Robotic sleeves can provide arm control to kids with cerebral palsy

Children with cerebral palsy might soon use technology to gain some independence. UC Riverside researchers are developing robotic sleeves that provide arm control to kids with cerebral palsy-related mobility issues. Rather than augment the arm like an exoskeleton, the technology will use voltage sensors to detect muscle contractions and predict what the wearer wants to do, like bend the elbow. Inflatable bladders will then push the arm toward the intended destination.

Soft robotics will play an important role. Scientists are building the sleeves using elastic, nylon and other material that will not only be more comfortable, but promises to lower the costs. The creators also hope to minimize the use of electronics.

The project is still in the early stages and is expected to run for four years, with the research team holding yearly feedback meetings with patients, families and therapists. If all goes well, though, kids with cerebral palsy will perform everyday tasks like brushing their teeth without needing help from their parents or a special caretaker. Project head Jonathan Realmuto adds that the technology is "universal" — future iterations could assist anyone with mobility issues, including adults.

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