Fraunhofer IPK

Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology

Rehabilitation Robotics Work Group

In Germany alone, over 200,000 people a year suffer a stroke. The majority of them experience partial paralysis or even a complete loss of voluntary motor function. The rehabilitation robotics work group is developing robot-assisted exercise devices that significantly improve the rate of success in neurological rehabilitation therapy for relearning movement abilities.

Neurological rehabilitation treatment for relearning movement abilities after a stroke, paraplegia or traumatic brain injury is based on intensive movement therapy over a period of several weeks and months, sometimes even years. This therapy helps patients relearn everyday arm, hand and leg movements such as walking and climbing stairs, gripping, eating, drinking, and writing. The arms and legs of the patient are repeatedly ­guided in natural motions so that the healthy areas of the brain can successively learn how to control the paralyzed extremities. Robot-assisted therapy exercise devices can relieve therapists of heavy, monotonous physical work, while at the same time increasing the intensity of the patients' therapy. Clinical studies on patients treated using robot-assisted therapy exercise devices show a greatly improved rate of success compared to patients treated using conventional therapy.

Learning to walk again

The robot-assisted walking simulator HapticWalker was developed at Fraunhofer IPK to aid people in learning to walk again. It is the first device in the world to allow patients to practice any conceivable walking movement, such as walking on a flat surface or climbing stairs, by providing full guidance for the foot. The high dynamic response of the drives in the machine also means that, for the first time, disturbances in walking, such as uneven ground, stumbling and slipping, can be simulated as well. This is very important in ensuring good results from the therapy. The device also has a built-in man-machine interaction system, which uses force-moment sensors integrated into the foot plates and intelligent control algorithms to reduce the degree of support provided to match the patient's learning progress. An intelligent sensor data processing system provides new opportunities for online walking analysis, biofeedback and quality assurance during rehabilitation.

Remote therapy support at home

To ensure that patients at home continue to receive a similar level of therapy to the one they receive at a hospital, we have developed solutions for remote-controlled movement ­therapy based on intelligent, robot-assisted therapy exercise devices. These telerehabilitation systems offer patients the opportunity to receive remote support from a therapist in a rehab center or local branch for the exercises they carry out at home. This is made possible via an extended telemedical connection between the patient and their doctor or therapist. Both parties can communicate with each other via the telerehabilitation system using video, audio and, for the first time, haptic communication (force feedback). The system thus transfers the personal presence, aid and motivational support of the therapist into the patient's home.