Aims and Topics

According to the World Health Organization, by 2050, the number of persons over 65 years will increase by 73 percent in the industrialized countries and by 207 percent worldwide. By 2050, the percentage of the U.S. population over 65 years should almost double from 12.3 to 20.6 percent (from 40 to 80 million). This age group is particularly prone to cerebrovascular accident (CVA), also known as stroke, since the relative incidence of stroke doubles every decade after age 55. In fact, stroke is the leading cause of permanent disability in industrialized nations. Over 700,000 Americans and 920,000 Europeans have a stroke each year; more than half survive but often with severe impairments. In addition to stroke, the demand for services will likely increase for other age-related diagnoses such as orthopaedics and arthritis, which together represent more than 70 percent of physical therapy demand.

The integrated application of a wide spectrum of technologies for generating and controlling sensor stimuli, motion and forces, such as advanced robotics, mechatronics, virtual reality, haptics, multimodal human-machine interfaces, coupled with recent findings in biomechanics, human motor control, neuroscience and rehabilitation medicine to define new methods and tools to cope with the increasing rehabilitative needs of people with disabilities as well as the growing elderly population is called Rehabilitation Robotics.

The growing interest in this area of robotics research is shown worldwide by the success of focused publications and events, like the special issue on rehabilitation robotics of the journal “Autonomous Robots” (2003) and the one of the IEEE-EMBS Trans. on Neural Systems and Rehabilitiation Engineering (Guest co-eds Krebs and Carrozza) that is going to appear on 2007, the BIOROB 2006 Conference held in Pisa last February, which was very successful and it had one out of the three tracks focused on rehabilitation robotics, the ICORR conference (International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics), held biannually and the special sessions organized at latest ICRA, IROS, ICAR. Also, some commercial systems have been quite successfully introduced on the market (e.g. the LOKOMAT system by Hocoma Ltd, the InMotion series systems by Interactive Technologies Inc.) and several prototypes have been reported as being currently validate in clinical trials worldwide.

The recent advances of rehabilitation procedures, methodologies and tools tends to include more and more the cognitive aspects of motor control, also exploiting the new technologies for brain imaging, which allows to “close the loop” from brain to action. This gives an increased role to robotics, which can be fruitfully employed in the rehabilitation of neuro-motor functions and motor capabilities, by providing tools that are in their nature flexible and programmable and that allow to set and assess procedures quantitatively. Furthermore, rehabilitation robotic systems are:

- patient-specific, because they can easily optimize the degree of involvement of the patient by customizing the level of physical and/or cognitive assistance provided during each therapeutic session;

- self-motivating, because they can give direct quantitative feedback to the patient about her/his performance during and after the therapy thus enhancing motivation and self-appraisal of the value of the proposed excerises

- prone to telemedicine application, since many of them can be used at home or in other locations outside the rehabilitation hospital with remote supervision and/or tele-control by the therapist\physician.

  • Robotic tools have been also proposed and applied not only to motor rehabilitation but also to improve the treatment of cognitive disorders, e.g. to support the psychological enrichment of the elderly.

The highly multidisciplinary nature of rehabilitation robotics requires close cooperation between different medical and engineering researchers in neurology, physiatrist, geriatrics, experimental psychology, human factors, bioengineering, robotics, computer science, control and electrical engineering, and many more. Consequently, the School aims at the training of a truly interdisciplinary post-graduate engineering profile that starting from a background in engineering will develop theoretical and practical skills in the design and application of rehabilitation robotic systems. This approach is clearly reflected in the course program which includes lecturers given by both medical and engineering experts.

This Winter School is primarily addressed to young researchers (PhD and advanced Master students) interested in Rehabilitation Robotics and in the new perspectives in this field provided by the direct link to neuroscience. The participants will get in touch with other young researchers in the field and they will have the opportunity to improve their knowledge through the tutorials given by world-wide known lecturers.

The main goal is that participants improve their knowledge about rehabilitation robotics, learn the analysis techniques and share their experiences with other colleagues that are in the same area. Simulations and practical sessions about design and developments of rehabilitation robots will contribute to this sharing experience.

The lectures will be organized in three parts:

  • Fundamental aspects of Rehabilitation robotics (1 day)
  • Robot-mediated therapy ( 1 day)
  • Neurorehabilitation and future trends (1 day)

Students will be exposed to the latest technologies in rehabilitation robotics, and will closely interact for one week with some of the top-level researchers in the world in this topic. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their research work with these researchers, as well as with other European students.