Researchers at Columbia University in the City of New York have created a robotic walking stick that can help older people and people with mobility problems.
The team, led by Sunil Agrawal, a professor at Columbia Engineering, demonstrated for the first time the benefits of using an autonomous robot that can walk beside a person to provide support through gentle touches, as one would touch a companion’s hand to maintain his balance while walking.
The study was published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.
“Often, the elderly benefit from a light hand grip to support them,”
explained Agrawal, who is also a member of the Columbia University’s Data Science Institute.
“We developed a robotic walking stick attached to a self-propelled robot that automatically watches a man walking and moving next to him… walking on a floor with sensors that records the length of steps and the pace of gait, practically the temporal and spatial parameters of walking, so that we can analyze a person’s gait and the effect of light touch on it.“
The robotic cane, called “CANINE“, is in fact a “cane” helper robot that helps its user gain a better understanding of their position in space while walking; this in turn enhances user stability and balance.
“This is a innovative approach to providing help and feedback to people as they navigate their environment.”
said Joel Stein, professor of medicine and rehabilitation and chairman of the Department of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, which participated in the research.
“This strategy has potential applications for a range of conditions, especially for people with gait disorders.“
For testing purposes, 12 healthy young people were given special virtual reality glasses that created a visual environment that “trembles” around the user, causing instability in their gait. These people walked with and without the robotic cane. It was found that its presence made them take smaller steps, thereby increasing their stability.
The next step in the research will be tests with the elderly and people with balance and gait disorders.