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PROPEL Lab - Current Research

Three men in a lab. One with prosthetic knee and two scientists.

The PROPEL conducts research to develop new technologies and techniques to help individuals with severe physical disabilities walk again and be physically active.

Research studies include rehabilitation engineering, prosthetics, orthotics, assistive devices, engineering design, biomechanics, human gait, gait and balance assessment, video-game based rehab, evidence-based practice, and technologies for developing countries.

Biofeedback & Artificial Sensory Substitution

The goal of this research is to develop a wearable biofeedback system to augment gait training for individuals with lower-limb amputations and other patient populations. The work involves the characterization of human responses to haptic signals related to mobility and balance, development of algorithms for haptic and auditory signaling, and the development of a platform for testing. The wearable system is comprised of sensors and algorithms to detect abnormalities in gait patterns and speakers or vibrating motors to provide corrective feedback signaling.

Rafael and Aliaa's research is in this area.

Alternative Paradigms for Remote Gait Analysis and Rehabilitation

Many challenges exist along the road to developing systems which can assess gait objectively, are compact and easily usable, and also broadly applicable to a diverse spectrum of gait deviations. Traditional systems focus on using traditional gait parameters or features to characterize gait. This research aims to develop algorithms that can identify and assess changes in gait using just continuous data streams from inertial sensors, independent of the types of gait deviations present. Current work is validating classification and regression models for use in amputees and amputee-simulated data. This would greatly expand the utility of inertial sensors for clinical care and use in rehabilitation by providing a simple method for measuring changes in gait profile across many different gait parameters and amputee types.

Gabriel's research is in this area.

Digital Technologies in Prosthetics & Orthotics

The design of prosthetic sockets and orthotic devices requires a time-consuming and costly process that is highly dependent on the skills and experience of a clinician. Digital technologies (3D scanners, computer-assisted design (CAD) software, and 3D printing) have the potential to revolutionize prosthetic and orthotic rehabilitation by providing better fit and function at a lower cost. Our team comprised of engineers, researchers, prosthetists, orthotists, physiotherapists, and amputees is investigating the implementation of digital technologies to design and fabricate prosthetic and orthotic devices. 

Calvin and Alexandra's research is in this area. 

Designing an Adjustable Diagnostic Forearm

For all types of prostheses, the design is critical in ensuring proper fit, function, and embodiment of the device. For upper limb prostheses specifically, the clinical estimation of design parameters such as forearm length or alignment in relation to the prosthetic socket has long been a challenging procedure for prosthetists. To address this issue, we are designing a device that simulates key physical and functional aspects of an upper limb prosthesis. It will simulate the alignment, length, form, and function of the final prosthesis. In addition, the device will allow prostheses users to trial various recreational and activity-specific terminal devices prior to the completion of their final prosthesis. 

Sabine's research is in this area.

Wearable Systems and Biosensing

Intelligent prostheses incorporating biosensing capabilities can provide continuous monitoring of the body-device interface, and enable early detection of conditions that may require clinical intervention. Fully integrating biosensors for measuring biomechanical and physiological aspects of prosthetic and orthotic function is an essential first step towards fully adaptable intelligent prostheses that can both detect and respond to the user’s changing physiology, anatomy, functional requirements, as well as activities and environment. Our work in this area includes characterization of existing transducers as well as the development of novel sensors for assistive device applications.

Development of High Performance Prosthetics and Orthotics

Prostheses are essential in enabling safe and effective gait and mobility for individuals with amputation. Utilizing biomechanical models and simulations, advanced computer-aided design techniques, and empirical testing methods to quantify function, our team is developing novel prosthetic and orthotic knee joint designs and controllers. We are also exploring application of additive manufacturing for fabrication of prosthetic and orthotic devices.

Assistive Technology for the Global Need

Our lab aim to develop and engineer treatments and assistive technologies that are accessible around the world. Our focus is to develop cost-effective solutions to empower individuals with disabilities to walk and be physically active. Our work includes developing technologies and testing them as part of clinical trials around the world. Clinical trials have been conducted with partners in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.