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ND students, staff take big steps in creating robotic legs

Students and staff at Notre Dame have invented a pair of robotic legs that could change the future for thousands with spinal cord injuries.

Associate Professor Jim Schmiedeler and his team of graduate students at Notre Dame have created a walking robot.

“The goal is to get people who have an incomplete spinal cord injury back to a level of walking that’s closer to what they had before their injury,” said Shmiedeler, the Associate Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Notre Dame.

And they’re not alone.

“I’m currently working with a team of people at ohio state university on spinal cord rehab. We work on understanding both human walking and robot walking,” said Shmiedeler.

Kevin O’Brien is a Graduate Research Fellow assisting with the project. He’s says this type of technology is much needed for these situations.

“They have temporary or partial injury to their spinal cord and the communication between their brain and their legs has been cut off or altered in some way,” said O’Brien.

“After some therapy, many of these spinal cord patients plateau in their recovery so they don’t improve anymore. We’re trying a new strategy to try to see if we can raise that plateau,” said Shmiedeler.

But they can’t test the robot on actual patients at Ohio State. This is where communication is key.

“They run the rehabilitation session and set up the subjects in a motion capture environment. And then what I do is I take the data and I analyze it,” said O’Brien.

Schmiedeler says he’s glad the partnership with Ohio State started off on the right foot.

“It’s a nice complimentary collaboration that we have – that I bring an engineering perspective, they bring a rehabilitation perspective and I think together, we can do more than what we could do separately,” said Shmiedeler.

After 12 years working with these kinds of robots, he says both teams hope to create and design a new robot that can leave the lab within 3 years.

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