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Visiting US experts share exciting developments in robotics and AI

Wednesday, 14 March 2018   (0 Comments)
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eHealthNews editor Rebecca McBeth


PICTURE: From left to right - US robotic experts Professor Jim Patton and Dr Arun Jayaraman with Auckland University’s Dr Andrew McDaid  


Two top US experts in robotics and AI are exchanging knowledge and resources with Kiwi researchers on future technologies for neuro-rehabilitation.


Dr Arun Jayaraman and Professor Jim Patton gave a public lecture at Auckland University last month as part of a project funded by a Royal Society of New Zealand Catalyst Fund grant, which supports collaboration between New Zealand researchers and leading international institutes.


Both work at the number one-ranked rehabilitation hospital in the US – the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.


Auckland University senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, Dr Andrew McDaid, is one of a group of Kiwi principal investigators who have visited the facility in Chicago to learn from developments there.


“We are trying to get better collaboration going on around the world to help develop the future technologies for people with disabilities,” McDaid says.


“The collaboration involves knowledge exchange, joint projects, shared resources and facilities, as well as access to new markets for New Zealand researchers and companies.


“The idea is to grow this collaboration wider than Auckland University to include other New Zealand research institutes, clinical facilities and hospitals, as well as MedTech companies.”


Dr Jayaraman told the lecture audience that one of the biggest problems facing the rehabilitation sector is the average 17 years it takes to move a viable technology from the lab to become a commercial product.


“Even though we are doing cutting edge research, this is not translating into everyday practice, so we decided to do something dramatic,” he said.


The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab literally tore down its hospital and traditional research model and rebuilt it as a fully integrated hospital where researchers, clinicians and patients are co-located on the clinic floor.


The aim is to identify good ideas faster and test them to get immediate feedback and make improvements.


Jayaraman’s team is trialling the use of real-time full body monitoring via wearable sensors. These are flexible on the skin and continuously measure things like heart rate, cortisol and glucose levels, speech and temperature.


Machine-learning algorithms are being developed to capture and assess this constant stream of data. Both patients and clinicians can see the data in real time via a smartphone app and adjust their treatments or lifestyle accordingly.


The lab is also trialling the use of a number of different robotics to help patients who have had strokes and spinal injuries.


A robotic exoskeleton has been used to help some patients with acute complete spinal cord injuries to walk every day. Dr Jayaraman says that, in some cases, the injuries have become incomplete, with the patient regaining some bowel and bladder sensation.


The key is to have smart robotics that sense when a patient needs more or less help and adjust their assistance accordingly. In this way, stroke victims have recovered the ability to walk.


“The early indication is that if we want to maintain muscle mass we have to get them moving and walking early,” he told the audience.


“It’s not a one-size-fits-all. We need to choose the right technology for the right patient at the right time.”


Dr Jayaraman said the clinical work being done at Auckland University is some of the best in the world and he is learning from researchers here to inform best practice.



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