Enhancing Rehabilitation through Haptics and Social Mediation


Haptic technologies present opportunities for rehabilitation in many scenarios: stroke rehabilitation, MS patients, motor-cognitive impairments and HCI for visually impaired users. Many new, relatively low-cost, haptic technologies are now being produced, with a small form factor that allows for these devices to be used in subjects’ homes e.g. SensAble’s PHANTOM Omni. From a rehabilitation perspective this allows for a close personal interaction that is not viable in a clinic setting and also abstracts the idea that a user needs to be in the clinic to perform all of their rehabilitation.

Social mediators enhance communication and interaction between participants who may or may not be in the same location. In the context of this PhD, they will allow for enriched communication in a rehabilitation scenario, allowing for caregivers and therapists to monitor and apply rehabilitation more effectively. This PhD will incorporate currently established medical assessment techniques and aim to improve upon them in terms of data analysis and acquisition by the use of haptic technologies and haptic tasks specifically designed for the purpose of assessing stroke survivors’ performance and recovery while undergoing rehabilitation. Interaction will be further enhanced by establishing a telecommunication protocol to deliver haptic force feedback between remotely located partners.

Finally, in designing a comprehensive physical interaction system for the purpose of rehabilitation there should be a level of adaptability. Every user is different, moves differently, thinks differently - each user's experience of the system will be different: the system should incorporate algorithmic learning techniques to adapt to the user's abilities and then 'improve' along with the user. From this standpoint, the haptic environments developed will autonomously adapt to users’ specific requirements whilst undergoing haptic rehabilitation therapy. Further advice will be sought from experts in rehabilitation of neurological disorders. 

Research Aims:

There is already a wealth of research within the field of haptic technologies specifically in the area of rehabilitation robotics. This research aims to enhance the value of what has previously been researched by showing that, through the use of haptic devices as social mediators, current rehabilitation techniques can be improved, and to show that a viable platform for rehabilitation can be integrated into user’s homes post-clinical rehabilitation.

Initial studies will primarily focus on collecting haptic data, using the Phantom Omni haptic device, from healthy users performing assessment tasks typically performed by those with upper limb impairments. Further studies will explore the ‘Social Mediator’ where the data collected will be used to identify key areas of difficulty for individual users, as would be the case in an interaction between therapist and patient.


M. Bowler, F. Amirabdollahian, and K. Dautenhahn. “Using an Embedded Reality Approach to Improve Test Reliability for NHPT Tasks” ICORR 2011 (Accepted, March 2011)

M. Bowler. “The use of haptic force-feedback devices as assistive technology and assessment tools for the rehabilitation of upper limb impairment” RAEng Young Researchers Meeting, Abstract, Presented September 2010. 

2012 © Adaptive Systems Research Group

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