Concept image of proposed assistive device. (Jonathan Realmuto/UCR)

Engineers are developing low-cost, robotic clothing to help children with cerebral palsy gain control over their arm movements. The garments will contain sealed, airtight regions that can inflate, making them temporarily rigid and providing the force for movement.

The project will focus not only on constructing the robot, but also on developing the algorithms that teach the machine to predict movements that the wearer wants to execute. The researchers want a volitional controller, so the robot behaves in terms of what the human wants to do.

One aspect of such a controller is using a variety of small sensors on the sleeves to detect small voltages generated by muscles when they contract. These sensors will feed the voltage data into an algorithm that will be trained to extract the wearer’s intention from them.

Using widely available textiles, rather than traditional, rigid materials will likely keep the cost of the sleeves low. In addition, the team intends to minimize the use of sophisticated electronics, which will also help reduce overall costs for patients.

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