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Madonna, UNL partner on walking device

jbrehm2, August 23, 2011 | View original publication

Madonna, UNL partner on walking device

Relearning to walk and staying physically active are important goals for people with weakness, numbness, balance problems or those recovering from a disabling injury or illness. Expensive robotic gait devices can help accelerate a person's ability to walk and build conditioning, but at a cost of $300,000 or more, these devices are not readily available outside of a specialized rehabilitation hospital.

Researchers at the Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb., in collaboration with University of Nebraska‒Lincoln engineers, developed a new, affordable therapeutic device so people with a variety of mobility limitations can regain or improve their ability to walk and enhance their physical fitness.

A grant the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research helped fund research led by Judith M. Burnfield, director of Madonna’s Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering, and colleagues, in collaboration with co-investigator Carl Nelson, a UNL associate professor of mechanical and biological systems engineering.

The device, called the Intelligently Controlled Assistive Rehabilitation Elliptical, or ICARE system, provides customized propulsion to clients so it is easy to begin and maintain exercise in a walking-like movement pattern on the elliptical. The motorized control has a sensor that automatically adjusts the level of support depending on the individual's needs during exercise. The ICARE also includes many features, such as an adjustable height seat, overhead body weight support system, stairs and grab bars that greatly increase accessibility for individuals who are weak, deconditioned or who have balance problems.

Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital has partnered with NUtech Ventures, a UNL affiliate, to commercialize the ICARE, making it available to hospitals for inpatient and outpatient treatment, health clinics, fitness centers and even home use. This innovative technology has already been purchased by leading rehabilitation hospitals and national distribution will begin next year.

“We’re excited about the national and international commercial potential of the ICARE. Its relative affordability and ease of use mean that rehabilitation hospitals, physical therapists and even assisted living facilities can now offer this therapy where comparable units are cost-prohibitive, said Marvin Jaques, senior technology agent with NUtech Ventures. “Partnering with Madonna and SourceOne right here in Lincoln to develop and manufacture the ICARE will spur local job growth, as well.”

The ICARE System has been nominated for a da Vinci Innovation Award. Established in 2001, the da Vinci Awards is a prestigious international forum of recognition for individuals, organizations and corporations whose innovations are designed to enable everyone to participate in and contribute to all aspects of society. The awards celebrate people who triumph over disabilities and those who have developed new technologies that enhance mobility. Past nominations have come from all over the globe representing virtually all areas and fields of assistive technology.