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Health Technologies in Assistive, Adaptive and Rehabilitation Technologies

The University of Southampton has a long standing research tradition in Assistive, Adaptive and Rehabilitation Technologies. The breadth of activities is distributed over academics collaborating in a range of Faculties including Engineering and the Environment, Health Sciences, Physical and Applied Sciences, Medicine and Humanities. Accordingly it embraces researchers with a interdisciplinary skills and expertise. Biomedical engineering strategies provides the key elements in this approach.  Examples of our research include:

Dr Liudi Jiang
Lower Limb Prostheses

Lower Limb Prostheses

There are over 65,000 amputees and 700,000 wheelchair users in the UK who rely on assistive equipment to ensure their mobility, independence, and quality of lives. Poor equipment fittings can lead to discomfort, pain and further health issues. For example, for lower limb amputees, prosthetic socket fit and its comfort/ compliance to the residual stump is the most important concern of any prosthesis user, yet to date, limited tools and knowledge is available for objective assessment. To address this, a multidisciplinary team encompassing platform technologies in sensor/actuators, engineering materials, tissue health, and computational engineering has been established. With their industrial partners, Blatchfords, they have recently secured MRC Biocatalyst funding to develop an instrumented liner for direct use on the stump tissues of amputees. 

An alternative bioengineering approach to examine socket shapes, involves use of a hand-held 3D surface scanner and reverse engineering techniques. These are being used to examine the influence of surface patterning upon shape registration and extraction. Researchers have developed a MATLAB code to post-process scan data and evaluate method accuracy and repeatability. This data will provide a robust platform to establish a statistical model of amputee stump shape. Collected data will have direct uses in soft tissue modelling and research into the influence of surgical techniques, contributing to the creation of a multi-patient dynamic computational model, predicting the biomechanical adaptations to below-knee amputation.

Falls Research

Seminal research has focused on the rehabilitation of people with neurological conditions. An important focus of this research is the dynamics of movement in neurodegenerative disease. Of particular interest in the management of fall events among people with stroke and people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and in exploring, at a behavioral level, the mechanism of balance control, assessment and training of balance. This research has demonstrated how sideways reaching in people with stroke differs from healthy aged matched controls. This has resulted in HTA funded work on prevention of falls in people with PD and a NIHR RfPB funded research into the use of dance to improve PD symptoms.

Southampton Artificial Hand
Southampton Artificial Hand

Southampton Artificial Hand

Southampton Artificial Hand has been in development for several decades, is based on the concept of a hierarchically controlled, myo-electric prosthetic hand. The ‘intelligent’ hand uses sensors, electronics and microprocessor technology to maintain optimum grip under the jurisdiction of a state driven control system. A multiple degree of freedom device is under development, utilising lightweight materials to produce a highly functional, adaptive prosthesis. Funding from the EPSRC has enabled the fingertips to be instrumented with thick-film sensors to measure grip force and object temperature and detect the onset of object slip as part of an autonomous control system with the aim of automatically adjusting hand grip strength or posture. Future work will concentrate on developing the ‘intelligent’ finger: a self-contained modular unit that combines both sensors and associated instrumentation circuits, which communicates with a central control system (potentially located on the palm or the wrist socket) through an RF wireless link. Spin-off projects include the modelling of the mechanical design, and associated work in the design of a rehabilitation gripper for fitment to a wheelchair. 

Stroke Rehabilitation

Over 50,000 people in the UK require rehabilitation from stroke to help them recover movement and independence. Southampton researchers have made significant advances in developing technologies, which are more effective and less-labour intensive and are directly translated into clinical practice and home use. As an example, the first randomised controlled trial of functional electrical stimulation (FES) for drop-foot following stroke demonstrated improvement in walking and patient benefit. This led to the first clinical trial of implanted micro-stimulators to improve arm and hand movement in post-stroke patients and an implanted device to aid walking. Subsequent studies have combined FES with robot therapy using control algorithms. These studies demonstrated both feasibility and improvement in small samples of stroke patients and other research groups worldwide are now developing the idea. The work is progressing towards developing a low-cost home-based system. The research has attracted international involvement and commercial success. The use of FES to assist walking is now incorporated into National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence and Royal College of Physicians Stroke Guidelines.

Adoption of FES Technologies

Although FES has proved to be effective for several symptoms in people with Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI), it is only used by a small proportion of the SCI community. A multidisciplinary team including a health psychologist, is currently carrying out a questionnaire study funded by INSPIRE organisation. This project is exploring the views on the current and future use of FES of people with Spinal Cord Injury, health care professionals and researchers. Three questionnaires have been developed and been through a process of cognitive interviewing and validation. The next stage is to expand the recruitment of participants with SCI, healthcare professionals and specialist researchers.


HAWK (Hand And Wrist Kinematics)

HAWK is a system using motion capture technology to measure the movements of the wrists, hands, fingers and thumbs. It was developed to assess people regaining movement following a stroke, assessing the effectiveness of orthotic treatments, involving splints, to restore functional movement. It inherent versatility has generated interest in other sectors, attracting collaboration with Hocoma, who specialise in rehabilitation robotics and Roke Manor Research, with markerless motion capture systems. In addition HAWK enables investigation of the kinematics of individual pianists' playing technique, giving an insight into the posture of their hands on the keys and the movements they use. This can be translated into their unique sounds and has fostered collaborations with the piano manufacturer Bluthner and Winchester School of Art. 

Key Publications

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