Department of Mechanical Engineering


Medical and rehabilitation robotics

Medical and rehabilitation robotics research within the mechatronics research group focuses on providing real-world solutions to surgical, assistive and rehabilitation challenges.

Research


Current projects in this area include:

Prosthetics

This research focuses on the development of prosthetics using novel material actuators and sensors, to enable more lightweight and dexterous prosthetic devices in the future.

 

Paediatric gait trainer

In this project, a novel robotic gait trainer (RGT) will be developed to directly improve the walking effectiveness of children with cerebral palsy through administering a range of therapy regimes. The RGT will also act as a tool to help uncover new fundamental knowledge of the factors relating to the development of gait patterns, including individual trends and habits, when learning to walk.

 

Upper limb exoskeletons for children

The robots are developed to manipulate the muscles of a child just as a therapist would, enabling stretching, strengthening and range-of-motion therapy.

 

Gait rehabilitation for stroke

This research focuses on rehabilitation for people who have experienced a stroke and are now faced with the challenge of re-learning to walk. We are developing robots that can guide the legs of a patient to help them get up and walk again.

 

Photograph of a ankle assessment and rehabilitation robot

Ankle assessment and rehabilitation robot

This research focuses on the development of an intelligent ankle assessment and rehabilitation robot for both passive and active trainings. Current work involves the development of a wearable, parallel robot that can be used to assist therapists in the treatment of a variety of ankle injuries and motor rehabilitation. The desired outcome is to have a design that is adaptable to various patients and to identify, develop and implement an intelligent controller for adaptive rehabilitation exercises based on real-time robot-assisted ankle assessment.

 

Tool-tip tactile and nerve sensing for Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery (MISS)

A MISS surgeon interacts with tissue and spine via long, slim surgical tools through small and deep incision under image guidance, but has no actual sense of direct touch that helps discriminate type of tissues and bones for safe operation. This project proposes to embed a single optic fiber into the surgical tool and use Fabry-Perot interference to measure force and Raman spectroscopy to detect the types of tissues at the tool tip. The project involves laser optic circuit design, signal process, tool redesign and fabrication, laboratory calibration and clinical trials.

 

Smart medical needle for percutaneous surgeries

Flexible bevel tip needle has an ability to navigate around obstructions like tumor, organ and nerve, and perform surgeries at a targeted location. It can be used for minimally invasive surgeries including brain, liver and prostate surgeries, blood/fluid sampling, regional anesthesia and catheter insertion. This project proposes a fiber optic system for measurement of the spatial deflection of the needle and the tip force of the needle interacting with tissue, investigating a sensor-based algorithm to plan optimal motions of the needle and the development of a robotic device to steer the needle to navigate around obstructions by means of percutaneous insertion.

 

Swallowing robotics for dysphagia management

The aim of this research is to evaluate this novel rheological investigation tool as a model of both healthy and diseased swallowing states and to investigate the interaction between boluses and the esophageal peristaltic transport process. Videofluoroscopic contrast studies and manometry will be used to measure the swallowing behaviour of the robotic esophagus. These tools are the gold standard in human dysphagia assessment with widely published normative data. Achieving these specifications will demonstrate transparency of using the device for medically significant prediction of swallowing. The device exhibits superior control of variables known to have sensitive effects on swallow function throughout experimentation. The quantitative nature of investigation will reduce dependence on subjective measures and will allow for improved inter-study comparison and definition of rheological terms.

 

Large deformation peristaltic actuator

Recent research involved the development of an actuator as a robotic instrument that reproduces movement of internal organs such as esophagus, stomach, intestines and heart and can be used to validate clinically significant hypotheses, test the performance of different catheters (sizes, shape, flexibility etc), and examine the flow of the contents in those organs.  The principle of muscular hydrostat and other biological, physiological principles will be followed to specifying the design requirements of the actuator. The mechatronic design principles will be applied in developing the bio-robotic actuation system. Novel drives (such as PneuNet technique) and control methods (such as data-driven learning control) will be developed to make the actuator useful for various medical purposes.

 

Graph and visual of a neuromuscular interface

The use of bio-signals to control robots

Our motivation is to develop a “human-centered” physiological controller to incorporate human intention for controlling the human-inspired rehabilitation robots. The biomechanics techniques such as 3D musculoskeletal model, motion analysis technique and muscle force estimation methods are implemented in the physiologically controller design. Two models are developed based on the patient-specific musculoskeletal model, which are the inverse dynamics-static optimisation based muscle force estimation and the EMG-driven musculoskeletal model. The human-inspired gait rehabilitation robot is the case study to show the effectiveness of the proposed controller.

 

 

Image-guided surgery

Image-guided surgery (IGS) is a real-time link of the operative field to a pre-operative imaging data set (either CT or MRI images). The aim is to create a generic IGS system that can be applied to many surgical procedures. Surgeons can utilise the system to visualise a 3D model of an anatomical structure and carry out any required exploration prior to operation. Later the system will be able to provide a real-time practical aid to surgeons during surgical procedures by shortening operating times and reducing a procedure’s invasiveness; all of which can lead to better patient outcomes and faster recovery.

 

Photograph of a brain computer wired to a participant

Brain computer interface based on steady state visual evoked potential

This research focuses on the Electroencephalograph (EEG) based BCI and in particular, it uses a visual evoked potential called the Steady State Visual Evoked Potential (SSVEP). In this paradigm, visual stimulus modulated at different frequencies are presented to the user. Each frequency is associated with an action in an output device (eg, turn left/right in a mobile robot). When the user focuses attention on a certain frequency, the corresponding stimulating frequency appears in the spectral representation of the EEG signals recorded at the occipital sites. These signals are then subject to signal processing where the relevant signal features are translated into device commands.

 

 

Top

People


Top

Courses


Undergraduate and postgraduate courses available at the University of Auckland and relevant to the field of medical and rehabilitation robotics include:

 

MECHENG 736 - Biomechatronics

ENGGEN 770 - Medical Devices Technology

ENGGEN 771 - Medical Devices Practice

ENGGEN 791A/B - Medical Devices Research Project

ENGGEN 793A/B - Medical Devices Research Portfolio

 

Find out more about studying towards a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) or a Master of Engineering Studies.