Robot Therapy


Professor engineers an electronic playmate to help children with cerebral palsy

Robot

For physical therapists, children with cerebral palsy present a unique challenge. The children see and understand, but because they lack control over their movements, they can’t easily repeat modeled movements. Making an assessment can be difficult. The solution may look like a toy — a robot that can play with children with cerebral palsy and be programmed to their individual needs. The robot can also collect data to help the physical therapist design the most helpful care.

That’s the vision of Yu-Ping Chen, assistant professor of physical therapy at Georgia State. She has built a playmate robot for children with cerebral palsy. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.For physical therapists, children with cerebral palsy present a unique challenge. The children see and understand, but because they lack control over their movements, they can’t easily repeat modeled movements. Making an assessment can be difficult.

The solution may look like a toy — a robot that can play with children with cerebral palsy and be programmed to their individual needs. The robot can also collect data to help the physical therapist design the most helpful care.

“Children with cerebral palsy don’t have very much control over their movements,” Chen said. “So, we decided to use a robot as a play- mate and at the same time ask the robot to become an evaluation tool.”

The new, small robot fills a need for kids with the disease who have been overlooked by technological progress. Robotic assistance has helped many people with cerebral palsy improve their quality of life, but these machines are designed for adults, not children. They don’t fit children’s size or developmental stage. They’re not created as an appealing, animated, lifelike toy like the one taking shape at Georgia State.

Cameras in the robot’s eyes record the range and speed of the child’s movements. These data will help create an assessment, and the robot is also programmed to play with the child to improve motor skills and muscle control in children.