Robotic Muscles: The Future of Physical Therapy?

Nov 02, 2016
Tagged with: Robotic Muscles: The Future of Physical Therapy?


The field of robotics is always expanding and evolving, with many researchers working constantly toward more lifelike robots who function like humans. Earlier this year, news broke that Japanese robotics experts at the Tokyo Institute of Technology had successfully created a robot that was equipped with multifilament artificial muscles. These robotic muscles work in the same way ours do, by contracting and relaxing—just less efficiently. While this robot offers us a look into the future of robotic development, other breakthroughs have proved more immediately useful. For example, the soft robots that look nothing like humans, but also mimic our muscle movements.

A New Breed of Robots

Recently, researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) announced they had created a new type of robotic muscle, made out of paper, plastic, silicone, and rubber. These soft robots aren’t made in humanoid shapes, instead, they’re intended for specific practical purposes, like patient rehabilitation and picking up fragile objects. The robots are controlled by air pressure, and can be programmed to perform many different ways. The movement of the robots is similar to human muscles, which makes them a useful tool in patient rehabilitation. The first robotic tubes, which are shaped like a cucumber, can bend both ways and stretch out to six times their original length. Since the robots will be made in different shapes, and are inexpensive to produce, there is huge potential for their use worldwide.

A New Era of Physical Therapy

One of these soft robots was designed specifically for patient rehabilitation, in collaboration with a physiotherapist who studies stroke patients. It’s a wearable device that can support the upper body for posture and physical therapy exercises. The robots contract and relax at a specific rhythm, depending on their programming, which is especially helpful for patients with very little ability to move. The belt currently in development is being used to help restore patients’ motor sensitivity in stroke patients. These wearables are only the beginning for robotics in physical therapy, however, and as more technology is developed to assist patients, cutting edge physical therapy offices will be able to assist more patients in regaining their motion and independence. The robots could also have other health-related uses in the future. For example, researchers believe that as the technology advances, the robots could be used for home care assistance.

Hope for the Future

The rehabilitation belt is still undergoing testing, but with luck, physical therapists will soon have access to the technology for patients who need it. While the soft robot technology is still very new, there are hopeful signs for the future of physical therapy. We can already do so much with the tools we have that future physical therapists may be able to help patients facing significant issues much more efficiently than they can today. Bringing robots into the physical therapy office might be just what we need to bring relief to patients and work toward eliminating permanent immobility.

Would you welcome the use of robotics to help your physical therapy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Want to learn more about the future of physical therapy? Click here

Author: Audrey Willis

  • bobl07

    This makes me feel hopeful. It also opens up an opportunity for a unique type of programming that is needed.

  • Audrey Willis

    Same here Bob. Love seeing technology moving in this direction.