A team of Columbia Engineering, led by an Indian scientist, has invented a robotic device that can be used to help and train people with spinal cord injuries to sit more steadily by enhancing their trunk control, gaining an extended active workspace without falling over or using their hands to balance. Spinal cord injuries (SCI), including loss of mobility and sensation, can cause devastating damage.
“We designed TruSt for people with SCIs who are typically wheelchair users. We found that TruST not only prevents patients from falling, but also maximises trunk movements beyond patients’ postural control, or balance limits,” said Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering and of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine.
The research, published in the journal Spinal Cord Series and Cases, is the first to assess and identify patients with spinal cord injuries ‘ sitting workspace based on their active trunk control with the aid of the robotic device” Trunk-Support Trainer (TruST).
The robotic trunk is a motorized cable driven belt mounted on the user’s torso to assess the postural control limits in people with spinal cord injuries and the sitting workspace area. When the individual conducts upper body motions beyond the limits of postural stability when seated, it imposes forces on the torso.
The Postural Star-Sitting Test, a modified postural test that allowed them to follow a ball with their head and move their trunk as far as possible, without using their hands, tested the five patients who participated in the pilot study.
The study to replicate in eight directions, and each individual’s sitting workspace determine by the researchers using the results. The team then modified the robotic system to apply personalized assistive force fields. This is on the torso for each subject, while the subjects again made the same movements.
TruST Personalizes User’s Posture Direction
With the ‘ TruST, ‘ during the trunk excursions, the participants were able to reach further in all eight directions. It extend the sitting workspace around their bodies substantially. An average of about 25 percent more.
“The capacity of ‘TruST’ to deliver continuous force-feedback personalised for the user’s postural limits. It opens new frontiers to implement motor learning-based paradigms. This is to retrain functional sitting in people with SCI,” said Victor Santamaria. He is a physical therapist, postdoctoral researcher in Agrawal’s Robotics and Rehabilitation Laboratory.
Also, within a curriculum model, Agrawal’s team is now investigating the use of TruST. So, this is to improve trunk function for adults and children with spinal cord injury.
“Also, the robotic platform to use to train participants with the SCI. Further, this is by challenging them to move their trunk over a larger workspace. Also, with the TruST providing assist-as-needed force fields to safely bring the subjects back to their neutral sitting posture,” elaborated Agrawal.
“So, this force field to adjust to the needs of the participants over time. Also, they improve their workspace and posture control,” he added.