Children with cerebral palsy could soon use technology to gain some independence. UC Riverside researchers are developing robotic sleeves that provide arm control to children with mobility problems related to cerebral palsy. Instead of augmenting the arm like an exoskeleton, the technology will use voltage sensors to detect muscle contractions and predict what the user wants to do, such as bend the elbow. The inflatable bladders will push the arm towards the intended destination.

Soft robotics will play an important role. Scientists are building the sleeves out of elastic, nylon and other materials that will not only be more comfortable, but promise to reduce costs. The creators also hope to minimize the use of electronic devices.

The project is still in the early stages and is expected to last four years, with the research team holding annual feedback meetings with patients, families and therapists. However, if all goes well, children with cerebral palsy will carry out everyday tasks such as brushing their teeth without the help of their parents or a special caregiver. Project head Jonathan Realmuto adds that the technology is “universal”: future iterations could help anyone with mobility issues, including adults.

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