Developing robotics help stroke victims learn to walk again

By Preston Phro

Japan is no stranger to robotics. From Asimov to Gundam, hi-tech development in both real and fictional worlds is almost taken for granted. Some days, we even wake up feeling a bit disappointed that Ghost in the Shell isn’t a documentary–though even that seemingly becoming closer to reality every day.

Here’s one example of robotics enhancing the lives of stroke victims – and looking good doing it, too.

Yaskawa Electric, a company aiming to develop both robotics to help the elderly in countries with low birth rates and environmentally friendly energy resources, has debuted an “ankle-assist walking device.” The device, one part of their “2015 Vision,” uses sensors and electric motors to basically teach stroke victims and others with walking-impediments how walk again.

Relearning basic physical movements like walking can be very difficult for stroke victims, according to Yaskawa, partially because of how hard it can be to verbally describe to a patient how to walk. After all, when we were learning to get up and waddle around, it wasn’t like our parents were telling us what to do, shouting “Shift your weight onto the ball of your foot! Now lift your heel and bend your knee!”

The therapeutic devices that Yaskawa has created use actuators to “show” patients in therapy how their feet should be moving by rotating the device up and down as they walk. This physical feedback provides an accurate feel for how their bodies are supposed to be moving, helping stroke-victims and others avoid further injuries and re-learn the movements that once came naturally. One problem stroke patients face is that many do not properly lift the tips of their toes, which results in tripping and falling. A fall for someone who’s already suffered a stroke or some other physical ailment is sure to compound the problem, so quick, correct rehabilitation is vital.

The devices can be strapped on around the patient’s ordinary shoes and clothes, allowing for quick and easy attachment. Additionally, the sensors in the bottom of the devices, which look like giant anime boots to us, can accurately detect if the wearer is walking correctly.

Starting from the left, the patient is meant to be: 1) Putting their foot down, heel first, 2) laying their toes down, 3) raising their heels with their toes still on the ground, 4) lifting their toes up, 5) moving the entire leg forward and then back to the first step again.

The company currently has the device in a number of clinical trials where it seems to be showing promising results. Hopefully it works as expected and will soon be on the market helping speed up people’s recovery!

If you’re interested in learning more about Yaskawa Electric, who will be celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2015, be sure to check out their English homepage.

You can check out a video demonstration of the device below. The explanation is in Japanese, though still it gives you an idea of how they work in practice.

Source: Yaskawa Electric

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-- Honda to lend out more ASIMO-based walking belts for fine tuning -- SECOM Unveils World’s First Flying Crime-prevention Robot

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Asimo perhaps?

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Keep up the innovations Japan!

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I live in Japan and I am a stroke victim. After a hemorrhagic stroke last Spring, I spent 3 weeks in hospital (they were waiting for me to die) and then several months regaining full use of my right side. I did it without robotics or even pharmaceuticals once I learned what I needed to do. Yes, I did need physical and occupational therapies.

However, rather than focusing on recovery after the fact, more people could be helped right now to live longer, healthier lives by focusing on prevention. As Japan adopts more features of the Standard American Diet (SAD) - ie more meats (including fish), oils, salt, and sugars - the more cancers, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, etc. are occurring here.

What has saved me and has begun to reverse my arteriosclerosis was to change to a low calorie, whole food, plant based diet. It took only a few months of that to bring my blood cholesterol to 150, my blood pressure to normal, and my weight to the ideal BMI (I lost over 40 lbs). No robots or meds required!

Robotics are great and I am glad that people who need this kind of help can get it. But I think modern culture is overly reliant upon - and fascinated by - technological fixes to every problem. A return to a traditional plant based diet as was practiced in rural Japan for centuries (contrary to popular belief, only 3% of their diet was of animal origin) would save huge numbers of people from ever having to deal with the tragedy of stroke, heart disease, and many cancers in the first place. It certainly would have save me a great deal of suffering, fear, and time, had I adopted the proper healthy eating habits before this happened to me!

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Lidolani, I'm glad you recovered from your stroke by sheer willpower, without the aid of healthcare professionals, but generally stroke victims require ongoing medical intervention for the rest of their lives - my father for example had a stroke and has to take a whole raft of pills to keep him going. Outwardly he has recovered, but his eyesight is damaged, he has lost some memories and he has a little trouble still walking.

Your comment about only 3% meat in the traditional Japanese diet is a bit generalised... those living in coastal areas or near larger rivers would eat a lot of fish and other creatures which lived around them. Those living in more northern climes would eat a lot more meat, needing it for energy and body fat in the winter, as well as clothing to keep them warm. I agree with you that prevention is better than cure, but the Japanese will never return to a diet which was by and large for peasants.

I applaud the Japanese for grasping the problems people have in recovering physical movement after a stroke... the more they can assist the victims the faster they can regain some quality of life.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


I did not recover through sheer willpower. I did require hospitalization and emergence medicines to bring my blood pressure down and I did have professional care while there both in the form of a neurosurgeon, nurses, and three therapists. Sorry if I gave you a different impression. I received the best care that can be offered.

It was after my release that I discovered a dietary way to treat my condition in the long term. The point of my post is that "an gram of prevention is worth a kilo of cure" and that medical studies are showing that diet is more effective than pharmacology and if done in time, can obviate the need for chemical and technological solutions.

Yes, 3% is generalized, but in terms of long lived persons such as in Okinawa and in many mountain areas of Japan, scientific studies have shown this to be the case. In the case of Okinawans, 70 percent of their calories came from sweet potatoes. Of course now, many people living in Okinawa are some of the least healthy in the country, thanks to their poor dietary choices - ie American eating habits.

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