Five minutes with: a robot builder

*Watch the full interview in the video player above*

In the seventh of a series of interviews with young and mid-career researchers, Eloise Gibson talks to engineer Andrew McDaid about building wearable robotic limbs to help people with strokes and disabilities, and using video games to make physio more fun.

Andrew McDaid’s wearable robot limbs tend to be designed for the very old or the very young – and both groups seem to enjoy using the mechanical arms to play video games.

“One of the big problems with therapy is compliance … so the robots control a gaming system, which makes it more interactive and provides motivation. Gaming seems to be a universal language that everyone is really motivated by.”

McDaid’s work at the University of Auckland's engineering school involves building mechanical exo-skeletons that fit over a person’s arm or leg to help strengthen and retrain the limbs after a stroke - a common ailment in elderly patients - or in children with cerebral palsy.

The robotic devices contain sensors that send signals to a computer to help doctors and physiotherapists gauge how smoothly the person is moving, and whether their strength or range of motion improves over time, with training.

To make the exercise less boring, McDaid and his team have hooked the training devices to video games.

Right now the wearable robots are both large and expensive but McDaid aims to shrink them small enough to fit in a backpack so that patients can take them home and don’t always have to travel to a clinic for therapy. He hopes that over time the technology will get cheaper and more commonplace.

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