NCCR Robotics is a world leader in developing robots that function as assistive aids. Firstly, they can be used to enhance physiotherapy by improving training, thus encouraging the brain to repair networks (neurorehabilitation). Secondly, they can be used as assistive devices to support paralysed people in daily life situations, e.g. prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons. Special wearable systems which are capable of functioning in a wide variety of situations are required in order to provide “real” and comfortable support for a large spectrum of daily activities (e.g. walking, standing, grasping and manipulation) to many different user groups (e.g. stroke patients [CVA], spinal cord injured patients [SCI] and elderly people) in clinical rehabilitation sessions as well as at home, at work and during leisure time.
While current wearable robots are making huge advances in the lab, there is some way to go before they make it into everyday life for people with disabilities. In order to be functional, robots must work with the user and not cause damage or irritation (in the case of externally worn devices) or be rejected by the host (in the case of implants), they must have their own energy source that does not need to be constantly plugged in or re-charged and they need to be affordable.
The goal of the NCCR Grand Challenge on Wearable Robotics (WR-GC) is to develop a novel generation of wearable robotic systems, which will be more comfortable for patients and more extensively usable in a clinical environment. These new technological solutions will help in the recovery of movement and grasping after CVA and SCI and will provide long-term assistance. In short, we wish to create exoskeletons and prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the brain and feel as much like a part of the body to the wearer as possible through the use of smart, soft electronics.