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Rehabilitation engineering is the use of engineering principles to 1) create methods, technologies and devices to assist individuals with disabilities and 2) contribute to the recovery of physical and cognitive functions lost because of a disease or an injury. Our lab’s experience in this topic includes the development of the SoftHand Pro, a robotic hand for prosthetic applications supported by European H2020 and ERC projects. Our work on prosthetics is currently funded by the “Natural BionicS” ERC Synergy project (2019-2025). Natural BionicS is an international collaboration of European researchers with the aim of creating fully integrated, symbiotic replacements for human limbs. This collaboration involves three main groups with multidisciplinary backgrounds that combine bioengineering, surgery and soft robotics expertise.
Although prostheses allow the recovery of part of the functions lost after an amputation, the human-machine interface and the mechanical features of robotic devices could limit the performance and development of arms prostheses. The Softbots Lab investigates systems designed and controlled through the concept of soft synergies. This method combines the implementation of simple motor functions, inspired by human arm synergies, with under-actuated systems and soft joints to adapt the system properties and motion to the task requirements and multiple object shapes. We aim at proposing functional and dexterous devices that can still be controlled with few and natural signals from the user. In addition, other key aspects such as sensory feedback are explored in this section to contribute to the full experience of prosthesis users. We have participated in many Cybathlon series, which are events that test and compares rehabilitation technologies in challenging situations.
Godfrey, Sasha Blue, et al. "The SoftHand Pro: Functional evaluation of a novel, flexible, and robust myoelectric prosthesis." PloS one 13.10 (2018): e0205653.
Piazza, Cristina, et al. "Exploring augmented grasping capabilities in a multi-synergistic soft bionic hand." Journal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation 17.1 (2020): 1-16.
Capsi-Morales, Patricia, et al. "Exploring the role of palm concavity and adaptability in soft synergistic robotic hands." IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters 5.3 (2020): 4703-4710.
Capsi-Morales, Patricia, et al. "Exploring Stiffness Modulation in Prosthetic Hands and Its Perceived Function in Manipulation and Social Interaction." Frontiers in Neurorobotics 14 (2020): 33.
Lemerle, Simon, et al. "A Configurable Architecture for Two Degree-of-Freedom Variable Stiffness Actuators to Match the Compliant Behavior of Human Joints." Frontiers in Robotics and AI 8 (2021): 10.
Barontini, Federica, et al. "Wearable Integrated Soft Haptics in a prosthetic socket." IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (2021).
The application of soft technologies to lower limb extremities opened the possibility to design an artificial foot that manages uneven terrain interactions through its intrinsic adaptivity. The SoftFoot is a completely passive system that presents a highly articulated soft architecture aiming at reproducing the main characteristics of a human foot. Thanks to the embodied intelligence of its mechanical architecture, it varies its shape and stiffness in the function of the exerted forces and of the terrain, it walks on. Resulting in an adaptive, versatile, and stable device, it can be applied both on robotics and prosthetics.
Piazza, Cristina, et al. "Toward an adaptive foot for natural walking." 2016 IEEE-RAS 16th International Conference on Humanoid Robots (Humanoids). IEEE, 2016.
Assistive and rehabilitation technologies
We also explore the use of robotic systems for assisting impaired subjects in daily life activities and during rehabilitation therapy. In particular, we have developed a supernumerary robotic limb (SRL) for compensating missing abilities in post-stroke subjects. The SoftHand X consists of an additional robotic hand that acts in close coordination with the natural hand of the subject. The subject controls the device according to his/er residual ability, through the implementation of a variety of input interfaces, which explore different sensor technologies (EMG, IMU, bending sensor, etc.) and body placements.
1. Ciullo, Andrea S., et al. "A novel soft robotic supernumerary hand for severely affected stroke patients." IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering 28.5 (2020): 1168-1177.
2. Ciullo, Andrea S., et al. "Analytical and experimental analysis for position optimization of a grasp assistance supernumerary robotic hand." IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters 3.4 (2018): 4305-4312.
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