Jul 11, 2016 | By Alec

While low-cost 3D printed prosthetics are already changing the lives of people with disabilities everywhere, a team of Belgian engineers and physiotherapists is working hard to tackle an even bigger challenge. With backing from Belgian 3D printing specialists Materialise, they have developed a special walker that can be used to teach children with Cerebral Palsy to walk. Called the Hibbot, it stands out from all other devices for being completely hands-free in use and packed with sensors to track progress.

Such a solution is desperately needed. Cerebral Palsy (or CP) is a permanent movement disorder that often sets in right before or during birth. Caused by a lesion in the developmental brain, it results in muscle weakness, abnormal tone, and significant movement and balance disorders. While extensive physiotherapy does yield some results, there’s no absolute cure and most patients are end up restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives.

But the Hibbot might change that. The brainchild of Belgian engineer Dirk Wenmakers, prosthetist Jos Selyer and physiotherapist Ria Cuppers, it was first conceived in 2014 when Cuppers explained to Wenmakers how she worked with children suffering from CP. As existing tools were very limited in their usefulness, Wenmakers set out designing an ergonomic system that could enable more frequent and more efficient exercise. What’s more, existing strollers – like the Kaye walker – rely on hand grips, while physiotherapy aims to provide hip and pelvis movement to enable hands-free walking and keep the child’s legs and hips in constant alignment.

During design, Wenmakers therefore extensively relied on Cuppers’ physiotherapeutic knowledge, and used his 3D printer to prototype different components. Fortunately, Belgian 3D printing experts Materialise caught wind of the project, and very happy to provide advice on efficient and lightweight production. “Our engineers provided advice on what technology would work best where, and also helped to design parts for him which were as light as possible while still keeping their structural strength and rigidity,” they revealed. With their backing, the Hibbot was developed and Cuppers and Wenmakers are now working hard to bring he device to children everywhere through their startup Medical Robots (backed by iMinds).

And what they came up with is impressive. The Hibbot (hip-robot or an reference to the Hobbit, the smallest and bravest inhabitants of Middle Earth), is a modular walking tool for children. In a nutshell, it helps the little patients learn to walk, but without a reliance on their arms – which reduces the strain on the leg muscles. Development needs that strain, as it will provide the patient with more strength and control over their leg muscles and a greater sense of balance. Instead of hand grips, the child is supported by a pelvic brace, which only supports the lower body. This does, however, mean that patients need to have some control over their legs already.

What’s more, it can be fully customized to suit the progress of the patients with a special support structure, which is a unique feature enabled by 3D printing. The result is a walker that provides balanced and adjustable support. Finally, the Hibbot can also turn on its axis, and features a special falling prevention mechanism. “The Hibbot stabilizes the pelvic region enabling hands-free standing. It greatly reduces the barrier for everyday interaction, playing with friends and performing normal activities,” Wenmakers says.

But there’s more. With help from researchers from the University of Hasselt en Hogeschool PXL, the Hibbot was turned into a smart tool for physiotherapists as well. “Through a process of rapid prototyping, we packed the robot with sensors,” professor Ronald Thoelen revealed. “The sensors enable researchers to study the progress of therapy, and make it possible to set up customized treatment procedures.” Among others, the sensors measure walking speed, the size of the steps and the posture of the child, and send all that data to the cloud. Even the feet are filmed, to allow for very specific feedback.

The added value of all of those features is already being felt. Visible above is Yano De Laet, a CP patient who undergoes treatment at the Cerebral Palsy Reference Center at Pellenberg, UZ Leuven. After his doctor found out about the Hibbot, he immediately arranged one for Yano. The brave young patient quickly saw its effects, learning to walk without the use of his hands in very little time at all. In therapeutic terms, it also provided the exact amount of necessary support. But fortunately Yano already had some degree of control over his legs; otherwise the Hibbot might not have been suitable for him.

As Yano parents revealed, they quickly saw positive results. “We notice that for him this way of walking is much more demanding; he loves it but it’s also quite a workout because he needs to coordinate and use his muscles much more intensively to be able to walk,” they say. That perfectly underlines the added value of the Hibbot, as older CP patients often use their muscles too little and lose the ability to walk. Additional strain and exercise can prevent this from happening. “We especially hope that Yano will remain a happy child, that despite his handicap he will receive all possible chances to lead a great life and that he becomes as independent as possible,” Yano’s father concluded.

But Yano isn’t the only child benefiting from the Hibbot. With financial backing from the Rotary Club Hasselt-Herckenrode, the Sint-Gerardus Institute was able to cover the development of four Hibbots for their patients. The four-year-old Josse has been working with one since October 2015. “It helps him practice walking without manual support, and with a better reliance on his hips,” his therapists said. “His motor skills are progressing thanks to this device, as it activates his muscles and helps his pelvis and upper body stand upright. But the Hibbot also provides additional therapeutic possibilities by keeping Josse’s hands free.”

The Medical Robots team is currently working hard to make their Hibbot available to more patients, including for adults and for patients with different disabilities, Wenmakers revealed. The device can currently be rented for €250 per month from Medical Robots, though they advise using it with close medical supervision. For more information on this possibly life-changing tool, check out the Medical Robots website here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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kapil wrote at 4/6/2018 7:56:16 AM:

i need this for my little baby .where i take this

Basharat Asim wrote at 8/25/2016 2:55:31 PM:

hi, it is awesome can i get this for my son he is 9.5 years old,

Narjes wrote at 7/23/2016 4:09:56 PM:

High Dear It looks amazing and wondering how I can get one. Appreciate your kind help and support

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