Tools for understanding and optimizing robotic gait training.
This article reviews several tools we have developed to improve the understanding of locomotor training following spinal cord injury (SCI), with a view toward implementing locomotor training with robotic devices. We have developed (1) a small-scale robotic device that allows testing of locomotor training techniques in rodent models, (2) an instrumentation system that measures the forces and motions used by experienced human therapists as they manually assist leg movement during locomotor training, (3) a powerful, lightweight leg robot that allows investigation of motor adaptation during stepping in response to force-field perturbations, and (4) computational models for locomotor training. Results from the initial use of these tools suggest that an optimal gait-training robot will minimize disruptive sensory input, facilitate appropriate sensory input and gait mechanics, and intelligently grade and time its assistance. Currently, we are developing a pneumatic robot designed to meet these specifications as it assists leg and pelvic motion of people with SCI.