The HDCL focuses on investigating and improving movement control and function through two main areas: assistive device development and locomotion biomechanics.
The HDCL’s interest in assistive device development stems from a desire to improve function and the quality of life of persons with disability. To address these areas, we have been involved in the development of powered orthotic devices and multi-speed wheel systems for manual wheelchairs.
Significant investments in research and funding have afforded amputees revolutionary breakthroughs in powered prosthetics. In contrast, advances in orthotics have generally been neglected and powered orthotic (exoskeleton) research is in its infancy – despite vastly more people disabled due to impaired limb function as a consequence of neuromuscular pathology or injury. Compared to powered prosthetic devices, which support actuation and power systems within the space of a missing limb, powered orthotics has a substantial challenge of supporting these systems on the outside of existing but weakened limb. Our group is interested in addressing issues of bulk, weight, control, and runtime, which are significant barriers for the development and use of portable powered orthotic devices. Funding as a testbed for the NSF Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) has motivated us to develop powered orthoses to demonstrate barriers and opportunities in compact, untethered fluid power orthotic devices.
To address the huge pain and injury rates (~70% of users) due to large loads placed on the upper extremities during manual wheelchair propulsion, the HDCL has worked on the development of multi-speed wheel systems with an automatic transmission that are a simple retrofit to a user’s chair. This work has won a number of design competitions, received funding from the NCIIA and NIH/SBIR, and spun off into a small business (IntelliWheels, Inc).
In terms of locomotion biomechanics, the HDCL has been working on developing new measurement tools to better quantify movement patterns and utilizing these tools to understand movement biomechanics of clinical and workforce populations. Support from the NSF led to new techniques to quantify the complex spatiotemporal relationships observed during movement and locomotion. These techniques use data collected by motion capture technology to better quantify changes in movement symmetry, timing, complexity, variability, and coupling. Through two grants from the US Department of Homeland Security and in collaboration with the Illinois Fire Service Institute, we have been examining how firefighting gear (clothing, air packs, tools) and fatigue affect mobility and fall risk. Falls and loss of balance are a leading cause of traumatic injuries among firefighters. To conduct locomotion biomechanics research on firefighters in simulated fireground environments, we have had to establish methods to characterize possible changes in mobility and fall risk without the use of full-body motion data and within tight time constraints and constrained operational environments. With these new movement analysis methods, we are positioned to continue addressing research questions related to gear and fatigue that face firefighters, other first responders (such as hazmat teams), and possibly the military.