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24 August 2021

How robots can help with physical rehabilitation

Research on the design of robot manipulators by Professor Jian S Dai, Professor of Mechanisms and Robotics in the Department of Engineering, has led to the development of robotic therapy devices for the treatment of lower limb injuries.

Independent evaluation has found that the robotic devices provide treatment equal to or better than conventional physiotherapy, but at lower cost and more reliable consistency, in particular for diagnosing susceptibility to falls in older people, rehabilitation for patients with Parkinson’s disease after spinal injury and stroke, and rehabilitation after lower limb trauma.

Two companies, both set up by research students who studied with Jian at King’s, have taken the technology to develop therapy robots that have now been used to benefit more than 11,000 patients over 100 clinics and hospitals in a dozen countries, over 800,000 physiotherapy tratments were delivered. While much of the underlying research is similar, they use two quite different applications of robot technology with one (Movendo) concentrating on a rehabilitation platform and the other ( AiTreat) creating a robot that delivers massage and acupuncture. The larger part of the underlying technology is directly attributable to King’s research, although both firms also have added substantially to that core, for example in diagnostics and supporting clinical workflows, as well as extending clinical applications.

The independent evaluation by Impact Science found that the technology is “part of a wave of clinical robotics which is likely to massively influence or even revolutionise the way clinical massage and acupuncture are delivered, and may extend beyond those core applications.” Practitioners who were interviewed commented on the fact that patients like the treatments: 

“Patients are intrigued … They like the consistency and the [lack of ] worry about who [they] will get. We get a lot of words of mouth; they bring their friends.”

Clinician at AiTreat

Commenting on his work, Jian said:

“When I first started research in machine design engineering and robotics my intention was to meet the various requirements and changing environment. I create reconfigurable mechanisms and robots that are used in healthcare, manufacturing and the home. In the past twenty years, novel engineering designs came up with many ideas that were originated both in daily life, and in origami and decoration. This has become a truly international field that can transform lives.”

Technology & Science

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Jian Dai

Emeritus Professor of Mechanisms and Robotics