UAEU’s smart assistive wearable robot arm for stroke patients to be placed in spotlight at international conference

A pioneering 3D-printed assistive wearable robotic arm created by a research team at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) - designed to help stroke sufferers regain their muscle strength and their confidence, and recover more quickly - is to be showcased to a global tech audience. 

The smart wearable innovation, which is being developed within UAEU’s College of Information Technology, is a practical, lightweight, and low-cost robot aimed at enabling people who have been left with weak muscles following a stroke to grip objects and accelerate their rehabilitation.

Three versions of the device have so far been produced by Dr Fady Alnajjar, Assistant Professor in the College of IT, and his team, in collaboration with Al Ain Hospital, RIKEN research institute in Tokyo and the University of Technology in Sydney. They will now look to bring their work to wider attention when it is presented at the International Conference on Electrical and Computing Technologies and Applications (ICECTA) 2017, which takes place at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah from 21-23 November, and the advanced version of the arm will be presented in IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Brisbane, Australia from 21-25 May 2018.

Dr Alnajjar explained that the device – designed with the input of experienced health professionals - is intended to be used in the post-stroke early stage, helping sufferers to carry out their daily activities, build their self-confidence, and increase their dependency. It operates through various technologies including sound commands, pressure sensors, or muscle activities. 

“After stroke, patients require 4-6 weeks to begin their rehabilitation program, and even then it may take some time before the patient feels any recovery,” he said.

“This delay in regaining arm functionality affects the patient’s confidence and may also cause them stress, while they will constantly require help from others. Our assistive device will help patients regain their independence much faster, and ensure their mood and motivation remains high – an important aspect of recovery.”

The hub for the development of the device is the Intelligent Robotic Interactive Laboratory within UAEU’s College of IT. Originally, Dr Alnajjar and his team were focused on building a rehabilitation system for post-stroke patients with “unilateral; body damage”, but soon extended their scope.

“To motivate patients to become involved in rehabilitation programs, we felt that having an assistive robotic device to support these programs was required, particularly for those who require home therapy,” he said.

“Our assistive robotic device can be used by post-stroke patients who have limited arm function, or even elderly people who experience weak muscles and contractions.” 

As they prepare to display their technology at ICECTA 2017 and ICRA 2018, the team is continuing to test and enhance the device, while ensuring its cost remains within the reach of patients and its functions can be customized to meet individual needs. They are also in the process of patenting one of the three devices, as well as the working mechanism and structure of the robot arm.

“We believe it is very close to becoming a product that will meet the needs of many people in the UAE, and hopefully beyond,” said Dr Alnajjar. “Our hope is that it will support and motivate stroke sufferers to recover quickly, for the good of themselves, their families, and society.”

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Aug 8, 2018