Wearable assistive robot developed to prevent falls for Singapore’s elderly

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Researchers from Nanyang Technological University Singapore and Tan Tock Seng Hospital have created a wearable assistive robot that prevents falls and assists in physiotherapy for the elderly. 

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

The Mobile Robotic Balance Assistant (MRBA) has sensors to immediately detect a loss of balance and catches its wearer with a safety harness worn around the hips. It helps users to stand up safely from a seated position and sit down from a standing position. 

The device can also predict potential falls by estimating a user’s state of balance in real time using machine learning and a deep sensing camera that observes their movement.

Moreover, it helps people who are recovering from injuries to do rehabilitation exercises, such as side stepping, balancing on a rocker board, and standing on one leg.

According to a press release, the MRBA comes in three models: one that can carry users who weigh up to 80 kilograms, another that can assist those who weigh up to 120 kilograms, and a third model that supports more dextrous movements.

The assistive robot was tried out on 29 participants, including patients who suffered from strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries, for three days each. Based on the trials, the MRBA was successful in helping them sit, stand, and walk, as well as in assisting in specific tasks, like fetching water. No falls were recorded during the trials. 

The research team plans to expand their study and recruit 71 more participants from rehabilitation centres to build a use case for robots in home and community settings.

Aside from securing four patents for MRBA, they are also closely working with industry partners to commercialise the technology by next year. The team has already received interest from home care providers Ninkatec and Home Instead to adopt the technology.

“In the near future, we look forward to seeing the MRBA improved to an industrial prototype with a software data platform that prepares it for commercialisation,” added Karen Chua, one of the co-leads for MRBA development and an adjunct professor at NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

WHY IT MATTERS

Falls occur among senior folks as balance control declines with age. It is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths around the world, according to the World Health Organization. In Singapore, falls account for 40% of such deaths.

MRBA was designed to assist people with limited or reduced mobility in daily tasks, such as entering and exiting elevators, opening doors, getting dressed, and performing simple kitchen chores, among others.

It could also help promote independent living and ageing, said Ang Wei Tech, associate professor at NTU School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who supervised the technology’s development.

MARKET SNAPSHOT

Fall detection technology has evolved from pendants worn around the neck to wearables that can be worn on the wrist and hips and even as sensors mounted on room walls.

Late last year, Amazon tied up with Vayyar and Assistive Technology Service to add fall detection to its Alexa Together service. The new feature comes with wall-mounted sensors to detect falls, complementing the SkyAngelCare pendants worn by users.

In June last year, Australian wearable tech developer Spacetalk also introduced a fall detection feature in its LIFE smartwatches for seniors. Its smartwatch now has built-in smart accelerometer and gyroscope sensors that continuously record a user’s movements, speed and altitude to enhance the accuracy of fall detection.



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