasis on play-based therapy for children
  • Developing decision support tools to aid inclusive design: by helping designers to predict the capability demands their concepts place on individuals, we aim to raise awareness of where they are causing design exclusion, and what they can do to reduce this. This also has useful applications for the ergonomic assessment of products in general.

This means working closely with psychologists, physiotherapists, clinicians and sociologists to develop workable technologies, and ensure that the systems developed are driven by the needs of end users rather than by technological considerations.

Research team

For more information, please get in touch.

Professor Martin Levesley
Professor Abbas Dehghani-Sanij
Professor Rob Richardson
Dr Peter Culmer
Dr Andrew Jackson
Dr Ray Holt