Each year, hundreds of thousands of people need ankle rehabilitation, and this need is what inspired students at Egan Research Center at Northeastern University to come up with vi-RABT or the Virtually-Interfaced Robotic Ankle and Balance Trainer.
The vi-RABT is a rehabilitation device with two degrees of freedom with assistive and resistive therapy for patients suffering from ankle injuries. The unit is a made up of a stationary platform with two robotic ankle trainers with supportive rails and harness for the safety of the patient.
Sensors in the unit are implemented to monitor and diagnose force and displacement with software that includes a closed-loop control mechanism and virtual reality interface. This interface gives the patient an immersive therapy experience while they are on the vi-RABT. The system has multiple applications for physical therapy of ankle balance, strength, range of motion and other disorders related to mobility.
The frame of the vi-RABT was constructed from T-slotted 80/20 aluminum with gear-motors strong enough to support and train patients weighing up to 300 lbs. Two powerful electrical motors are actuated to deliver assistive and resistive therapy while the patient is in a seating or standing position.
An estimated two and a half individuals out of every 1,000 suffer ankle sprains each year in the U.S., which translates to more than 750,000 people. As the number of stroke patients increase, this type of injury will require a cheap and more effective form of therapy. The team predicts it will have a commercially viable vi-RABT costing around $10,000 in about two years, which is considerably less than similar systems that can run up to $60,000.
Moreover, ABI research forecasts the robotics market will reach $6.5 billion by 2017, and as new technologies are developed more robots will be devised to help in every aspect of life from healthcare to cleaning up oil spills.