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UArizona team developing robotic device for kids with cerebral palsy

(Photo provided by Northern Arizona University Biomechatronics Lab)

PHOENIX — A University of Arizona researcher and his team are working to develop innovative ways to help children combat the physical limitations of cerebral palsy.

“Kids are supposed to be active, playing with their friends and really learning effective movement patterns that will allow them to be independent as they move into adulthood,” Benjamin Conner, a Ph.D. and M.D. candidate at UArizona’s College of Medicine in Phoenix., told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

He and his team are developing a fanny pack-powered robotic exoskeleton for children suffering from cerebral palsy.

“The motors in that fanny pack pull on steel cables that go all the way down to a pulley at the ankle,” Conner explained. “It’s able to assist and resist movements at the ankle while the kid walks.”

The exoskeletons are designed not to fully cooperate with the children wearing the device. Conner says the exoskeletons are equipped with a resistive feature.

“It actually makes walking a little more difficult, the idea being that it’s a therapeutic device,” Conner said.

“It’s demanding that the kids push harder when they take a step to activate their muscles at the right time … it adapts to how the kid walks. The harder they push when they take a step, the harder the exoskeleton will push back and the more it will resist.”

This enables children with cerebral palsy to train their brains, strengthen their muscles and build muscle memory.

Conner’s team has worked with cerebral palsy patients as young as 6 years old.

“Motion is medicine,” Conner said. “To be physically active is such an important part of not only physical well being but our mental well being.”

Conner hopes the exoskeleton will be further developed to eventually work on younger children and adults, and even those suffering from strokes or multiple sclerosis.

The exoskeleton is still in development and the children need to use it in the College of Medicine’s labs so that results can be properly gauged.

Eventually, he wants the children to take them wherever they walk, especially at school.

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