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Idaho researchers could give stroke survivors a second chance at mobility

Blue Sabino
Melissa Hartley/University of Idaho Photographic Services
University of Idaho
University of Idaho College of Engineering students and faculty working with therapeutic robots made to assist in physical therapy.

Stroke survivors may soon have new ways to regain movement lost from nerve damage.

The University of Idaho’s Assistive Robotics Lab developed Blue Sabino, a robot able to identify muscles impaired by a stroke. It uses four detection points in the upper arm where nerve damage often occurs.

“We're focused a lot on assessing people, measuring what their impairment is exactly,” says U of I doctoral student Chris Bitikofer. His work focused on redesigning the existing technology to make it more accurate and practical for patients.

“It gives us a sense of maybe what tasks they might be able to perform and what they might not be able to,” he says.

The two-arm robotic exoskeleton can also help compensate for lost mobility and help patients perform simple tasks, like raising an arm. Strokes often hinder fine motor skills; those effects are often permanent and require constant rehabilitation.

The lab’s eventual goal is to increase the number of detection points to 15, opening the potential for near-complete mobility restoration in the arms.

“We want to really look at full reach and grasp movements on the whole arm all the way from the shoulder down to the wrist and the hand,” says Joel Perry, a mechanical engineering professor at the university.

Both Perry and Bitikofer spoke with Boise State Public Radio News on Idaho Matters.

The lab received money from the National Science Foundation to continue developing the robot, and the researchers say that they are also working with the National Institutes of Health.

This technology isn’t available to the public yet, though the researchers eventually want to bring their work to hospitals. Future devices may borrow from this technology to create what Perry calls “more affordable, low cost, new rehab devices that can make a difference in the world.”

“So watching them progress is really rewarding,” Perry says. “I hope the most rewarding part is still yet to come.”

Corrected: July 13, 2022 at 4:22 PM MDT
A transcription error resulted in the misspelling of Chris Bitikofer's name; the article has since been corrected.
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