OU Research Team Developing Robotic Device to Aid Infants with CP Learn to Crawl

University of Oklahoma (OU), Norman, and OU Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, researchers received a $1.135 million grant from the National Science Foundation's National Robotics Initiative, which they will use to further their work of developing a robotic device to help infants with cerebral palsy (CP) learn to crawl.

Image of the robotic crawling device prototype courtesy of the University of Oklahoma.

The researchers are currently combining robotics, machine learning, and brain imaging in these efforts. One step toward this goal, according to an article in The Oklahoma Daily, was the development of a kinematic suit fitted with 12 inertial measurement sensors spread throughout that observes infants' limb movements in real time, functionally similar to body suits used in animation movie filming to simulate natural movement. The suit, which fits the infant like a "onesie," was funded by a prior grant and developed by David Miller, PhD, the Wilkonson Chair Professor in the OU School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, and a bioengineering professor; and Thubi Kolobe, Pt, PhD, FAPTA, the Jill Pitman Jones Professor of Physical Therapy with the OU Health Sciences Center College of Allied Health, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences.

The new grant will be used to improve on the kinematic suit, redesign a crawling robot that Kolobe also developed, and perform brain imaging.

The current prototype of the crawling device has a platform with three equally spaced arms to which rollers are attached at the ends. Millar told The Oklahoma Daily that "a force-torque sensor that rests on the wheels measures forces that are up, down, left, right, forward, or backward, including pitch and yaw. The robot combines information from the sensor with information from the kinematic suit to generate motion in relation to the infant's limb movements."

"We are looking for combinations of assists that result in the best incentives for these infants," Kolobe said. "We also want to see if there is a connection between what the infants are learning and what is happening in the brain."

Lei Ding, PhD, assistant professor in the OU School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will then perform brain scans using electroencephalograph (EEG) to determine how the infants' brains respond when they are assisted by the robotic device. The EEG technology will assess brain activity of infants during crawling and provide information about changes that occur because of robotics assists and infant efforts.

Clinical trials to test six infants without CP on the new crawling robot are slated to begin in the spring of 2013. In 2014, the researchers will conduct clinical trials to test 24 infants with CP on the crawling robot. In the latter part of the grant, they will also start working with the transition from crawling to walking but only with infants without CP.

Anyone with an infant who is at risk for CP or severe developmental delays, between four and eight months old, who is interested in participating in these clinical trials, should contact Kolobe at 405.271.2131 extension 47121 or hkolobe@ouhsc.edu

Editor's note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of Oklahoma and The Oklahoma Daily.