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Now, a robotic cane for stable walking

New York: A team led by an Indian scientist has transformed the simple cane, which has been around since ancient times, into a 21st century robotic device that can provide light-touch assistance in walking to the aged and others with impaired mobility. Researchers led by Sunil Agrawal, a professor at Columbia University in the US has demonstrated, for the first time, the benefit of using the autonomous robot that "walks" alongside a person to provide light-touch support.

The support is like one might experience while lightly touching a companion's arm or sleeve to maintain balance while walking, according to the study published in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters. "Often, elderly people benefit from light hand-holding for support," said Agrawal, who is also a member of Columbia University's Data Science Institute.

"We have developed a robotic cane attached to a mobile robot that automatically tracks a walking person and moves alongside" he said. "The subjects walk on a mat instrumented with sensors while the mat records step length and walking rhythm, essentially the space and time parameters of walking, so that we can analyse a person's gait and the effects of light touch on it," said Agrawal.

The light-touch robotic cane, called CANINE, acts as a cane-like mobile assistant. The device improves the individual's proprioception, or self-awareness in space, during walking, which in turn improves stability and balance.

"This is a novel approach to providing assistance and feedback for individuals as they navigate their environment," said Joel Stein, a professor at Columbia University. "This strategy has potential applications for a variety of conditions, especially individuals with gait disorders," Stein said. --PTI