A team of Indian American students and professors at New York University Tandon School of Engineering has created a way to help the rehabilitation process for stroke victims through smartphone-integrated wearable devices. NYU Tandon professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering Vikram Kapila guided the students throughout the project. Kapila, who also oversees the engineering school’s Mechatronics Lab, was assisted by Dr. Preeti Raghavan, of NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation Ambulatory Care Center. Raghavan helped students Ashwin Raj Kumar and Sai Prasanth Krishnamoorthy transform the original idea into a working prototype. The wearable mechatronic devices, which included a jacket to measure arm placement, a glove to measure wrist and finger placement and finger joint angles, and a finger trainer built of hand-friendly compliant material, was created to improve the repetitive process patients undergo to relearn basic skills lost following a stroke. All the materials were connected by a smartphone. When a patient performs an exercise assigned by a physician or physical therapist, microcontrollers quantify the action and display that information via the smartphone to both the patient and medical provider, according to an NYU news release. Essentially, it allows patients to engage in a virtual reality game where they observe the performance of the unaffected side of their body and attempt to mimic the movement on the affected side. “Smartphone-integrated stroke rehabilitation is a marked improvement over the conventional treatment programs of the past,” said Kapila. “The medical community acknowledges that while the central nervous system is highly adaptive and has the ability to regain functions with concerted effort, a patient must assiduously practice those regained skills. This makes stroke rehab a long and sometimes trying ordeal.”
The smartphone-enabled technology doesn’t pigeonhole the patients into relying on caregivers and therapists. Allowing the stroke survivors to make progress in their own home boosts morale and keeps them motivated to continue the rehab process, according to the statement. “Providing patients with immediate feedback and placing that feedback in the context of a virtual reality game that they can use within their own homes is definitely encouraging and motivational,” Kapila noted. The system, which patients can wear for everyday activities, providing measurement results correlating to existing research-standard devices, is expected to sell for less than $1,000. Similar devices are selling for roughly $8,000, according to NYU. Additionally, the team and their device took third place in a national competition for biomedical and bioengineering students, BMEidea. “It is an honor to place in a competition as prestigious as BMEidea,” said Raj Kumar, a doctoral candidate in mechanical and aerospace engineering. “We are very grateful for the guidance and mentoring of Prof. Kapila and Dr. Raghavan.” Added Krishnamoorthy, a master’s degree student in mechatronics and robotics engineering, “We are also excited that our work may one day make life easier and more rewarding for the many people who suffer from strokes each year.” Going forward, the students hope to form a company with the patent-pending technology and launching a startup at the NYU Tandon new-business incubators. Currently the team is refining their prototype, which they hope to be testing on several patients worldwide, including from India, where Kumar (NIT Tiruchirappalli) and Krishnamoorthy (University of Bangalore) each earned their bachelor’s degrees.