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Electrical and Computer Engineering

College of Engineering and Applied Science

Dr. Domen Novak's Research

> Visit Dr. Novak's webpage

Rehabilitation robots that are smart and fun

Despite great advances in medicine, humanity still faces countless diseases. Not all of these diseases are fatal; many leave the victim alive, but with permanently impaired motor and cognitive abilities. For example, stroke has a survival rate of approximately 70%, but the vast majority of survivors are left with long-lasting motor disorders. Intensive post-stroke exercise increases the chance of full recovery, but most stroke victims do not receive adequate exercise due to a shortage of qualified medical staff. Therefore, there is an urgent need for rehabilitation technology that would support and complement therapists.

Numerous rehabilitation robots have been developed to assist motor rehabilitation by moving the patient's limbs, and range from very simple devices to full-limb exoskeletons with multiple powered joints. However, these robots have not yet reached their full potential since they do not truly understand the patient's needs and abilities. We are therefore augmenting rehabilitation robots with sensors that can measure the patient's motor performance, level of exertion and intended motions. Based on this gathered information, intelligent algorithms will be able to optimally tailor therapy to each individual patient.

In parallel, we are working on games and virtual environments that motivate patients to exercise. Rehabilitation, after all, is similar to normal exercise: even if you have the most advanced exercise device, you will not benefit from it if you aren't motivated to use it. We are therefore creating games that stimulate the patients' curiosity, provide them with interesting rewards, allow them to exercise together with their friends or family, and so on. By combining games with intelligent robots, we hope to create an effective rehabilitation system that motivates patients to use it and is smart enough to enable intensive exercise.



Figure 1: Two post-stroke subjects play a rehabilitation game with each other using rehabilitation exoskeletons.


Affective computing

Can my computer understand my feelings? Though the question may sound silly, it is the focus of the emerging field of affective computing, which tries to recognize human emotions and respond to them. This is done through measurements of heart rate, sweat, brain activity and other physiological responses. From such measurements, it is possible to infer that, for example, increased sweating and heart rate may indicate stress. Such affective computing has numerous applications, such as intelligent cars that detect when the driver is drowsy or office computers that detect when a worker is too stressed to work effectively. We are exploring both fundamental and applied issues of this technology, hoping to move it from laboratory prototypes to practically usable and beneficial applications.



Figure 2: A subject plays a rehabilitation game using the HapticMaster robot (1) and grasping device (2) while her arm is supported by cuffs (3). The screen (4) shows a game where the goal is to catch a ball (5) and place it into a basket (6).

Contact Us

Electrical and Computer

Engineering, EN 5068

Dept. 3295

1000 E. University Ave.

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307)766-2279


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