Preliminary Specifications for an Exoskeleton for the Training of Balance in Balance Impaired Individuals

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Virginia Tech

There is a small but growing population of people who suffer from impaired balance. The causes range from old age to stroke to cerebral palsy. For those with only minor problems staying upright, a cane or walker is all that is needed. For some it is so debilitating that they are confined to a wheel chair. The precise cause of impairment can vary. In some, the vestibular, proprioceptive or visual impairments affect balance. In others, muscle weakness or brain damage is the cause. In another group, the brain never learned to balance in the first place. Relearning how to balance can be a struggle requiring months of costly physical therapy with a physical therapist. A machine that could help teach them how to balance would be a great help in the improvement of their lives.

This thesis presents a set of control models for an exoskeleton that will stabilize and restore stability to those with impaired balance. The control models are designed for an exoskeleton to initially force the wearer into a known profile for balancing and moving. There will then be a steady reduction in the authority of the exoskeleton over time, requiring the patient to assert more control over his or her own movement. As the authority of the exoskeleton is reduced, the patient will have to increase his or her own authority and develop his or her own control law or the patient will become less stable and eventually unbalanced.

We expect this treatment method will increase the stability of patients, allowing them to steadily adapt to standing and walking. This will then allow them mobility without the use of a wheel chair and decrease their risk of falling. Further, the use of this device will enable the patients to receive therapy at home and in their normal life without the need to visit a physical therapist for rehabilitation, enabling the patients to receive therapy at home and for a longer period of time than they currently do.

Exoskeleton, Controls, Balance, Cerebral Palsy