Robotic sleeves can provide arm control to kids with cerebral palsy

Children with cerebral palsy could soon use technology to gain some independence. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside are developing robotic shells that will give arm control to children with mobility issues associated with cerebral palsy. Rather than expanding the arm like an exoskeleton, the technology will use stress sensors to detect muscle contractions and predict what the wearer wants to do, like flex the elbow. Inflatable bladders then push the arm towards the intended target.

Soft robotics will play an important role in this. Scientists build the sleeves out of rubber, nylon, and other materials that are not only more comfortable but also promise to reduce costs. The makers also hope to minimize the use of electronics.

The project is still in its early stages and is expected to run for four years, with the research team holding annual feedback meetings with patients, families and therapists. However, if all goes well, children with cerebral palsy will be able to complete everyday tasks like brushing their teeth without needing the help of their parents or a special caregiver. Project leader Jonathan Realmuto adds that the technology is “universal” – future iterations could help anyone with mobility issues, including adults.

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