As seniors’ sense of balance decreases, their risk of falling increases, potentially leading to debilitating conditions. A new wearable assistive robot could help them by detecting and preventing such falls before they actually occur.
The prototype device, developed by scientists at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, is called the Mobile Robotic Balance Assistant, or MRBA (pronounced “Mister Bah”). It consists of a wheeled, battery-powered base that attaches to a padded harness worn around the user’s hip.
The MRBA robot follows users as they walk around their homes or other environments. Using depth-sensing cameras and other sensors, it is reportedly able to detect cueing movements that indicate a sudden loss of balance for the user. When it does, it reacts by stopping and holding the harness in place so the wearer doesn’t fall.
The robot also recognizes deliberate movements, such as those associated with sitting, rising and standing. In all cases, it provides assistance accordingly. In addition to helping users in their daily lives, the robot can also be used in rehabilitation medicine to pick up wearers as they learn to walk again.
In tests of the technology, 29 volunteers suffering from stroke, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury used the MRBA over a three-day period. the device proved helpful in everyday activities, and no falls were recorded by any of the participants throughout the test period.
The scientists are now planning a larger study and hope the technology will be commercialized next year.
Ang Wei Tech, the project leader and associate professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said, “The MRBA could prove to be a valuable resource for elderly users and help promote independent living and aging.”