Robotic exoskeleton can improve how kids with cerebral palsy walk

Some amazing work has been done over the past several years developing robotic exoskeletons that can aid adults with paralysis or mobility impairments by replacing the lost function of muscles to restore walking ability. A new project carried out by researchers at the National Institutes of Health is setting its sights a little lower, however. Literally. What NIH scientists have developed is an exoskeleton designed to help kids with cerebral palsy (CP), a neurological disorder that affects movement and coordination. In particular, the exoskeleton is intended to help with a prevalent type of cerebral palsy-induced walking disorder — also known as a gait pathology — called crouch gait.

“Rather than restoring lost function, our exoskeleton was designed to change the way children with crouch gait from CP walk,” Dr. Thomas Bulea, a staff scientist in the NIH rehabilitation medicine department, told Digital Trends. “The exoskeleton does this by tracking the child’s limbs and supplying motorized assistance for knee extension at the appropriate times of the walking cycle. These children have developed their crouched posture to compensate for the way their nervous system developed, and thus, it was unknown how they would respond to this new type of robotic assistance.”

Fortunately, the robotic assists turned out to work well. Of the seven kids outfitted with the robot leg exoskeletons as part of the NIH’s study, six demonstrated improved knee extension and were able to walk better with the additional robotic assistance. “Our results show that the exoskeleton can safely and effectively change the posture of a child while they wear it,” Bulea continued. “The exciting part is that the children’s muscle activity was preserved when they walked in this new way with the exoskeleton, suggesting that long-term use of this device might be a viable way to train a new walking pattern in this population.”

Given that increasing physical difficulties mean that roughly 50 percent of cerebral palsy sufferers stop walking by the time they reach adulthood, this correction of crouch gait at a young age could have a major lasting impact on mobility. “The next step is a long-term study of the exoskeleton for gait rehabilitation in children with CP,” Bulea said. “Our ultimate goal is to train these children to walk in a new way — thus the key remaining challenge is to translate the improved walking pattern we observed with the exoskeleton to walking without it.”

A paper describing the research was published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

If we get a Nintendo 64 Classic, it needs to have these games

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.
Smart Home

I have seen the future, and it’s full of salad-making robots

Think that robots bussing tables, tossing salads and baking bread is a futuristic concept? It's actually not as far away as you might think. Robots took center stage at a food robotics summit in San Francisco this week, where they showed…
Emerging Tech

NASA is building an inflatable space robot named King Louie

NASA is funding an inflatable robot called King Louie which could travel to the stars in deflated form and then be blown up when and where required. Here is why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Meet the gene-edited bacteria that could make cannabis plants obsolete

Ever wanted to brew cannabis like you brew craft beer? At UC Berkeley, biologists have managed to engineer brewer’s yeast so that it produces the main cannabinoids found in marijuana.
Emerging Tech

U.S. police are testing out Batman-style bola guns to catch criminals

U.S. police are taking a page out of Batman’s playbook with a new grappling hook gun, called the BolaWrap, which fires out a kevlar cord able to tie up assailants in the blink of an eye.
Emerging Tech

U.S., U.K. embrace autonomous robot spy subs that can stay at sea for months

Unmanned, autonomous robot spy submarines that are able to stay at sea for months at a time may be coming to both the United States and its ally across the pond, the U.K. Here's what we know so far.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Facebook data security, Ubisoft helps Notre Dame, and more

Join DT Live as we discuss Facebook security issues, Ubisoft's plan to help rebuild Notre Dame, and more. We are also joined by Emily Teteut of Snap the Gap, Jennifer Sendrow of New York Public Radio, and DJ and producer Zeke Thomas.
Emerging Tech

Planet-hunting satellite discovers its first Earth-sized planet

NASA's planet hunting satellite, TESS, has made a new discovery. Last month the satellite discovered its first exoplanet. And now it has achieved another milestone, locating its first Earth-sized planet and a larger sibling planet.
Emerging Tech

Resupply mission carries 7,600 pounds of scientific equipment to ISS

The Cygnus spacecraft has rendezvoused with the International Space Station as part of a months-long resupply mission. The craft will remain docked until July 23, while the crew take in the 7,600 pounds of research equipment it carried.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers surprised to find deep lakes of methane on Titan

In the two years since the Cassini probe burned up in Saturn's rings, data from its recordings is still being analyzed. The latest research has shown that Saturn's largest moon, Titan, hosts deep liquid lakes of methane on its surface.
Emerging Tech

Happy birthday, Hubble! Telescope celebrates with image of Southern Crab Nebula

In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit, where it has remained for nearly three decades collecting information about deep space. To celebrate its birthday, Hubble imaged the beautiful Southern Crab Nebula.