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Soft Robotic Wearable Device Aids Upper Arm Movement in ALS Patients

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have developed a groundbreaking soft robotic wearable device that can significantly improve the mobility of people with ALS. This innovative technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach rehabilitation and assistance for individuals with mobility challenges due to ALS and other neuromuscular conditions.

The soft robotic wearable device, described in a paper published in Science Translational Medicine, is essentially a shirt with inflatable, balloon-like actuators located under the armpits. These actuators help the user move their upper arm and shoulder with ease, providing much-needed support and assistance.

To ensure the device is tailored to each user's unique needs, the team developed a sensor system that detects residual hand movement and calibrates the appropriate pressure in the actuator. This allows the user's hand to move smoothly and naturally, reducing muscle fatigue and increasing the efficiency of tasks such as holding or reaching for objects.

In a study involving 10 ALS patients, the soft robotic wearable device demonstrated significant improvements in the participants' range of motion, muscle fatigue, and task efficiency. The device was also easy to learn, with users mastering its operation in less than 15 minutes.

The team, led by Professor Conor Walsh, envisions these robots functioning like clothes, providing comfort and support for extended periods. They are collaborating with neurologist David Lin to explore applications in stroke patient rehabilitation and see potential uses for patients with spinal cord injuries or muscular dystrophy as well.

While the current prototype is designed for individuals with residual shoulder movements, the team is working on developing assistive wearable devices controlled by brain signals. This would enable the technology to help patients who no longer have residual muscle activity.

Although the commercial release of this product is still several years away, the Harvard Department of Technology Development is actively exploring commercialization possibilities. The team is optimistic that this technology will one day improve the lives of people with ALS and other mobility-limiting conditions by providing them with increased independence and a better quality of life.

If you're interested in a robot job or looking to hire a robot worker, keep an eye on the developments in soft robotics and wearable devices, as they have the potential to create new opportunities in the field of rehabilitation and assistive technology.

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