The brace, called an arm orthosis, grew out of a series of student projects conducted the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for the Massachusetts Hospital School, in Canton, Mass., where student teams, advised by Allen Hoffman, professor of mechanical engineering, have been working on rehabilitation engineering projects since 1989. With advice from Gary Rabideau, director of rehabilitation engineering at the hospital, and input from patients with muscular dystrophy, the graduate students Michael Scarsella, Steven Toddes and Daniel Abramovich developed a prototype of a wearable, powered orthosis.

The orthosis is a brace that fits over the arm. A joystick, held with the free hand, is used to operate motors that flex the arm at the elbow and rotate it to direct the hand to where it is needed. With the brace, the user can grip and move up to three pounds, making it possible, for example, to use a toothbrush or utensils for eating. A lap tray is used as a horizontal pivot point for the elbow, giving the user two degrees of freedom.

Hoffman says the technology has progressed to the point where it is ready for patenting and licensing. "This device could have quite an impact," he says. "We're still in the development stage, but we feel it's a usable device. Right now, these people need assistance in all these activities. This device would allow them to do a number of activities independently."

For his part, Rabideau says the device is one of the most remarkable improvements to wheelchair electronics that he has seen in the last 15 years. "What I really like about it," he says, "is that it actually helps these kids use their own hand instead of a robotic-controlled arm. I think it keeps them connected. It's more therapeutic, more gratifying."

MEDICA.de; Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute