With Robotic Exoskeleton, Scientists Teach Kids to Crawl
To detect cerebral palsy in infants, researchers at the University of Oklahoma have developed a motorized robot for children to wear, tracking brain activity and muscle coordination using artificial intelligence.
The robot—a cross between an exoskeleton, a skateboard, and a onesie—is designed to prevent muscle atrophy in children who have difficulty crawling. By making moving easier, the theory goes, kids will develop their muscles and the brain waves that activate them.
The wearable robot, called Self-Initiated Prone Progression Crawler (SIPPC), has been in development for years and is now on its third prototype. In a presentation last summer, Oklahoma engineering professor Andrew Fagg and his team said they initially plan a research fleet of more than 20 robots.
SIPPC’s appearance is rather alarming, and it wouldn’t be out of place on the set of a science-fiction movie. It’s made up of what appears to be a regular onesie, albeit with several sensors attached and a giant collection of cables that snakes out of the child’s back to plug into a small form factor computer.
In one iteration, the robot forms an exoskeleton that suspends the child from a tripod-like structure. In another, the child scoots across the floor stomach first on a padded, wheeled cart similar to a skateboard.
The sensors monitor the crawling movements and send data back to the computer, where artificial intelligence algorithms are able to recognize certain types of activity. More sensors connected to the child’s head allow the algorithms to create an image of brain waves that doctors can then study.
“As soon as you start to crawl, the world seems like a much bigger place,” Fagg told IEEE. “We hope, with the crawling, we’ll set them up to build other capabilities that will be really important later on in life.”
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