Symbionics (STW Perspectief)

symbionics_HiresIncreasingly many people rely for their independence on “assistive devices”, i.e. mechatronic systems that are wearable and improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Traditionally, these assistive devices are adapted to the patient upon delivery. However, during their use, they typically remain static. In our view, devices should continuously adapt to the user, according to a therapy plan (e.g. increase support when tiring), to compensate for user changes, (e.g. disease progression), changing environment (e.g. walking on different floor type), or changing tasks (e.g. stiffening during certain activities). We will call this “co-adaptivity”.

The objective of this program is to create systems that co-adapt automatically, which is expressed in the term “symbionic”, either intrinsically by design, or by control, or their combination. Furthermore, we aim to create assistive devices that completely fit underneath regular clothing, which is key to social acceptance. Achieving these objectives will require a mind shift in rehabilitation and technology. The program is designed such that the end-users have a central role in defining the requirements and priorities for developing the assistive devices.

The present program includes all the necessary expertise areas: rehabilitation medicine, human movement science, modelling and control, and mechanical engineering. The focus of the program will be on manipulative tasks (arm and hand motion augmentation), body supportive tasks (trunk and head balance) and form adaptation (redressing and ulcer prevention). New technology will be developed, while selected applications will be developed for clinical pilots.