To do this, the researchers broke down the physiology of a person’s arm into mechanical parts: a bending elbow, a twisting wrist, and a gripping hand. Electrodes were placed on the person’s arm so the robot could manipulate their muscles using a technique known as functional electrical stimulation (FES). The patients were also blindfolded to keep them from moving the arm on their own–or possibly freaking out like I would.
The experimental trials were successful, but the researchers still call their results only “good enough”. The research is still in an early proof-of-concept phase, as the robot also has to move its hoop after the patient’s arm has been manipulated into the “cooperation zone”. Another issue is that the scientists can only make a patient’s elbow move in one direction and in a plane, and their arm must sit on a surface.
The goal of the research is to create a robot that can help rehabilitate and retrain motor control for patients suffering from paralysis and other disabilities. In the future, the scientists hope to create better results by improving their electrical stimulation system, so they can create more precise movements in more directions.