NYU Tandon Tech Enables Home Rehab for Stroke Patients

NYU Tandon School of Engineering

For survivors of strokes, which afflict nearly 800,000 Americans each year, regaining fine motor skills like writing and using utensils is critical for recovering independence and quality of life. But getting intensive, frequent rehabilitation therapy can be challenging and expensive.

Now, researchers at NYU Tandon School of Engineering are developing a new technology that could allow stroke patients to undergo rehabilitation exercises at home by tracking their wrist movements through a simple setup: a smartphone strapped to the forearm and a low-cost gaming controller called the Novint Falcon.

The Novint Falcon, a desktop robot typically used for video games, can guide users through specific arm motions and track the trajectory of its controller. But it cannot directly measure the angle of the user's wrist, which is essential data for therapists providing remote rehabilitation.

In a paper presented at SPIE Smart Structures + Nondestructive Evaluation 2024, the researchers proposed using the Falcon in tandem with a smartphone's built-in motion sensors to precisely monitor wrist angles during rehab exercises.

"Patients would strap their phone to their forearm and manipulate this robot," said Maurizio Porfiri, NYU Tandon Institute Professor and director of its Center for Urban Science + Progress (CUSP), who is the paper's senior author. "Data from the phone's inertial sensors can then be combined with the robot's measurements through machine learning to infer the patient's wrist angle."

The researchers collected data from a healthy subject performing tasks with the Falcon while wearing motion sensors on the forearm and hand to capture the true wrist angle. They then trained an algorithm to predict the wrist angles based on the sensor data and Falcon controller movements.

The resulting algorithm could predict wrist angles with over 90% accuracy, a promising initial step toward enabling remote therapy with real-time feedback in the absence of an in-person therapist.

"This technology could allow patients to undergo rehabilitation exercises at home while providing detailed data to therapists remotely assessing their progress," Roni Barak Ventura, the paper's lead author who was an NYU Tandon postdoctoral fellow at the time of the study. "It's a low-cost, user-friendly approach to increasing access to crucial post-stroke care."

The researchers plan to further refine the algorithm using data from more subjects. Ultimately, they hope the system could help stroke survivors stick to intensive rehab regimens from the comfort of their homes.

"The ability to do rehabilitation exercises at home with automatic tracking could dramatically improve quality of life for stroke patients," said Barak Ventura. "This portable, affordable technology has great potential for making a difficult recovery process much more accessible."

This study adds to NYU Tandon's body of work that aims to improve stroke recovery. In 2022, Researchers from NYU Tandon began collaborating with the FDA to design a regulatory science tool based on biomarkers to objectively assess the efficacy of rehabilitation devices for post-stroke motor recovery and guide their optimal usage. A study from earlier this year unveiled advances in technology that uses implanted brain electrodes to recreate the speaking voice of someone who has lost speech ability, which can be an outcome from stroke.

In addition to Porfiri and Barak Ventura, the study's authors are Angelo Catalano, who earned an MS from NYU Tandon in 2024, and Rayan Succar, an NYU Tandon PhD candidate. The study was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.

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