A new project is set to develop a range of soft wearable devices that act like artificial muscles, which are designed to help elderly and disabled people walk and move around in comfort and safety.
The FREEHAB project is designed to fix the lack of easy-to-use dynamic tools to help therapists improve mobility in patients.
The materials from which the artificial muscles are made include 3D-printable electroactive gel materials, and soft but strong pneumatic chains that change shape when inflated and can exert considerable force.
Led by University of Bristol Professor of Robotics, Jonathan Rossiter, FREEHAB builds on discoveries from his previous Right Trousers project, which saw his team develop new soft materials that could be used like artificial muscles.
Professor Rossiter said: “Together with integrated sensing technology, we will make devices that physiotherapists can use to accurately pinpoint limitations in their patients’ movements, thus enabling them to plan personalised training programmes.
“We will also make simpler devices that the patient can use to enhance their mobility activities and exercise with confidence when a therapist is not with them.”
To develop the project, the researchers will work with physiotherapists in the NHS and private practice, and with people who have undergone physiotherapy for their mobility problems.
Following research and development, the aim is to conduct clinical trials and then bring the devices into the supply chain once the project is over.
Philippa Hemmings, head of Healthcare Technologies at EPSRC, said: “The work supported within the FREEHAB project will increase the ability of physiotherapists to support people with mobility impairments.
“It shows the power of engineers and physical scientists working in collaboration with partners, something our Healthcare Impact Partnership awards were set up to support.”
Image: University of Bristol