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U of A integrating artificial intelligence into exoskeleton technology

A group of University of Alberta researchers are trying to redefine medical assistance for those with mobility issues by combing artificial intelligence with exoskeleton technology.

Working under the direction of Mahdi Tavakoli, an electrical and computer engineering professor and director of the Telerobotic and Biorobtic Systems Group, the group hopes to leverage machine learning to monitor individual walking patterns to help create personalized robot exoskeletons.

"Everyone's walking pattern and needs are going to be different," Tavakoli said. "(The robot helps) amplify those motions so that you have to put in less effort (as the user) and the robot takes more of that load."

An exoskeleton is a device that can serve as a limb. 

While exoskeleton technology is not new, the researchers in Edmonton believe they are the first to harness the full potential of AI in tandem with it.

"We want the exoskeleton to learn from the person so all the energies the person imparts on the exoskeleton, those will be recorded and update our algorithm in real-time," said Eddie Guo, an undergraduate researcher.

Javad Khodaei Mehr, PhD student, says what differs about the assistive technology is its ability to be flexible in multiple scenarios.

"(This can) include all of the situations, like transitions between different modes of walking," Mehr said. "It's like walking on different types of terrain or changing from walking on different types of terrain or changing from walking to ascending or descending the stairs."

The technology may also be used in rehabilitation from serious injuries to gradually help people recover and relearn how to walk.

"You need a device that allows them to keep walking and compensate for what they can't do, but reduces that level of assistance gradually so that they contribute more," Tavakoli said.

While still in the preliminary stages, the group is hopeful with enough time and effort, their more precise tool will help make a difference by keeping seniors with mobility challenges in their homes longer.

"(Right now) we are doing all the experiments on ourselves because it needs to reach a very high level of safety to pass that to the people to use," Mehr added. "But when you're applying a method and testing that, and you are getting to the point that it's working, it's very encouraging."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Alison MacKinnon and Karyn Mulcahy Top Stories

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