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Institute for Life SciencesLife Technologies

Assistive Technologies

Assistive technologies bring together a range of sciences including medicine, engineering, computer science and health sciences to combat biomedical and clinical challenges.

Image credit: Dr Kai Yang

Our scientists are combining mechanical and electrical systems with clinical practice to improve health, mobility and independence for individuals with disabilities and those recovering from injury.

Teams that span the University in physiotherapy, electronic engineering, software design and medicine, are sharing expertise to improve assistive technologies such as prosthetic limbs and smart clothing, and orthopaedic devices such as joint implants.  These research projects will have direct benefit in hospital wards, outpatient clinics and in people’s homes as well as on the medical devices industry.

There are more than 100,000 strokes every year in the UK and more than 1.2million survivors of stroke. Following a stroke many people have limited use of their arm. Our researchers have developed a range of upper limb systems using robotic and Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) technology that support the rehabilitation process. We are also using similar technology with people who have MS to help improve mobility.

We are developing novel sensors and printed devices that can be encapsulated in textiles to make them wearable, allowing patients to adopt them more easily and become more confident with them. For example, we are developing a range of sensors that help measure respiratory function, something that is not routinely captured on general hospital wards, which can be worn on patients’ clothing.

We are developing assistive technologies that help clinicians make better informed decisions about patients’ pre or post-operative care. Our researchers have developed sensors that can be placed on a patient’s ankle that captures data about elevation, which will help clinicians determine the most appropriate treatment pathway.

Other projects include working to improve the assessment processes and access to technical and clinical performance data that support small and medium-sized med-tech companies develop medical devices; finding new measurement techniques that complement the prosthetics design and fitting processes and enhancing the design of prosthetics.

Related Staff Member

Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages

MSc Biodevices

This degree programme includes the scientific and engineering principles underpinning a range of micro and nanoscale technologies with options to specialise in areas such as biodevices.

MSc Biomedical Engineering

This masters course will equip you with the specialist knowledge, expertise and skills to integrate biology and medicine with engineering to solve problems related to living systems.

MSc Health Sciences

Our Masters in Health Sciences - Amputation & Prosthetic Rehabilitation is a flexible programme of higher level study that is suitable for both clinicians and non-clinicians.

MSc Health Psychology

Explore how psychological knowledge can improve wellbeing and manage chronic disorders with our MSc in Health Psychology.

Dr Kai Yang
Dr Kai Yang

Stroke rehabilitation clothing

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) of muscles is a technology that helps people who have had a stroke to re-learn lost skills, by enabling them to practice and regain lost arm movement. It works by stimulating muscles with electrical pulses via electrodes placed on the skin. However, the technology is difficult to place and can be uncomfortable.  Applying the right amount of stimulation to produce functional movements is also extremely challenging.

Working with people who have had a stroke, their carers, engineers and healthcare professionals, our researchers are using printed electronic technology to design and develop FES garments with embedded electrodes that will specifically fit an individual's arm and their specific needs. Different designs, including cuff or armbands, sleeves and long-sleeved T-shirts have been evaluated and an optimised design of an sleeve has already been developed and tested on people who had a stroke. The clothing is operated using a wireless control system combined with sensors which automatically adjusts the FES to enable precise activities, such as assisting eating, washing and dressing. This uses sensor data to learn and adapt from past experience, to provide the optimal support.

Our aim is to bring affordable, effective physical therapy to people who have had a stroke, in their own homes, allowing them to have effective rehabilitation in a comfortable way, without needing a carer or therapist. This would increase the intensity of rehabilitation without an increase in clinical contact time.

Contacts: Dr John TudorProf Steve Beeby, Dr Ann-Marie Hughes, Prof Chris Freeman, Dr Kai Yang


Medical Devices and Vulnerable Skin Network Plus (MDVSNplus)
Medical Devices and Vulnerable Skin Network Plus (MDVSNplus)

Medical Devices and Vulnerable Skin Network Plus

The Medical Devices and Vulnerable Skin Network Plus (MDVSNPLUS) brings together leaders in the fields of sensing, imaging and computer simulation from across the University to provide the necessary expertise to evaluate the impact of new and existing medical devices, which attach to vulnerable skin. The Network aims to introduce cutting-edge technologies and scientific understanding in order to reduce the incidence of medical device related pressure ulcers in various clinical settings.

The Network was established after recent evidence revealed medical devices caused a third of hospital acquired pressure ulcers. There is an escalating need to find new and innovative ways of designing and manufacturing medical devices to interface safely with patients. In order to achieve its aims the Network works closely with colleagues based in industry and the healthcare sector, who specialise in medical devices and wound prevention, to bridge the gap between research findings and the application into clinical practice.

MDVSNPLUS focuses on enabling patients and their carers to self-manage medical devices, developing intelligent mechanisms, for example sensors, which can monitor the functionality and safety of devices over time. In addition, the network has been involved in designing new novel devices, including a first-in-kind penile clamp for males post- prostatectomy and associated clinical guidelines. In addition, the network has collaborated with manufacturers to co-develop novel features with mattress systems for pressure ulcer prevention (e.g. Hill-Rom ClinActiv+ MCM™ and Medstrom’s Aerospacer). 


Contacts: Prof Dan Bader, Dr Peter Worsley

Image credit: Prof Liudi Jiang
Image credit: Prof Liudi Jiang

Sensory feedback for the next generation assistive devices

Our researchers are developing fingertip sensory feedback systems which allow prosthetic hand users to “feel” the objects they touch with their prosthesis enabling a higher degree of control. 

Currently, advanced prosthetic hands are myo-electrically controlled by sensing the contractions in the muscles of the residual limb. However, a key aspect of artificial limbs control that is currently missing is the sense of touch feedback. For example, when handle delicate objects in daily living e.g. picking up a bottle of water, the user does not know how hard he/she must grasp without crushing or dropping the item.

Funded by the EPSRC, we have developed a unique fingertip sensor system which is capable of measuring pressure, shear and temperature. These real-time signals are converted to nerve impulses (i.e. spike trains) mimicking those generated by biological contact sensors built in natural fingertips. The potential input of these signals to the individual's nervous system allows us to develop a “virtual hand” whereby a prosthesis user can potentially have a sense of touch just like natural hands.

Our aim is to enable users to have more control of handling objects than is currently possible, allowing them to carry out natural, everyday tasks to the best of their ability. Our sensory feedback will help advance the field of upper limb prosthetics, and limb robotics.

Contacts: Prof Liudi Jiang , Nick Hale

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