Robot developed to prevent elderly from falling

Researchers in Singapore have developed a wearable robot assistant that can detect and prevent a fall before it happens.

Affectionately dubbed “Mr. Bah” – from MRBA or Mobile Robotic Balance Assistant – the robot is a brainchild of scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

It has inbuilt sensors that recognize the loss of balance and catches the user with an attached safety harness worn around the person’s hips – thus, reducing the risk of sustaining injuries.

The robot also helps users with movement difficulties to stand up and sit down safely. It tracks the movements with a depth-sensing camera and learns to predict any future falls through machine-learning software.

The robot is intended for elderly care or physiotherapy and requires minimal external assistance. Researchers say it can help people with reduced mobility in day-to-day tasks such as entering and exiting elevators, opening doors, getting dressed, performing kitchen chores, or watering plants.

“MRBA could prove to be an invaluable resource for older adult users and help promote independent living and aging,” the project’s supervisor, associate professor Ang Wei Tech, said.

Researchers say they recorded no falls in clinical trials that involved 29 participants, including people who suffered from stroke or had traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. They expect to expand the study to 71 more participants.

The MRBA comes in three models. Two cater to different weight groups, while the third supports more “dexterous” movements. The research team has filed four patents for the technology and hopes to commercialize the robot within the next year.

“We look forward to seeing the MRBA improved to an industrial prototype,” Karen Chua, adjunct associate professor at NTU’s School of Medicine, said.

Researchers hope the technology will improve the care of Singapore’s aging population. Falls account for 40% of injury-related deaths in the city-state. According to the World Health Organisation, It is the second leading cause of death from accidental or unintentional injuries worldwide.

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