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ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
Section: Science Life
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Published: 20.05.2004, 06:00
Modified: 19.05.2004, 23:40
Rehabilitation robotics
A robot on the arm

Rehabilitation is a major theme in the Swiss Priority Programme in Research "Neural Plasticity and Repair" (1). Specialists at ETH Zurich held an information session for the media on the 13th of May on the development of a new robot that supports arm therapy. In addition, an artificial brain was presented that might soon be used in medical training and diagnostics.

By Christoph Meier

Injuries to the nervous system often necessitate lengthy rehabilitation processes. In small steps and under the guidance of a physiotherapist, patients strain to re-acquire and execute everyday movements. The rule of thumb is that the more one practises, the better the results. But physiotherapists can only offer a certain amount of time and–equally important–strength. Manipulating a patient's legs, for instance, also requires a great physical effort on the therapist's part and must often be carried out in an ergonomically incorrect position for him.

One way out of this situation is to employ a robot therapist. First successful results were presented with the gait trainer robot "Lokomat" at the most recent Brain-Fair (2). Using this appliance patients re-learn, efficiently and in a standardised manner, the movements they have lost. Development of the Lokomat started in 1996 at ETH and the University of Zurich in collaboration with the spin-off company Hocoma AG in Volketswil. Robert Riener, since 2003 assistant professor for rehabilitation engineering at ETH Zurich, also contributed to the underlying research (3).

ARMin helps arms

Riener, however, has not only developed orthopaedic aid therapy for legs. At a media information event at ETH Zurich, on the 13th of May, he presented the robot "ARMin". The name holds a clue; this appliance helps with arm therapy. After the arm of a patient has been attached to the arm in the fitting adjoined to the robot, the latter then carries out the movements of the injured or lame limb following the instructions of a human therapist according to the patient's wishes. The research team conceived ARMin in such a way that it can also recognise intended movements and the usually existing, if feeble, contribution of the patient. This means that the robot adapts itself to the patient. The level of success that can be achieved in physiotherapy sessions working with the new appliance will become clear sometime this summer, when it will be used in trials with humans.


Model of the orthopaedic "arm therapist", "ARMin", that has four rotational or directional freedoms at its disposal (red arrows). large

Blueprint of professorial brain

Besides ArMin, more of Riener's developments were demonstrated at the media information event. The ETH professor demonstrated a plastic model of his own brain. When, for example, he touched a certain place, the anatomical name of this location appeared on the screen of a computer screen, or its cortical relevance of this area, such as the language centre, for example. Another demonstration showed the downloading of nuclear spin data or CT scans that corresponded to the places Riener touched. According to Riener, this new technology will be used for medical training purposes and in diagnostics. In the future, the new technology should also provide the basis for simulating surgical operations.

At the beginning of the media information event, Wolfgang Knecht, the deputy director of the above-named Swiss Priority Programme in Research, started by pointing out how important a structured connection between experimental and clinical research was.

The leg therapist "Lokomat" is already being used successfully. large

(1) National research programme: "Plastizität und Reparatur des Nervensystems":
(2) Cf. ETH Life article: "220'000 Menschen hoffen auf Hilfe":
(3) Robert Riener's research team:

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