TO Rehab tech event showcases promising new ideas

From an easy toilet reno to a prosthetic arm, new ideas abounded at the recent event held at the Toronto Rehab Institute’s (TRI) 11th annual Research Day. Similar to contestants on Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank, university student research teams pitched their next big biomedical idea. “The older, more senior generations may, quite frankly, consider some of these innovative and high-tech ideas to be crazy while younger minds see them as possible,” said Dr. Mark Bayley (pictured), medical director of Toronto Rehab’s brain and spinal cord rehab program.

The prototypes on display offered a glimpse into the next generation of health science and biomedical technology. Designed for use in Toronto and beyond, the future tools aim to help an aging population live longer, safer and more independently in their own homes.

Here are descriptions of some of the top displays:

You no longer need to rely on your mother to tell you to stop slouching and sit up straight.

Mark Semple, a recent master’s graduate, demonstrated the PostureCoach, a new wearable device designed to reduce the chance of back injury for caregivers.

The product was one of the Research Day’s winners in the interactive display category. It’s expected to launch locally within the next six months.

ToiLocator relocates a toilet without the need for costly renovations. A waste-pipe extender moves the commode away from its original location, opening up space that can accommodate the use of a walker for example.

This makes going to the washroom more accessible for older adults, particularly those with osteoarthritis in their knees and hips said OCAD University industrial design student Adam Badzynski, who assisted with prototyping the concept. His mock-up was designed to illustrate a bathroom’s transformation before and after a ToiLocator installation.

“Being able to toilet on your own is often the breaking point between staying at home and going to a nursing home,” added principal investigator and TRI scientist Tilak Dutta.

“Typically, residents of older homes haven’t renovated their bathrooms and that is where this product can fill that gap.”

Post-stroke Video Games
Howard Chiam, master’s student at U of T and Marge Coahran, research associate at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, demonstrated a rehabilitation robot for upper limb therapy post-stroke. This upper-limb stroke-rehabilitation robot is poised to retrain the brain and improve stroke survivor motor function.

It’s a computer game but with a robotic arm for a controller. A mixture of force-feedback and artificial intelligence either assists or resists a player’s movement while they accomplish tasks designed to develop forearm, wrist and hand function.

Master’s student Howard Chiam has been tasked with taking the device’s game design to the next level. The self-taught coder turned aspiring clinical engineer is currently designing a title that requires players to move their arm in such a way that will shoot an apple into a dragon’s mouth on screen. Other games will dial down the Game of Thrones influence and bump up the realism instead, such as setting the table for dinner.

Postcard Memories
A TRI and OCADU research team turned memory recall into a fun and engaging activity by creating an easy-to-use tablet software. Postcards are easily designed with built-in interactive elements that help tell a story, invoke memories and revisit happy memories with family and friends.

“If you think about it, the old version of today’s text or video message was through a postcard,” said research assistant Andrew Hicks, a master’s student enrolled in OCAD University’s digital futures program.

“We can scan photographs and import music into the application, even old footage from 16mm film cameras.”

The mobile app will also help researchers better understand the science and patterns behind memory recall. Facial recognition software, for instance, can track particular keywords or facial expressions that may appear when a memory is triggered.

Children’s Prosthetic Arm
At only 13 years old, Elizabeth Michez stood out in the crowd of undergraduate, masters and PhD university researchers. The special guest was showing off a prosthetic arm designed for children she had invented with two other teammates during the Women in Engineering and Science Design Competition last August.

Composed of fishing line, rope, a ruler, foam, latex and duct tape, the arm also sports fingers and a thumb that can be controlled separately. According to Michez, the team paid special attention to not only the function of the tool but also its appearance and intended audience.

“We chose to make it look like an actual hand because kids could be bullied for looking different. But we wouldn’t want them to be scared of having a robot arm either so we made it look like Iron Man,” she added, pointing to a circle on palm, where the superhero emits his repulsor rays.

Posted December 21
, 2015